April 2016 Blindspot: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

StreetcarNamedDesire

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.

First Impressions

Well, what can I say… my first impression had more to do with Marlon Brando. Can you blame me? I mean look. at. him.

tumblr_o2qnvyjTWj1qd6639o1_500tumblr_o2qnvyjTWj1qd6639o3_500 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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Final Thoughts:

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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Check out my full 2016 lineup by clicking the graphic below

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Have you seen A Streetcar Named Desire? I’d love to hear what you think!

Question of the Week: Who’d you pick for Best (or Worst) Casting in 2012?

Since it’s the week of the Oscars, I’ve been preparing my predictions and also an Oscar-edition of Everybody’s Chattin’ series. That’s on schedule for Friday but today I just want to pick your brain a bit today, so hope you’d indulge me.

CastingByDocI just found out about this post from Flavorwire site (thanks to @WordandFilm tweet): New Oscar Categories We’d Like to See — And Who We’d Nominate to Win Them. They have about five different category suggestions, but I really like the Best Ensemble category (like in the SAG Awards) and also honoring Casting Directors in the Best Casting category. I totally agree w/ the article in that “casting directors are the unsung heroes of the industry… The work they do is often key, yet widely devalued and misunderstood.”

From that article, I also learned about this awesome documentary Casting By that highlights the career of Marion Dougherty, who was the first casting director to receive single-card screen credit. Based on the review on IMDb, the film features a bunch of footage of first roles given to future stars, i.e. Warren Beatty, Marlon Brando, and James Dean, who was apparently one of the first actors she had cast.

Now, back to the Best Casting question. If I to take all the casting in 2012 films, obviously some worked out and some didn’t. On the top of my head I think I’d the award to the casting director(s) of Silver Linings Playbook for casting Jennifer Lawrence as an unstable young woman struggling with the loss of her husband.

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Best Casting of 2012?

I just think she’s just perfect in the role, wise beyond her years even though she’s just entered her legal drinking age of 21 when the film was made! I really can’t picture anyone else in the role that could do an equally effective job. Now, I’m sure there are others that have made an excellent casting decision – whoever cast nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild obviously has a keen eye for talent. I haven’t seen the film yet though, so can’t say much about her acting.

As for the worst, well I’m going to *honor* Hollywood’s most famous young couple Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in their roles in Bel Ami and Snow White & The Huntsman, respectively.  I’ve already made my feelings known about the vacant *acting style* of K-Stew in my review. As for Pattinson, he was so ill-fitting and utterly unconvincing as the supposedly seductive and manipulative George Duroy, the protagonist from Guy de Maupassant’s classic novel. It’s even worse seeing him [over]acting opposite real thespians Kristin Scott Thomas and Uma Thurman in the film! I’d think just by casting different [read: more capable and expressive] actors in the leading roles would improve both films significantly!

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Worst Casting Duo in 2012

Now your turn!

If there were a Best (or Worst) Casting award, which film would you give that award to and for which actor/actress?

The Ten Best Actors of All Time: Relay Race

My friend Nostra at My Filmviews started this back in mid March, as if he needed to prove to anyone that he lives up to the title ‘King of all Blog Series’ that I gave him 😀 What’s this relay race all about? I’ll let Nostra himself explain:

“So what’s the idea behind the relay? I’ve created a list of what I think are the best actors. At the end of the post I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. This blogger will have to remove one actor (that is an obligation) and add his own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. The idea is to make this a long race, so that enough bloggers get a chance to remove and add an actor. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best actors”

Since then the baton has been passed on to Terrence @ The Focused Filmographer, Scott @ Front Room Cinema, then off to Pete @ I Love That Film who then passed it on to yours truly!


All right, so here we go:

Robert De Niro

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Although he may not have had any roles that stood out in the last couple of years, he has proven what an amazing actor he is. Just think of his roles in Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Godfather: Part II, Goodfellas, The Untouchables, Heat and Cape Fear.

Daniel Day Lewis

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Although he might not have appeared in as many movies as some of the other actors in this list he makes up for it in the amazing performances he gives. He really disappears in his roles. Some of his best work includes My Left Foot, There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, In the Name of the Father and Last of the Mohicans.

