It’s been ages since I wanted to see A Streetcar Named Desire, not sure why I’ve put it off. I feel like I have watched it as one day I actually watched a bunch of clips from this film on youtube. There’s of course the famous scene where Brando yelled ‘Stellaaaaaaa…!’ that’s been parodied many times over, but I definitely need to see it to understand the significance of this steamy Southern classic.
Based on a hit play by Tennessee Williams, it’s one of those rare films that happen to be directed by the same person who did the original Broadway production, Elia Kazan. It’s interesting to see Vivien Leigh as yet another Southern belle, as I’ve only seen her in Gone With The Wind (1939), but really, the appeal of this film for me is Marlon Brando, whose brutish performance is the quintessential sexy bad boy.
As with any of my blindspot reviews, there are definitely spoilers so if you haven’t seen the film yet, proceed with caution.
Well, what can I say… my first impression had more to do with Marlon Brando. Can you blame me? I mean look. at. him.
From the first moment he came on to the screen when he saw his sister in-law Blanche at his house, Brando’s definitely got a magnetic presence like nobody’s business.
The trivia section of this movie on IMDb is filled with interesting tidbits. So apparently fitted t-shirts could not be bought at the time, so Brando’s apparel had to be washed several times and then the back stitched up, to appear tightly over the actor’s chest.
Err, what was I talking about again?
Ok so obviously there’s SO much more to the movie than Brando’s immense sex appeal, though obviously this role cemented his sex-symbol status.
A classic story adapted beautifully on the big screen
I could see why there are still countless stage adaptations of Williams’ classic story all over the world. Even though time has changed and to a certain degree, gender roles and social norms have evolved, the very core of the human condition still remains. Stories that deals with obsession, distorted reality, fears of aging, etc. are still relevant today and will always remain so. The film version underwent a major change in terms of the homosexuality of Blanche’s late husband, due to the Production Code demands that the film toned it down. The same with the depiction of rape, though it’s implied that Stanley did rape Blanche with the scene of smashed mirror and a firehose spurting onto the street.
It was a clever way Kazan dealt with the strict Code, and also when Stella was in bed the morning after Stanley hit her. She had a big, gleeful grin on her face that indicated they had um, a very satisfying make-up sex.
Kazan’s big screen adaptation not only look beautiful in black and white, but it has an atmospheric and moody feel to it. I read that he worked closely with the production designer to create the authentically sordid look and literally had the walls around Brando and Leigh closed in on them during filming to create a claustrophobic tension within the space. Well that worked because that constricted feeling practically ricochets off the screen and into my living room!
Blanche and Stanley are such an interesting pair to watch on screen because there’s all this nervous energy around them. They’re attracted as well as repulsed by each other at the same time, at times they couldn’t even reconcile the two, which creates such interesting dynamic.
Kazan doesn’t immediately expose that Blanche’s dark past and the fact that she’s got mental issues, but it’s more of a steady buildup that escalates to the boiling point. The more her brutish brother in-law relentlessly torments her, the more she goes off the rails.
I’m constantly torn in how I feel for the characters as well, which is what a good movie should. A good character is not simple, one-dimensional and how we feel about a character could (and perhaps should) change as the movie progresses. Well, I initially feels sorry for Blanche but also exasperated by her, even if she couldn’t control it. As with Stanley, what starts out as a carnal attraction to this brooding, hunky man (as any full-blooded woman would) quickly changes to disgust and repulsion. I literally want to strangle him many times as I watch the movie, especially his treatment of his pregnant wife!
Performance wise, the film definitely belonged to Leigh and Brando. The British actress played yet another American Southern belle but in a completely different role. Leigh definitely got to display her vulnerability even more, especially towards the end when Blanche’s gone completely mental. It’s interesting that she had played the character in the London production under her husband Laurence Olivier’s direction. Per IMDb, she later said that Olivier’s direction of that production influenced her performance in the film more than Elia Kazan’s in this film.
Brando has had many memorable roles in his illustrious career, but no doubt this is one of the earlier ones he’s most remembered for. His intensity is second to none, there’s few actors who are as explosive on screen in terms of presence and charisma as Brando.
Kim Hunter was pretty memorable as Stella, but I think every cast member was practically outshone by the two leads. So was Karl Malden as Blanche’s potential suitor. I think both were believable in the roles, it just didn’t leave a lasting impression to me. I guess it has less to do with their performances, but more about the strength of the two leads. I wish Brando had won Best Actor as well, but then again I hadn’t seen the other male performers of that year.
