Film Adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire: Too Good to Be True?

        Film adaptations of literary works are always difficult and for a passionate reader; they are disappointing most of the time. I belong to this group of passionate readers, and I am very skeptic before I watch a movie to which I have read the work. Of course, it is always very difficult for film makers to make a perfect film that matches the literary work. They have to leave out certain details due to reasons of length or similar arguments. Therefore, the decision concerning the details is always a hard one to make.

        In case of the 1951 A Streetcar Named Desire production by Elia Kazan, based on Tennessee Williams’ 1847 play, it seems to be one of the rare adaptations that is almost perfect. The reason for the word “almost” is that two little details were either missing or changed. The first one was the fact that there was no allusion to Blanche’s husband being homosexual. In the movie, he was only a weak character. This was probably due to the censorship in the 1950s because homosexuality was not discussed in public and was an embarrassing topic. Therefore, the film makers cannot be blamed because they were forced to leave this detail out. Of course, if people had known that her husband was homosexual, it would show Blanche (Vivien Leigh) in another light and most of the people would feel pity for her and her situation with men. But saying that he was a weak character may leave the assumption that he was mentally ill. Anyway, people knew that she was not lucky concerning men.

        Furthermore, the end of the work was changed in the movie. In the play, Stella stays with Stanley and is watching her sister being taken by a doctor and a nurse. She is convinced that the accusations of Blanche concerning her being raped by Stanley cannot be true and remains on Stanley’s side. In the movie, she (Kim Hunter), suddenly takes her child and flees to the upper apartment with the last words that she will never go back to Stanley (Marlon Brando). I think this is a grave change of the play because it changes the character of Stella. There is a big difference between rejecting reality and doing something against it. But again, this is a detail changed due to reasons of censorship. Stanley had to be punished for the rape because people could not be shown as blind and naïve as Stella was in the play. Therefore, the film was only changed slightly; and it was not because of leaving out details but because of censorship forbidding the film makers to present the play with all the details. In regard to that, the film was a great success.

        Nevertheless, neglecting these two changes, this movie is the first one I have watched that is completely worth the saying “too good to be true.” The setting was made perfect by little details like the lamps in the Kowalski apartment, and the background music by Alex North, was well chosen. The slight jazz music and the train sounds made the movie real and a very fitting adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ work.

Corinna Witkowski