Charlie Chaplin

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Now this might not be someone you’d immediately think of, but when it comes to comedy and silent movies he was perfect, funny and knew exactly how to make his audience care about the character he played. Some of his best work can be enjoyed in The Kid, City Lights, The Great Dictator and Modern Times.

Gary Oldman

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He has proven that he is a true chameleon, with a very distinct look in every movie he appears in. His acting is always a joy to watch. Some of his best known work is that in the Harry Potter series, Leon, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the latest Batman movies and Dracula.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

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He started acting in 1991 and really has had a very versatile career appearing in movies that are loved in art houses, but in mainstream movies as well. His movies include The Ides of March, Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Wilson’s War, Capote and Magnolia.

Marlon Brando

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Now I must admit that I haven’t seen many of his movies, but he was stunning in his most famous role in The Godfather, but also roles in Apocalypse Now, On The Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire he wowed audiences.

Robert Duvall

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Robert Duvall has had an amazing career as well. I don’t know much about his early work, but I always enjoy to see him on the screen. His characters always are injected with something that grounds them into reality. He appeared in movies like Get Low, The Godfather, Colors, Apocalypse Now and THX1138.

Christian Bale

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With quite the diverse range in roles, Oscar-winner Christian Bale goes to great lengths for many of his roles. From losing weight to almost unhealthy standards twice (The Machinist, The Fighter) to taking dance and martial arts lessons for 10 weeks for Newsies (a film which he dislikes), Bale consistently goes to incredible lengths to bring a role to life. Other examples of his great work include: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Empire of the Sun, Equilibrium, and 3:10 to Yuma.

Edward Norton

The star of one of the greatest films of all time; David Fincher’s Fight Club.  He has made a career out of playing characters with two sides to their personalities.  From an ‘innocent’ abused choirboy with a dark side in Primal Fear right up to his turn as The Incredible Hulk, Norton does Dr Jekyll and Mr Nutcase Hyde better than anybody!  American History X and Fight Club are the standout performances of his career and though he might not have a huge filmography, his casting with Brando and De Niro in The Score was a significant baton-passing to the best actor of a new generation.

My Choice: Gregory Peck

Yes I realize my pick is quite predictable to most of you, ahah. But hey, we are talking about the best actors of ALL TIME here and after seeing twenty eight of his feature films in the last six months, I can confidently say he wasn’t just a great and versatile actor, he’s an acting legend! I think even fellow AFI Lifetime Achievement Award recipient DeNiro (and his co-star in the Cape Fear remake) would vouch for him. Interestingly, Mr. Peck passed away the night DeNiro received the AFI honor, and he called Peck “elegant, distinguished and a film icon” (per People).

Most of you know he won an Oscar as the quiet hero Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, but few know that it was his fifth Oscar nomination. He nabbed the other four Best Actor nominations within the first five years of his career. Though he’s known for portraying serious roles and a lot of noble men, I think he’s as adept and convincing in his more comic roles such as in Arabesque, Designing Woman and Roman Holiday. He’s also fun to watch as an all-out bad guy, such as in Duel in the Sun and Boys of Brazil (based on what I read anyway as I haven’t seen it yet), though by his own admission he wasn’t as keen on playing. I really think Mr. Peck is the real deal, a quintessential movie star with enormous acting talent and strong screen presence to boot.

Who I Replaced: Paul Giamatti

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Oh man, I am in tears that I have to remove Giamatti from the list because I really like this guy!! I’m so sorry Scott, since you’re the one who added him to this list but if it’s any consolation, I do think he’s excellent, excellent actor but I guess out of all the nine other actors on this list, I feel like Giamatti is the one who’s perhaps more successful as a character or supporting actor, but doesn’t necessarily have that ‘star quality’ to get people to see a film simply because his name is on the marquee. I guess you could argue that about Philip Seymour Hoffman as well (which was my second choice to take out), but I do think Hoffman is the stronger and more compelling performer one of the two.



Ok, since it’s been mostly guys who’ve been picked to do the relay, I’m going to pick another girl for the next one. So I’m handing the baton over to… Kristin @ All Eyes on Screen. All right Kris, you’ve got a week to take part in the relay. Looking forward to see who you’d add and replace!
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So what do you think of my pick? Who would you replace if you were me? Let’s hear it in the comments!