Does it live up to the hype?
The film won four Oscars out of twelve nominations and also rank #47 in AFI Top 100 Films. Elia Kazan was certainly one of those stellar directors who have won acclaimed in film AND on broadway, winning multiple Oscars as well as Tony awards. I’m always astonished when a story could work as well on stage as on screen.
I have never seen the stage adaptation, but my impression of the film was that it was sexy, gritty, but deeply unsettling to the point that by the end I was just quite revolted by the whole thing. None of the characters are likable except for Stella, Blanche DuBois’ devoted younger sister. I think that was the point though. This wasn’t going to be a cheerful movie with a happy ending and there’s also very little humor to give you relief from all that tension.
I’m glad I’ve finally watched this film from start to finish. It’s one that won’t easily escape from one’s memory. I have to say though, compared to other classics like say, Casablanca or Gone With the Wind or Roman Holiday, I’m not sure this is something I’m keen on watching again. It’s just not a pleasant film overall, and I don’t find it to be an emotionally-gratifying film either as it’s hard to care for any of the characters. That said, it’s definitely essential viewing for cinephiles. The story is such an intriguing character study that is chock full of riveting-but-inherently-imperfect relationships.
The film ending is apparently different from the stage version. In the film, Stella no longer trusts her husband and she took her baby and leaves. We hear Stanley yelling ‘Stellaaaa….’ again as he did in the most famous scene in the film. I read that in the stage version, Stella chooses to be with Stanley as her sister is escorted to a mental institution. I’m not sure which version I prefer, I think it’s riskier to have an ending that isn’t tied neatly with a big red bow, though not necessarily better.
Regardless of the different ending, there are certainly plenty of thought provoking themes to grapple with. Delusion, denial, forbidden passion, and tragic irony… Williams’ timeless play has all the ingredients for an engrossing story, and Elia Kazan certainly had what it takes to do it justice… both on stage AND on screen.
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Have you seen A Streetcar Named Desire? I’d love to hear what you think!
45 thoughts on “April 2016 Blindspot: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)”
I’ve never seen this as this is something I hope to see very soon. Especially for Marlon Brando who was quite studly back then as I do love that “Stella” moment.
It’s definitely worth seeing Steven. That scene is memorable for sure and Brando was breathtakingly gorgeous to look at, but the story is rich and layered, a product of its time but yet still timeless.
Hello dear Flixy, how polite you are to warn about spoilers from a 1950s film :-). Your assessment of SND is spot on, how could anyone come to a conclusion about the movie other than yours? Yes, it’s certainly a one-timer, don’t want to see it again, but it’s a classic that should be on everyone’s list.
Ahah well, some people might not have seen it yet so I gotta make sure they’re aware of it in case they don’t want to be spoiled 🙂 I think I wouldn’t mind seeing some scenes of this movie just to look at Brando in those tight t-shirt, ahah, but overall yeah, not something I want to revisit. But still, an essential viewing.
I love this film and have seen it many times. There’s nothing happy about a Tennessee Williams play; there are tragic elements in them all–that’s why they are dramas. If you think Williams is depressing, don’t watch/read Eugene O’Neill! 😉 I think it’s safe to say you are more of a comedy girl. Anyway–I love Blanche. Her line “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers” haunts me. I think there’s a little of Blanche in all women. Trying to gain security in life by depending on a man. Looks are all she had to try to save herself and she lost her mind because of it. A message all women should hear. Self-reliance is the key to happiness. Oh, well, don’t get me started. The complexities of love, relationships, self-esteem is brilliant. I’m glad you saw this classic. It’s extraordinary, for me.
I think it IS extraordinary and that’s why I get why this was well-regarded and considered a timeless classic. I don’t think of it as depressing, and no I’m not always into comedies just because I am not in love with this film. I actually like Anna Christie from Eugene O’Neill and I do love dramas as I love Jane Austen’s stories and Jane Eyre with its share of tragic elements and forbidden passion. I’m glad you love it, but to each their own Cindy. I still have a high praise for this, and I think I mentioned that in my review, it’s just not something I’m keen on revisiting. But I am glad I finally did see this and am interested in seeing a play version of it as well.
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Well I have seen it but I think I failed to appreciated it. I also don’t know if I’d watch it again, perhaps just to have better judgement. Didn’t know that there’s a difference from the play. Brando was indeed very manly in here.
