What Brando Did Not Do

     The 1951 film version of Tennessee Williams' 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire obviously contains great acting, and the stellar performance of Marlon Brando is what it will always be remembered for. But there are other reasons this film is a classic, reasons that are much more subtle.

     Elia Kazan does the art direction in this film very well. The apartment that Stella and Stanley Kowalski (Kim Hunter and Marlon Brando) live in accurately portrays the drab and dirty feeling one gets from reading the play. The set consists of an old card table and a big tattered sheet that separates a back room from the rest of the apartment. The sheet has great symbolic significance because Blanche (Vivien Leigh) always seems to try to hide behind it.

     The lighting in the film is also used effectively to reveal certain aspects of each character. When Mitch (Karl Malden) tells Blanche that he has never seen her in the light, he speaks for the audience as well. The scenes with Blanche are always dark because she never lets her true self out. Stanley, however, always has the light on him because he hides nothing about himself.

     Almost the entire film is shot from within this apartment set. Although in today's cinema this might be considered a bad thing, it really helps this film. It creates a confined feeling for the audience, which mirrors how Stella is trapped in the abusive relationship with Stanley.

     Another characteristic most people do not consider, unless they are watching a historical film, is costume design. Stella's dress is very plain, which shows her simple tastes and her subservient role in her marriage. Blanche is always dressed with extravagant dresses and jewelry, but these clothes look as if they have been purchased at a thrift store. They show how she tries to be elegant but is really something else. And Stanley is always either dressed in a dirty white shirt or no shirt at all. His dress is symbolic of the workingman, who is not afraid to get his hands dirty or worry about how he might look to others.

     These characteristics of films are often overlooked; and, although there are Academy Awards for them, no one really remembers who won them. But without them, films would not be quite as effective. While one notices Brando's turbulent performance and not the way the lighting was arranged around him, the magnificent performance might not have had the same impact without it.

Brooks Dawkins

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