Why Marlon Brando Owned the Role of Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire

        Brando was the first person to play the role of Stanley on stage and screen. He was young, obviously blue collar, and completely perfect for the role of the brutish, abusive Stanley. He perfected the charming, frighteningly powerful grace and violence that Stanley should possess. He shouted in his nearly indistinguishable drawl, commanding Stella and Blanche and anyone else who happened across his path on the stage in Tennessee Williams’ 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire.

        In between scenes, Brando would convince stagehands to box with him, to keep him energized, and to indulge in his sheer love of boxing. During one such boxing event, a stagehand caught Brando off-guard and hit him square in the nose, breaking it across the bridge. The stagehands attempted to stop the bleeding but the play was still going on; so Brando simply went back out, finishing the entire performance with a bleeding, broken nose. He felt, if nothing else, it would add realism to his Neanderthal of a character. It seemed perfectly logical that somewhere off-stage Stanley Kowalski might have gotten into a fistfight and sustained an injury or two.

        Brando, in Elia Kazan’s 1951 movie version, is brutal, rough, powerful and sensual. It is easy to imagine why Stella (Kim Hunter) seems to have difficulty coming up with enough reasons to justify leaving him. He is awful, and abusive; but then he goes back outside, soaking wet, and screams for his girl to come back down to him. It is almost heartbreaking to hear his voice screaming out for Stella that way. He sobs and breaks down in front of her—this man who has heretofore only been obnoxious and crass. He is apparently, in this moment, as sensitive and terrified of losing his wife as any man would be.

        Brando brings an array of intense layers to the character of Stanley Kowalski. It would be easy to portray him as a mindless monster, hitting women and shouting and raping his way through the play, but that is not what Brando does. He is at one moment a little boy; at another a loving husband, pleased his wife is pregnant; at another a domineering terror. He is multi-faceted in the same way that Brando was in life, which is why he is able, in my opinion, to show Stanley’s animalistic side and his tender, loving side as well.

Alexa K Adams