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Blanche Dubois arrives in the French Quarter of New Orleans suffering
from a mental tiredness brought on by a series of financial problems
that have ended in the family losing their plantation. She has come to
stay with her sister, Stella and her husband Stanley Kowalski in their
serviceable little apartment. The aggressive and animalistic Stanley
immediately marks himself as the opposite of the feminine and refined
Blanche and Stella finds herself pulled between the two of them.
Stanley suspects all is not as it seems and begins to pry into
Blanche's colourful past, even as Blanche spots a way out in the arms
of the Mitch, a man captivated by her. However it doesn't take long
before the cracks begin to show in the relationships and in Blanche
It almost goes without saying that the writing here is of top-notch quality. The story is a relatively simple character piece that can be summed up in a couple of sentences, however this would do a great injustice to the depth of development and the convincing manner in which the characters are all written and the story told. It is not so much the depth that some of the characters go to, but the complexity that is effortlessly written into them we can see it writ large on them, but not to the point where it seems obvious or uninteresting. Blanche is of course the focus and she is a mess of neurosis barely hidden behind a front of respectability that clearly doesn't convince her anymore than it does Stanley. Mitch is also really well written at first it is comic that he tries to be such a gentleman while having the brute just under the surface, but later his frustration is heavy on his face along with his anger. The overall story is surprisingly, well, "seedy" is the best word that comes to mind. It is in the gutter and no matter what Blanche wants to believe, that is where it stays and the film is right there the whole time.
How Kazan managed it in the early fifties is beyond me, because even now the film is pretty graphic in its violence to women, subject matter and rippling sexuality across pictures and characters. It is a compelling story due to the characters and the manner in which they are delivered Kazan's atmospheric direction really helps; the films feels humid and close, and he has done it all with a basic set and a camera. The lighting throughout is wonderful both in the general atmosphere but also specific touches such as the way Blanche manages to visibly age due to lighting changes when the film has slight chances of tone.
Of course the main reason I keep coming back to this wonderful film is the actors, who take the opportunity and, in many cases, make it so that it is hard to see anyone else playing their roles. Leigh is perfect for the role and gets everything absolutely spot on; she is vulnerable yet self-seeking, confident yet needy, proper yet unstable. Even visually Leigh is convincing in terms of body language but also the fact that she looks the right mix of ages, looking beautiful one moment but worn and defeated the next totally, totally deserved her Oscar. Brando made his name here and even now his performance is electrifying and memorable. He has his big scenes where he gets to play to the back row but he also has moments where he does nothing other than be a presence on screen; no matter what is going on we are watching him because we are as in awe and yet as afraid of his power as Blanche is herself. Together Leigh and Brando dominate the screen and whenever either of them are on screen it is hard to look away. As a result, Kim Hunter sort of gets lost in the background although her performance is still good. Karl Madden is great but again only holds a supporting role and deserved his Oscar for a convincing performance of a well-written character. Of course it is easier to give good performances with great material than with bad material but there have been enough versions of this play around for us to see how lesser actors can fail where this cast soared.
Overall this is a great film that sees so many critical aspects all coming together as one final product. A superb play has undergone a great adaptation that has been seized upon a great cast who deliver a collection of performances that deserve all the praise heaped on them, all directed with a real sense of atmosphere that really delivers a seedy and erotic film both for its time and today. I cannot think of an excuse for people not having seen this film.
Tennessee Williams himself wrote of Vivien Leigh"s performance in "Streetcar
Named Desire": "She brought everything I intended to the role and even much
more than I had dared dream of".
Brando is wonderful as Stanley Kowalski, but the new viewers to the film seem to come away with the haunting greatness of Vivien Leigh in what is one of the most harrowing and shattering pieces of acting ever committed to film.
Although some have expressed regret that Jessica Tandy did not repeat her stage performance, it is probably good to note that her husband Hume Cronyn and Elia Kazan (the director of the film and play) both never felt that Tandy quite got the character right. If you listen to the radio performance of extracted scenes that Tandy gave on the occasion of the Pulitzer Prize award, it will reenforce the perfection of Leigh's inflections and innate understanding of the role. This inner and complete understanding is what Brando praises Leigh for in his autobiography. He agrees that she plays this Hamlet of female roles better than anyone because he felt she was quite like the character...sadly.
If anyone is interested in great acting check out "Streetcar" for Vivien Leigh's Academy Award winning performance. The supporting cast is outstanding from Kim Hunter and Karl Malden (both Oscar winners for the film)to, of course, the iconographic T-shirt-torn Brando.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had put off watching this video for sometime. I was afraid that I might
be disappointed in this classic. Instead I was drawn into this marvelous
film with its great Tennesse Williams' script.
