Streetcar's Underrated Role

     I never really knew what the plot of Tennessee Williams' 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire was about until I actually saw the 1951 movie, directed by Elia Kazan.

     This movie had a strong cast in Marlon Brando (Stanley), Vivien Leigh (Blanche), and Kim Hunter (Stella). However, I was most impressed with Karl Malden's role as Mitch, who was a poker-playing buddy of Stanley's and wanted badly to be with Blanche for most of the movie.

     I remember Malden from his role on the 1970s television show The Streets of San Francisco and as a pitchman for the American Express credit card ("Don't leave home without it."). But this role, I believe, was under-appreciated by many who saw the movie and acknowledged Brando's and Leigh's roles as the best.

     Of course, enough knowledgeable people appreciated Malden's role in the movie because he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. While I cannot speak for the judges who voted him to get the award, I can name a few traits of his that I believe earned him that honor.

     Malden showed a great deal of emotional range in his Streetcar performance. Most of the time he was nice to Blanche, except at the end when he questioned why she always liked to be in the dark and why she had lied to him about her past. For the rest of the movie, he was nice to Blanche and Stella and tried to serve as kind of a mediator between them and Stanley. I believe Mitch was the only person who could get along with all three consistently. Both Blanche and Stella could do nothing right to please Stanley.

     Mitch was also the character that tied the movie together. Without a strong actor in that role, the movie would have suffered because he was a link that tied together Blanche, Stella, and Stanley. The actor was required to be gruff at times and also able to console his friends. If an actor had had that role who had not been able to act out those emotions professionally, the movie might not be as in legendary thought as it is today.

     Malden, in Mitch's role, was able to show a great deal of emotion, which provided for a great range of acting. Malden is my favorite actor in the movie, but Mitch is also my favorite character because he has a range of emotions that the other main characters do not. Stanley was always mad and gruff; Stella was always sad and kind of intimidated by Stanley; and Blanche was either happy or sad. Indeed, it seemed to me Blanche's attitude depended on what kind of mood Stanley was in. Mitch was more of a free spirit for the most part, and his character was based mainly on what he thought, not what the other characters thought.

Greg Stark

Table of Contents