When some people think of great performances, they tend to think of only "safe" performances, such as performances by actors portraying such characters as "the grieving lover" or "the triumphant hero." While performances of these kinds of characters can be and often are dramatic, I believe the best kind of performance is the performance of the villain.
While Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando) in A Streetcar Named Desire might not be considered a typical "villain," he is certainly an antagonist. He antagonizes his friends, his wife, Stella (Kim Hunter), and more than anyone else, his wife's sister Blanche Dubois (Vivien Leigh). Brando's performance of Stanley is without a doubt one of the single most memorable performances in movie that I have ever seen in my entire life.
When Brando was first shown on screen, all of the girls in my class cooed and sighed. This surprised me because I have never heard girls do that for any character in an older movie, particularly one that is so old it is in black and white. His look was unique-sexy enough for the girls to sigh over but dangerous enough so that one would not want to anger him. He stole the show as soon as he walked on screen, without even saying anything.
He did speak in the movie, however, and it was with an impeccable "New Ahlins" accent. Underneath that accent was an ever-present undercurrent of anger. One had a feeling that, even when he appeared calm talking with his wife, he could at any time attack or make love to her--or possibly both, simultaneously. Maybe his character spoke as he did because of the oppressive heat of New Orleans, or maybe it was something he had picked up from being a workingman his whole life. Whatever the case may be, his character was a central focus in the movie-he acted; and others reacted.
His actions later in the film heightened this sense of danger about him. He beat his wife, which no husband should do, but then later was forgiven because he fell on both knees and acted like a puppy dog. It is suggested in the movie that he controlled her, but even he knew when he must ask for forgiveness. He later raped Blanche and got away with it, possibly because of the sheer charisma he exuded. "Stanley can be a mean guy all right, but he would never rape" is probably what everyone assumed. Too bad they were wrong.