Williams doesn't let any of his characters off. Brando's Stanley is a boorish, bullying, loudmouth. But he also possesses an extraordinary physical sexuality and also seems to be more than a little bit of a victim himself. Life has not been smooth for Stanley. No silver spoon here. Both his wife and sister-in-law put him down as a crude "Polack" and other variations on that theme. Not that there isn't some obvious truth to their put downs. However, truly nice people (as opposed to "nice" people) do not engage in such speech. There's also the table scene where Stanley is eating chicken and receives a harsh verbal reprimand from Stella. Whereupon he sees the tactics of class shame being used and he proceeds to blow up in a very physical and blue collar fashion. Stanley sexually assaults Blanche at he end of the film. Blanche was already hearing voices by this time in the film, and this act of aggression pushes her over the edge. Brando's performance was really superb.
Hunter's Stella is by far the most likeable character of the major 3 players. She's honest, kind, sexy, and very much in love with Stanley--despite his obvious faults. The depiction of the physical love and lust between Stanley and Stella is classic. She also loves her sister and wants what's best for her. She and Blanche collude to some extent against Stanley which provides much of the film's strongest tensions. Stella is financially and sexually/emotionally dependent on Stanley, but she's also a strong character in her own right. We don't really know for sure if she'll go back to Stanley at the end of the film after the baby and the sexual aggression against Blanche. We do know that Stanley for all his macho swagger is extremely emotionally dependent on her.
Vivien Leigh's character was a revelation. I thought the most brilliant moments in the film were towards the end when her character was speaking. I didn't really think Leigh's accent was all that great, but hey, when you can act like that who cares? Blanche is a victim, but Blanche is anything but innocent. She was having sex with one of her high school English lit students back in Mississippi. Naturally, the small town locals did not take a shine to such behavior. Also, she was more than just a bit on the promiscuous side for a high school teacher in mid-century small town America. It's not surprising that she got chased out of her small town teaching job. There's also the touching scene where she asks for and gets a kiss from the boy who is collecting for the newspaper. It's all tied in to her love for the boy who killed himself over her when she was 16. She said some very cruel words to him about being weak which led to the boy's suicide. She's not an innocent--by any means. The sexual attraction between Stanley and her is noticeable in a number of scenes. And yet for all her pretentiousness, lies, and putting on airs, the audience is drawn to her. Her fading beauty, vulnerability, and weakness can hardly help but elicit a sympathetic response. Blanche is the human condition writ large. In some respects there is some of Blanche in all of us: hidden ugliness from the past, both emotional and sexual neediness, and just plain old human weakness. I think Leigh's performance was really brilliant. And thank God for Tennnessee Williams and his ability to portray people more as we are than as we would like to be.
I do agree with at least one of the previous viewers that the term "nymphomaniac" seems somewhat out-of-date in describing Blanche. Blanche uses sex in a promiscuous fashion to escape from her loneliness. I think this is the same pathology that both men and women engage in when having "casual--such a strange contradiction in terms--sex". I certainly don't think that Williams saw her as either a "nympho" or a "slut". Rather, just a lonely, tortured individual.
There is little to be said about this movie that thousands of critics have not stated already. It is a magnificent piece of cinema, with an intricate script delivered by actors at the peak of their talents. Leigh is unbearably brittle and fragile and she dances precariously on the edge of sanity. Marlon Brando embodies a sense of brooding masculinity that other men can only dream of attaining, while creating an enduring cinema icon and delivering one of the all-time great movie lines. From the raucous jazz score to the sleazy production design bathed in smoldering grey, 'Streetcar' is a class-act from beginning to end; sexy, brutal, and endlessly fascinating.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tennessee Williams, 'A
Streetcar Named desire' is set in post World War II New Orleans and
centers around a young married couple attempting to keep their bond
despite a noted class distinction. Stanley Kowalski, played by Marlon
Brando in perhaps one of the greatest performances ever to project off
the big screen, is a young Polish American living in a cozy apartment
with his quasi-newlywed bride. Stella, a magnolia fresh off a Southern
plantation, portrayed with equal panache by Kim Hunter. Things seem to
be going along pretty well until Stella's older sister shows up on the
doorstep. Blanche Dubois, ( Vivian Leigh ) is a figure as obnoxious as
she is tragic, and almost from the very start she is despised by her
Polish brother-in-law. Kowalski suddenly discovers that his middle
class roots, which hadn't seemed like a much of a point of contention
with his new wife, are the subject of snide insinuations and
clandestine conversations rolling off the tongue of his sister-in-law.
