Many of the films and their literary counterparts that we viewed over the past semester were not exactly successful adaptations of one another. It seems that when a novel or a play is transformed into a film, the film lacks in capturing the essence and spirit of the literary classic. The actors in the film may not portray the characters from the novel or play as the viewer expects. The setting may seem all wrong. And the overall tone of the movie may not correlate with that of the novel or play. These problems seemed to occur in many of the films that we viewed throughout the semester. Yet, I would have to say that one film was an excellent adaptation of its literary counterpart and that film was A Streetcar Named Desire (directed by Elia Kazan in 1951).
After reading the wonderful play A Streetcar Named Desire (written by Tennessee Williams in 1947), I had a particular mental image about every aspect of the play. In my mind I could see just how the characters looked and what they sounded like. Usually I prepare myself for the fact that the characters in the film adaptation will be nothing at all as I expected. However, this was not the case in this film. Marlon Brando simply embodied Stanley Kowalski. I could imagine no other actor portraying Stanley as well as Brando did. One particular scene where Brando stays true to the character of Stanley Kowalski was after Stanley and Stella have a fight. Stella and Blanche run to the upstairs apartment to get away from Stanley. Brando then goes outside and starts yelling for Stella to come back, "Stell-lahhhh!" During that particular moment, Marlon Brando became Stanley Kowalski.
Another actor that made the transformation into a character from A Streetcar Named Desire is Vivien Leigh. Leigh did an excellent job in portraying Blanche DuBois, the aging Southern Belle with a steamy past. I found it rather interesting that Vivien Leigh was suffering from an illness during the making of this movie. The mental and physical anguish that was inflicted upon Leigh made it possible that she was not always acting during the production. I have to wonder to myself why she was chosen for the movie if she had such problems. I wonder if this was the reason that she was chosen.
As I have mentioned before sometimes the settings of the movie do not correlate with its literary counterpart. The indoor settings may not seem realistic or they may not be effectively used. The outdoor setting may not live up to the viewer’s mental image taken from the novel or play. Yet, the setting, both indoor and outdoor, in A Streetcar Named Desire was perfect. The dirty, cramped little apartment was effectively used in showing how the characters' relationships were beginning to crumble over time. I believe that it is realistic to believe that Stanley and blanche would eventually tire of one another in such a small space. The setting of the outdoors of New Orleans was also wonderful. I believe that the busy and dirty streets were effectively used in capturing the desperation of all of the characters. I will certainly say that the setting of A Streetcar Named Desire was very natural and effectively used.
The final thing that I would like to comment on is the tone of the film. I believe that the tone of the film appropriately complemented the play. The film was certainly dramatic, as was the play, but there were times that were actually funny. I believe that it is important for a dramatic film to encompass comedy. It seems to give the viewer a break.
As I have stated before the film, A Streetcar Named Desire was a wonderful cinematic adaptation. I was so pleased to see that the film stayed so true to the play. I would like to think that Tennessee Williams was proud of the direction and intention of Elia Kazan.