Hi Andina, this is a tough film to love I think. Like I said, it’s not pleasant and at times it’s just revolting. But I appreciate the layered story and the acting, production design, etc. Brando was incredible, soooo attractive and sexy, he was certainly the main draw for me to finally see this and he didn’t disappoint.
I saw this film many many years ago and don’t remember much about it. I think the only reason I watched it was because I wanted to see most of Brando’s work; I became a fan of his after seeing The Godfather.
I really need to see more of Brando’s earlier work. I too had only seen him in his later career like Godfather and Superman I. I think he was excellent in On The Waterfront also.
Great review! I really do need to watch this one someday… Maybe I’ll add it to my own Blind Spot list next year! : )
I think it’s worth a look, even just to gawk at Brando 😉 He really was stunning to look at in this particular film.
Yeah? I dunno… I’ve only really seen him “old”. I need to watch more of his older films. : )
I’ve never see this either but it’s alwats been one I’ve thought about adding to my future Blindspots. Great review!
Hi Brittani! I’ve seen the ‘Stella’ clip dozens of times and there are so many dedication to Brando in this role on Tumblr so it’s really about time I actually watch the entire thing. I’m glad I did but I don’t think I want to watch it over and over though.
I’ve seen this several times and while I’m a great admirer of the acting it’s nowhere near my favorite Tennessee Williams work, I prefer Night of the Iguana & Suddenly, Last Summer.
Brando does exude star quality and studliness but Stanley is a detestable person so it’s hard to fully embrace his work. Vivien Leigh on the other hand is just exquisite and while Blanche has many issues many of those were not of her making.
There’s a tremendously detailed book by Sam Staggs called when Blanche Met Brando that looks at the entirety of the Streetcar experience from Williams conception of it through both stage and film versions and beyond.
If GWTW is the only Vivien Leigh performance you’ve seen besides this, she preferred the stage and didn’t make many films, I’d strongly recommend Waterloo Bridge which was her follow up to GWTW and her favorite among her films and performances. It’s a tragic love story beautifully done, it was also her costar Robert Taylor’s favorite of his pictures. Beside that Sidewalks of London where she costars with Charles Laughton is excellent as is her final film Ship of Fools. There’s also That Hamilton Woman with Olivier, it’s a bit ponderous but she looks amazing in it and gives a good performance.
I love your insightful comment Joel! So those two from Williams’ plays were made into films as well? I should check that out.
Brando the actor was mesmerizing in this film, he oozed such sex appeal and screen presence but yeah, Stanley the character was despicable. That’s why I said I wanted to smack him a few times as I was watching it. That book you mentioned sounds fascinating, I always like to read about Old Hollywood filmmaking too.
I’m curious about Waterloo Bridge, never seen anything by Robert Taylor either so that’s another reason to check it out. Thanks for the recommendations!
If you like reading about older Hollywood filmmaking Staggs has written a series of books along the lines of When Blanche Met Brando about various classics…All About All About Eve, Close-Up on Sunset Blvd., and Born to Be Hurt which looks at Imitation of Life. All are fascinating and incredibly informative.
There are a slew of Tennessee Williams film adaptations, some very good-Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Iguana, Suddenly, Last Summer, Sweet Bird of Youth-some shattershot but worth seeing-This Property is Condemned, Period of Adjustment, Baby Doll, The Glass Menagerie, Summer and Smoke and The Rose Tattoo and some horrendous misfires-Boom & The Last of the Mobile Hot Shots. Both Brando & Vivien Leigh made another adaptation of his work, The Fugitive Kind for Brando (with Joanne Woodward as a kohl-eyed biker chick!) and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone for Vivien. Both fall into the interesting but not fully realized category.
My goodness Joel!! You are like a walking Hollywood encyclopedia. Would you be willing to do a guest post about film adaptations based on Williams’ plays? Or other playwrights too, doesn’t have to be him. That’d be most fascinating! Let me know if you’re up for that 😀
Way back when I was in high school we read the play then watched this movie. I remember being blown away by Brando, but not much else. It’s time for a revisit. Glad you enjoyed it…well…enjoyed might not be the right word because it is tough to embrace, as you point out. Great review.
Brando really was the main draw for me to see it and he did not disappoint. Yeah, it’s not exactly an ‘enjoyable’ film but still fascinating to watch.
I picked this up cheaply on Blu-ray a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. It struck me that Leigh and Brando and their conflicting characters symbolised a change in acting style here.
