Over the years, many books have been written; and many movies have been filmed. Very frequently, good novels are made into movies; but sometimes film adaptations do the source material no justice. Some producers and directors change the story around, drop themes and characters, or make up new ones. This is no way to make an adaptation of a novel, but not every film is made so tackily. Elia Kazan is a director who turned a great play into a great film. In 1951, A Streetcar Named Desire made its cinematic debut; and it was a hit. But all the credit does not go to Kazan because it is Tennessee Williams who penned this great play in 1947.
When one reads the play, one feels the personality of the characters. The animalistic features of Stanley are so vivid that one can feel it in the soul as well as see it in the mind. The feelings of love, lust, and dependency that Stella has for Stanley tug at one's heart. Blanche's lonely, sad, and perturbed mind keeps the story on the edge. These are three very complex characters that require actors with real talent to capture each personality.
Kim Hunter, in the role of Stella, looks the part; but, more than that, she shows the fire and passion that drives her. Vivien Leigh is able to show Blanche's vulnerability and psychotic mind in a very dramatic way, but Marlon Brando steals the show by playing Stanley. He performs so well that one can lose oneself in his acting--it is as if he is not pretending. His acting transcends mere performance.
Kazan keeps the spirit of the characters alive in the film. This is an element that is vital to a good adaptation, but more is needed, and Kazan understands this need.
The location also plays a major part in the success of an adaptation. New Orleans has a unique ambiance, and this free and wild atmosphere really shines through.
Almost every scene closely follows the play. The ending, which Kazan had to change to keep the rape scene intact, is the primary exception. Keeping scenes faithful to the source material is key in doing justice to the original work as well as the author.
Elia Kazan's adaptation of Streetcar is wonderful. Remaining mostly faithful to the play and employing the perfect actors, the film taps into the essence of Williams' characters and makes the film a classic.