The 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan and based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, is faithful to its source material, capturing the essence of the original work. The film generally follows Williams' script, with some slight alterations. One can tell which onscreen scenes match their counterparts in the play.
To begin, the film starts out with a slight difference from the play. The play shows Blanche entering her sister's apartment after getting off a train, but the film shows Blanche (Vivien Leigh) asking for a streetcar named Desire and getting on the train to travel to her sister's apartment. I think this variation is beneficial because it sets up Blanche's character.
The film keeps the same names of the characters in the play. I think this technique allows readers to take the connections made in the play and transfer them to the film.
Another aspect of the play-to-film adaptation which I truly enjoy is Stanley (Marlon Brando) ripping through Blanche's trunk of clothes. Keeping this scene allows Stanley's anger to be shown. He questions the furs and the rhinestones, and the audience gets a glimpse of his frustration as he throws clothing around the room.
I love that the film follows the script of Williams' play. In scene ten, one of my favorite lines that Stanley says--"I thought it was Tiffany diamonds"--is also uttered in the film version, but with a more sarcastic tone. I am glad that Elia Kazan kept the same script for the film because it retains the meanings intended by Tennessee Williams.
The contents of Blanche's trunk also remain the same. The white furs, the gold dress, and the rhinestone tiara are elements of the play extended to the film. Stanley is correct when he assumes that this clothing could not be purchased with a teacher's pay. I mentioned earlier that in the film Stanley throws the clothing around, which adds intensity to this scene. The entire time, Stella (Kim Hunter) begs Stanley to stop because her sister is in the next room. This fear of Blanche walking in is not really felt in the play.
The film version has few changes from the play, which is why I feel this is a film that best fits Desmond and Hawkes' definition of a close adaptation: "A film is a close adaptation when most story elements in the literary text are kept in the film and few elements are dropped or added" (3). This statement summarizes the film version of Streetcar. I thoroughly enjoy reading the play and watching the film. I think this enjoyment is bolstered because the film stays true to the play.
Desmond, John M., and Peter Hawkes. Adaptation: Studying Film and Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.