Out of all the movies that we watched this semester in our Film and Literature class, probably the most popular with students is Elia Kazan's 1951 A Streetcar Named Desire. This is due in part to the amazing and heart-wrenching story written in 1947 by Tennessee Williams, but largely because of the wonderful performances by Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. These actors did so well in their parts, that many find it difficult to imagine anyone else in their roles. Whenever there is a Broadway revival of the play, the actors are measured up against the performances in the movie.
I read the play before watching the movie. An avid reader, I always had vivid images of the characters as I believe they should look and am often disappointed when the movie gets it wrong. While I believe that Brando gave an amazing performance that truly made the movie, I think that physically, he was not very well suited to the role. When I saw Stanley Kowalski, I saw him as a tall slightly overweight but also muscular man. His face would not be handsome, but not ugly either, more rugged than anything else. His voice would be deep and commanding, quiet at times but "loudening" to a roar during his fits of rage. Blanche's attraction for Stanley would be less based on his physical appearance, but rather his animal-like demeanor and way of acting, which would call to her in a very animal-like way.
Brando does not fit this very well at all. While tall and muscular, he seems too fit to play Stanley. His face, judging by the oohs and ahhs by the girls in our classroom, is less rugged, more gentle and handsome. Brando also has a very odd voice, which can sound high-pitched and quite nasal.
Once again, I must say that I am not criticizing Brando's performance at all. It was perhaps the best of his career, and without him the movie would never have done so well. But from a purely physical standpoint, I see Stanley more as John C. Reilly will play him in the upcoming revival.