It’s almost too appropriate that Vivien was cast to play Blanche DuBois. While she represents the dying state of melodrama, Brando is the figure of realism towering over her, despising her facade.
Hi Paul! It must’ve looked great on Bluray. Wow, I never realized that about the acting style. I guess I didn’t know enough about Vivien’s style, was she always melodramatic in her films? But yeah, Brando is more of a method actor wasn’t he?
It’s a hell of a good movie, and I agree with you on Brando. I don’t think this is Brando’s best performance (I’d give that to On the Waterfront), but it’s definitely Brando at the height of his sexual/animal power. When I say it’s not his best performance, I mean nothing bad–it’s certainly in his top 3 and one of the great performances of the year.
There’s a lot to love in this.
It is indeed an extraordinary film. It’s packed with so much social themes and the acting were superb, esp the two leads. I still need to see On The Waterfront, but I wanted to see this first for the reason you mentioned, to see Brando at the height of his sexual prowess. My goodness I don’t think there’s any actor today who could even match that. There are a lot of good looking actors but to have such animalistic charisma is rare.
Man, Brando is something else in this movie. It must have been extraordinary watching his performance back when it first came out. There had been nothing like it.
He was quite a force to be reckoned with, Mark. I should check him out in On The Waterfront also.
Already have. The Young Lions is another superb Brando movie.
I’ll add that to my list of Brando films to watch 🙂
I’ve read tis play so many times (even read for Stanley in English class) but only seen the movie once. Brando and Leigh owned those characters, although I’ll admit they took some getting used to because I had such a clear idea in my head of who these characters were.
Hi Matt! How cool that you read for the part of Stanley in class. So you’re saying you had a different type of actors in mind other than Brando and Leigh for the roles? Curious to hear who they’d be.
hey Ruth! It’s kind of hard to remember because I was in high school but I’m pretty sure I never objected to the casting so much as the way specific lines were read, given that I knew so many of the lines by heart and had heard them in my head differently. I think I had pictured more of an al Pacino voice and delivery for Stanley.
Ahah yeah, Brando’s voice isn’t my fave to be honest. But look wise I can’t imagine anyone else for the role. I mean he’s supposed to be this brutish bad boy w/ immense sex appeal and that’s exactly what he was! I can’t even imagine contemporary actors of today who are even half as sexually attractive as Brando was in this particular role.
Fabulous review of a fabulous movie. I’m pretty sure I gave it the same score. You’re right, the two lead performances shine so bright. The intense method acting that Brando brings to the character was such a sharp contrast to many of the performances of that day. It really made a strong impression and still does today. And I love how the film feels like a stage production while at the same time never losing its appeal as a movie. I know that’s a weird thing to put into words. Ha
Hey thanks Keith! Very astute observation there about the feel of a stage production. Indeed it does, which is a great homage given the play origin. I wonder if that’s intentional given that Kazan also did the very popular stage version initially, and both leads have played their respective roles on stage also.
I think so. And in many ways that makes it much more effective. For me that approach was a real strength to the film.
Yeah, and the way Kazan worked closely w/ the set designer on this, and physically moving the walls closer to make the actors feel more claustrophobic, etc. Those are definitely fantastic directional touches that worked wonders for the film.
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Great review that makes me want to watch this electrifying movie again .
Thanks Vin! It was quite electrifying indeed, and Brando’s probably one of the sexiest actors I’ve seen on screen. I don’t think any contemporary actor could even match him.
All the performances were excellent. I first saw this film with my Grandma years ago and I’m thankful she suggested it. Though it was amusing because she really had a thing for Brando, guess he must have been the hunk of the day when she was younger.
What a great review Ruth! Haven’t checked out your posts for a while,I’ll get to them now!
Personally, I love the play,it’s one of my favourites. This was one of our books/plays for A-levels. I love the sort of contrast between the effeminate aristocracy of Blanche and the dionysic/hedonistic aggressive sexual energy from Stanley. I thought the tragedy at the end was pretty powerful.
But I agree with alot of what you’re saying, it is generally dark and not very cheery. Maybe you’ll find the written play better.
Thanks J! Glad to see you stop by.
That’s cool that you’ve seen the play. Man I’d love to see one if it’s playing in a theater near me. I think it might’ve worked better as a play, boy I can’t imagine how awesome it’d have been to see Brando perform in the stage version!! Though I’m not in love w/ the film, I still appreciate its artistry and the acting.
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