This made for TV movie of the classic Tennessee Williams play was produced following the Broadway revival starring Jessica Lange and Alex Baldwin, that was not critically well-received. Given the Hollywood marquee names of the stars, the idea that a film would be made with them is not too surprising, though we were deprived of Amy Madigan's Stella. (Ironically Lange's performance on stage had been criticized as being 'for the camera').
Given the gay context of Blanche DuBois as a fading old maid at 30, Lange is too old to play her, and her sturdy physicality works against the standard interpretation of Blanche as an Ophelia-ish lightweight. (Lange's waist makes the idea that Blanche has not gained weight in 10 years unintentionally funny). However Lange provides redemptive brilliant touches, that make her Blanche more accessible than that of Vivien Leigh in the 1951 feature, with Leigh's theatrical Gothic Blanche looking as if she would fit into The Munsters. (Don't get me started on Ann-Margret and the way she threw away Williams' lines in her TVM). Lange has fun with the southern accent, and makes you appreciate the beauty and wit of Williams' language. Witness what she does with Blanche's story of the death of her first husband, which director Glenn Jordan rewards her with a close-up for the climax, where she is touching in her hesitance and sorrow. Lange also looks very beautiful in half-shadow when Blanche confesses her indiscretions, though she is lit so well otherwise that the idea that Mitch has never seen Blanche 'properly' reads as silly. The mature Lange mannerisms - her giggling, whispering, preening and fidgeting - draw attention to the performance, and she does not use her low vocal tones enough, but still, this is a performance we should be glad has been captured.
Baldwin does not repeat the mistake of Treat Williams in the A-M TVM. He does not try to imitate Brando, but rather underplays his Stanley, which also does not detract from the character's cruelty. Baldwin shows his attraction to Lange's Blanche, which Brando never really did with Leigh, and his hairy chest still alludes to the hunk appeal that Stanley has for Stella. John Goodman's casting as Mitch was presumably at the suggestion of Lange, since he has appeared with her in many films, and he supplies delicate line readings. I suppose Diane Lane was cast as Stella for her earthiness, but she doesn't really match up as Lange's sister, and doesn't suggest the breeding Stella is supposed to have had.
Jordan doesn't get in Lange's way for the most part, and he succeeds in translating the piece fluidly from theater into film, though one shot of Blanche and Mitch standing apart on a porch makes us imagine how this would look on stage. The only time we are aware of the camera-work is in the last scene, where he repeats a shot of Blanche as she screams, somewhat gratuitously. That last scene is handled simply, with Blanche's fate and Lange's casting inevitably drawing parallels with Frances Farmer.
Although this version of the play allows for what was censored in the original production eg Blanche's husband's being a 'degenerate, thematically the treatment still has some trouble spots. Here Blanche seems to offer little resistance to Stanley's rape, and Stella does not reject Stanley once her sister is taken away. That rape remains as an in-balance in the power struggle - something you would think to be unforgivable by Stella, and certainly undeserving to Blanche. She may have been a relative overstaying her welcome, but is Blanche believable as a force that could destroy Stanley's marriage?
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