A Streetcar named Desire (1951) – Director: Elia Kazan Adapted Screenplay: Oscar Saul Starring: Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden OSCAR COUNT (4) – Best Leading Actress (Vivien Leigh), Best Supporting Actor (Karl Malden), Best Supporting Actress (Kim Hunter), Best Art/Set Decoration
“Blanche DuBois: Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Some of the subject matter involved is controversial even by today’s standards, much less the late 40s/early 50s. The topics of insanity, homosexuality, and rape will most likely be controversial for years to come. Surely we can get over homosexuality at some point and have made great strides, but this subject matter was so taboo it was cut from the conversion from play to film in the original release in 1951. It’s interesting and kind of disgusting that the rape stayed but mentioning someone was gay was too much for audiences. Of course the rape is the climax of the film and it’s too important to the narrative to be cut. There just isn’t the same impact without it. Still, Blanche’s ex-husband was gay and it’s far more effective for her to reveal this, even if it’s implied.
Being based on a masterpiece play, A Streetcar Named Desire is all about the actors giving life to Williams’s words. This film delivers four of the most memorable performances in movie history. Three of the four main players received Oscars for their work with only then newcomer Marlon Brando not winning. Had he been more established, he would’ve surely won because his Stanley Kowalski is sickening and despicable, yet fascinating in his primal nature. Few characters have ever been as fragile and confused as Vivian Leigh’s Blanche DuBois, and her portrayal of Blanche is legendary. Add in Kim Hunter as Stella, and Karl Malden as Mitch and we get a tangled web of intertwined characters which all come crashing together by the film’s end.
What drives the film is the contrast and stark differences between Stanley and Blanche. Blanche is a pretentious aging woman who alters events of her past in her mind to the point where she believes them to be true. Stanley is an abusive, no nonsense brute of a man. No two people could be more different. Blanche is the sister of Stella, who is married to Stanley. Blanche comes to stay with them, despite Stella knowing that her sister and husband won’t get along. Her lies and pretense begin immediately, but Stanley sees right through it, but has no proof to back up his intuition. Along the way, Mitch, a co-worker and “friend” of Stanley’s, falls for Blanche, as he’s caught up in her net of deceit. Stanley finally gets his proof that Blanche mixes fantasy with reality, and confronts her while Stella is at the hospital due to her pregnancy. What ensues is a harrowing scene as Blanche’s world comes crashing down and Stanley ultimately does the unthinkable.
This is a classic tragedy in that the two main characters’ flaws lead to their downfall. Blanche, with her illusions and trust that a “good man” will save her, and Stanley with his impulsiveness and disgust of deception lead them into that final confrontation. Of course, all the blame is on Stanley’s doorstep. There is no reason for him to do what he does in the end. There is nothing wrong with confronting a troubled person and trying to help get their life straight, but of course, Stanley takes it much too far. His horrible actions lead to not just four lives forever altered, but five when Stanley and Stella’s child is factored into the equation. It’s the tragic events, and the incredible performances that stand up incredibly well to modern cinema that makes A Streetcar Named Desire a great film.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT THIS FILM: One of only two films to win three academy awards for acting, the other being Network.