Who, it turns out, is not without considerable baggage herself. That's
when the once toasty love nest ( Complete with the memory of twinkling
Christmas lights ) turns into a war zone. Things are further
complicated when Stanley's Army/factory buddy, brilliantly portrayed by
Karl Malden, suddenly takes a shine to Miss Dubois, The incredible
thing about 'Streetcar' is not just the quality of the acting, but the
way the actors approach the complex and beautiful dialog. Brando
combines dynamic sexual magnetism with passionate anger, possessive
love and cynicism. Vivian Leigh's tragic character perhaps mirroring
the insanity she suffered through in her own life, is portrayed with
raving vanity one minute and fleeting youth the next. As she often
hears and sees flashbacks which the audience does not. William's
dialogue manages to do the impossible, that is to blend in poetic
imagery with normal conversation, while not sounding sickly sentimental
or downright ridiculous. This is as much a credit to the actors
themselves, especially Leigh, who really had to do the bulk of the
scenes in which Blanche begins to lose her mind for good. But Brando is simply too hard to beat. Stanley Kowalski is fully rounded in every sense when this great American actor delivers his lines. Perhaps the only injustice is that Brando did not receive the Oscar for this film, while his costars Hunter, Leigh and Malden all did. Numerous attempts have been made to remake this film, both on the stage and for television. But no one has been able to execute the premise like this wonderful quartet. A fantastic and moving American classic. 10 out of a possible 10 T.H.
Blanche DuBois reminds me of Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. (1950). Both
characters succumb to their alter egos, and descend into their own
worlds of fantasy and half-truths.
In "A Streetcar Named Desire", Blanche travels from her antebellum roots in Mississippi to New Orleans, to see her sister Stella. But, upon arriving in the Big Easy, Blanche must confront Stella's husband Stanley, a greasy, poker-playing neanderthal lout who knows a thing or two about reality. It's the clash between Blanche's stately delusions and Stanley's gritty realism that soups up the drama in this Tennessee Williams play, converted to film classic by director Elia Kazan.
The drama is absorbing. But the performances of Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, as Stanley and Blanche, are what make the film the cinematic powerhouse that it is. Excellent B&W lighting and jazzy background music amplify the seedy, sleazy atmosphere, which adds depth and texture to the story and the acting. And, of course, the claustrophobic, steamy French Quarter makes a perfect setting.
As one would expect for a film derived from a play, "A Streetcar Named Desire" is very talky. Generally, I don't care for films burdened with a ten thousand page script. But this talk-fest is an exception. Overwhelming what I would otherwise consider a weakness, the acting of Brando and Leigh alone are enough to justify a two hour investment, and render an enjoyable and memorable cinematic experience.
I often asked myself this question with mixed responses. Did Brando
make Streetcar great? Or was he just great in it?
Vivien Leigh is simply haunting and never not shocking. There is more going on there than just a performance. She appears out of herself and hovering ever so softly above. As for the rumored mental illnesses, I can only speculate. I do know for sure that her visualization of Blanche DuBois is the single best performance by an actress I've seen. Well that might not mean much, but I've seen a lot of movies.
Brando made On the Waterfront a classic, but Leigh made Streetcar unforgettable. I always felt like it was a continuation from her most timeless role as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. Like what would have happened to Scarlett, if she was allowed to grow old. Maybe I'm just crazy. But I think the billing says it all; Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden. I don't think you could dream up a finer cast. Brando might have been the sexiest thing alive, but it's obvious that Leigh made this film great with some memorable help from some movie icons.
Brando may have sent an Indian to receive his second Oscar, but Leigh used her second as a doorstop to her bathroom.
Now that this filmization of "Streetcar" is over a half century old, it can
be looked at in a more objective manner than that of the early fifties.
The "classical/traditional" acting style of Vivien Leigh, which was placed
in stark contrast to the rest of the production personnel, continues to hold
its own brilliantly.
It's probably hard today for some to imagine the strong opposition Leigh's casting faced back in 1950, when this prim actress from England was chosen (mostly by studio chief Jack Warner) over "method" Broadway actress Jessica Tandy.
A goodly number of cast and production people from the hit play directed by Elia Kazan were engaged by the director for the film version, and they were not at all enthusiastic about risking a "clash" of acting styles in the leading, pivotal role of Blanche. Kazan himself was reportedly very pro-Tandy, and quite disappointed in the studio's decision.
