A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams is one of the more notable playwrights of the twentieth century and perhaps his most famous work would be this, A Streetcar Named Desire. What is most remarkable about the production of this film is how it was brought from stage to screen, with production basically remaining exactly the same as was on the stage. Williams reprises his play for the screen with the screenplay and the stage director, Elia Kazan, sits behind the camera for production. And the cast crosses over as well, with Marlon Brando in the main role with Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. The only difference really is Vivien Leigh, who plays the same part she did before, Blanche, but she comes over from the London production, which was directed by Sir Laurence Olivier instead of the Kazan directed Broadway production.

Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) is from Laurel, Mississippi, but after losing the family estate, Belle Reeve, she is forced to relocate to the French Quarter of New Orleans, where her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) lives with her husband Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando). But Blanche arrives to a different scene than she had envisioned, with the Kowalski’s living in a small, run down apartment, and Stanley overshadowing Stella as an intimidating and brutish man. Blanche and Stanley clash, including over one of Stanley’s friends, Mitch (Karl Malden), who has taken a liking to the single Blanche. For those who have not seen it, I will leave the destination to those who take the journey, but those that have know how the film culminates in fireworks.

As a stage play it is obvious that the locations do not change very much, with almost all of the action being confined to the close quarters of the Kowalski apartment, but this is as much a strength to the film as anything else because this is an actor’s film, and moreover, the claustrophobic apartment lends itself well the to psychological pressings put upon Blanche in her situation. It is immensely evident to me that Williams’ screenplay was brilliant in its way to tell a crushing and depressing spiral into borderline insanity tale while all the while being quite eloquent and lyrical. The dichotomy of Blanche and Stanley, the elegant and the brutish, the eloquent schoolteacher and the abrupt, vulgar and forward common man explodes off the screen.

I said this was an actor’s film and they really do control the screen. Front and center is the incendiary delivery of Marlon Brando as Stanley. Brando’s on edge performance makes me wonder what he must have been like to be around on set because if he wasn’t like that the whole time, I can’t imagine how he could get that into character just for the camera. But matching him in the wonderfully airy and somewhat clueless performance of Vivien Leigh, who characterization of Blanche couldn’t really seem anything but genuine. And sitting in the background are Kim Hunter and Karl Malden who are also quite good. Other than the acting, and of course the brilliant screenplay, there really isn’t anything that jumped out at me from the film, but there really doesn’t need to be.

I have now seen a handful of films by Elia Kazan, and I must say I really do admire the man’s work. I cannot say he has any distinctive style other than just making really good films. I think he is the perfect choice for any film with a good script and good cast because he will make sure the work gets done, and gets done right, and he should be praised for that. A Streetcar Named Desire is a good way to spend a few hours and catch up with part of the reason why Marlon Brando is held in such high regard. I can’t say it rocketed to one of my favorites, but it is one that adds evidence to the notion that there are just way too many great movies out there. But really, there are never enough.

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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