The film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire, adapted by Elia Kazan in 1951, uses the setting in a much better way than the play, helping the viewer appreciate New Orleans all the more. Streetcar is a play about passion, anger, and lust. The setting for this novel is New Orleans, in the steamy downtown area, where people of all temperaments reside. It is sometimes easy to forget about this setting when reading the book, however. Because the play mainly focuses on the characters and their actions instead of the environment and characters' interactions with it, one tends to imagine that this story could take place in any urban dwelling, such as in Los Angeles or New York.
There are numerous instances in the play, however, that remind us that this story does not take place in New York or Los Angeles. The one that stands out in my mind the most occurs when Stanley (Marlon Brando) speaks about the "Napoleonic code." The Napoleonic code, as established by Napoleon Bonaparte during the French rule of Louisiana, states simply that what belongs to the wife also belongs to the husband and vice versa. This includes inheritance as well as debt, good things as well as bad.
Suffice to say, I had never heard about the Napoleonic code prior to this movie, me being a Kentucky boy. I also feel that I can safely say that most other Americans who are not from New Orleans have never heard of the Napoleonic code. If any Americans outside of New Orleans were to attempt to use the Napoleonic code in a serious argument, they would likely receive guffaws of disbelief and laughter in response.
But when Stanley brings up the Napoleonic code, a code from 200 years ago that was enforced by a European country, he is not doing it for guffaws or laughs----he is bringing it up as if it were a normal, everyday law, recognized by the courts and taught at school. This could only happen in a setting such as New Orleans.
As I said earlier, in the play we need to be reminded by scenes such as these that this story takes place in New Orleans. In the film, however, these scenes instead act as magnifiers, since we are very aware from the beginning of the film where the story takes place.
This is why the film adaptation uses the setting so well. It often shows a bird's-eye view of the sprawling urban landscape, filled with ethnicities of all varieties. This is something one cannot get from the book, and it enhances the muggy passion already found in the play.