Yet, Warner and his staff felt Tandy wasn't that well known to the general movie going public--especially in contrast to Leigh, whose marquee name was by then almost magical. In recent interviews, Kazan admitted that working with Vivien was "a real challenge."
In looking at the film today, however, it's Leigh who emerges as a genuine "star" of this production. True, her facial expressions, vocal inflections and body gestures may be the result of careful, deliberate planning, but so what? It's also the aspect that commands attention and draws the viewer to her portion of the screen throughout this film.
Her southern accent, so well learned and retained from her work as Scarlett in "GWTW," is convincing and very beautiful to hear. It also fits Blanche perfectly, as does Leigh's stylized "choreography," which was undoubtedly retained from her long-running London stage performance.
Not all the combined, formidable talents of "method" giants as Karl Malden, Kim Hunter, Marlon Brando or Kazan can diminish the hypnotic work of Leigh here. It may not have excited "Gadge" Kazan, but it remains a highlight performance in film history (and impressed the Academy enough to bestow an "Oscar" to Vivien.)
It also didn't hurt to have Alex North's pungent score, which remains this composer's finest hour.
"A Streetcar Named Desire" is along with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" the best movies adapted from a play ever. Vivien Leigh is excellent in the most difficult role of the world theatre and far more impressive here than in "Gone With the Wind". With the performance she gives she proves what a great actress really means. Marlon Brando is equally impressive in a role that made him a star. He gives a different dimension to Stanley and introduces method acting to Hollywood. This role that deserved an Oscar is maybe the best of his career. Kim Hunter and Karl Malden are ideal in the supporting roles. The scene that Stanley and Stella are reconciled after a fight they have is full of passion and desire and is now regarded a classic. But the person that created the atmosphere and helped the actors create their roles is Elia Kazan (to me he is the best director ever lived). Kazan manages to create a great atmosphere and make the movie not be just another stagy play. "A Streetcar Nemed Desire" is undoubtedly a milestone in cinema's history that nobody should miss.
When the history of American theater is written for the 20th Century
the two most prominent names will be Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee
Williams. Both men pushed the exploration of the human soul to the very
limit in their work. Writing drama will never be the same because of
the work of these two men.
Williams's masterpiece is A Streetcar Named Desire which ran over 860 performances in three years. When Warner Brothers bought the film rights, they did the highly unusual thing of bringing almost the entire Broadway cast over. That included Marlon Brando for whom this was his second film. Brando was not a movie name yet and the decision was made to recast the female lead with Vivien Leigh instead of Jessica Tandy who played Blanche Dubois on Broadway.
In doing so this gave Vivien Leigh the very unique position of having played opposite the two men who are held up as male acting icons for the last century, Marlon Brando and Leigh's husband at the time Laurence Olivier. Certainly Blanche Dubois was unlike anything she ever did opposite Olivier.
In fact Blanche is opposite that other southern belle that Leigh got her first Oscar for, Scarlett O'Hara. Scarlett may come on like a spoiled brat at first, but she turns out to be made of some real stern stuff when the chips are down.
Blanche Dubois however retreats into her own fantasies when trouble brews. She's left the plantation home in a small Mississippi town where she doubles as an English teacher and comes to live with her sister Stella and her husband Stanley Kowalski.
Brando is Kowalski and for years impressionists did him by yelling from the pit of their abdomens, "STELLA, STELLA." That is until The Godfather and then they stuffed their cheeks and said how one day a favor would be asked in return.
But impressionists only make a living because of the impressions made by the players. On Broadway and Hollywood, Stanley Kowalski made Marlon Brando a superstar and an icon for a couple of generations. Kowalski as done by Brando is a force of nature, primeval impulses that bubble to the surface in all of us sometimes.
Kim Hunter as Stella Kowalski and Karl Malden as Mitch Mitchell also won Oscars in the Supporting categories to go with Leigh's. Hunter is a torn women fighting both suspicions about her husband and her sister. The real reason why Blanche has come to live with them and the affect her silly flirtations are having on her husband and their marriage.
Malden as Mitchell starts out as passive and as nice as Jim Connor, the gentleman caller from that other Tennessee Williams masterpiece, A Glass Menagerie. But he proves to be something less than meets the eye in his dealings with Leigh.
A Streetcar Named Desire won all kinds of Awards, the three acting Oscars, one for Elia Kazan as Best Director and a whole bunch of technical ones. But An American In Paris won for Best Picture and Hollywood decided young Brando could wait for his and they gave it that year to Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen.
This film is still the best adaption to the screen of a Tennessee Williams play and is an absolute must to see.
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