A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951) B/W 125m dir: Elia Kazan
w/Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden, Rudy Bond, Nick Dennis, Peg Hillias, Wright King, Richard Garrick, Ann Dere, Edna Thomas, Mickey Kuhn
From The Movie Guide: "In this consensual screen classic, Marlon Brando is electrifying as working-class hunk Stanley Kowalski, reprising his Broadway role in Tennessee Williams's most famous play. Elia Kazan, who directed the play in New York, made the trek west for the film, joined by Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden, Rudy Bond, Nick Dennis, Peg Hillias, and Edna Thomas from the stage version. Only Jessica Tandy, who had been a smash as Blanche DuBois on Broadway, was replaced --- studio chiefs felt that she wasn't well-known enough for the movie. The role went to Vivien Leigh, who had been starring in a London presentation of the play directed by her husband, Laurence Olivier. The resulting film is an actors' showcase and a flamboyant, sometimes uneasy admixture of Manhattan and Hollywood sensibilities.
"The film opens with Blanche (Leigh) arriving in New Orleans, where she intends to stay with her pregnant sister Stella Kowalski (Hunter) and her brutish husband Stanley (Brando). (To get to their seedy apartment, Blanche has to take a streetcar named Desire --- named after a New Orleans street.) Stella, an earthy, pragmatic woman, seems happy in her marriage to the trashy but overtly sexual Stanley, but Blanche is delicate, morose, and deeply neurotic. Stanley immediately sees through Blanche's southern-belle facade and the two are quickly at odds. As sexual and financial tensions escalate, Stanley sets out to reveal the truth about Blanche.
"A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE features some of the finest ensemble acting ever offered on the screen, speaking some of Williams's most vivid dialogue. Kazan's direction, however, sometimes verges on the pedestrian, as though he's struggling to recreate his Broadway staging in a much more visually demanding medium. Leigh, in the final great triumph of her screen career, is the very picture of tattered magnificence. She's like a cracked figurine from The Glass Menagerie come to life; her emotional choices are tragic and horrifying at the same time. Brando has no peer when it comes to conveying the physical threat and sexual potency that make the character work. Kim Hunter is more than adequate in the most sketchily written role. Three minutes of footage censored from the original were restored in a 1994 video re-release."
From Roger Ebert's website (www.rogerebert.com), his 1993 review of the restored film:
"Marlon Brando didn't win the Academy Award in 1951 for his acting in A Streetcar Named Desire. That Oscar went to Humphrey Bogart, for The African Queen. But you could make a good case that no performance had more influence on modern film acting styles than Brando's work as Stanley Kowalski, Tennessee Williams' rough, smelly, sexually charged hero.
"Before this role, there was usually a certain restraint in American movie performances. Actors would portray violent emotions, but you could always sense to some degree a certain modesty that prevented them from displaying their feelings in raw nakedness.
"Brando held nothing back, and within a few years his was the style that dominated Hollywood movie acting. This movie led directly to work by Brando's heirs such as Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Jack Nicholson and Sean Penn.
"The film itself, hailed as realistic in 1951, now seems claustrophobic and mannered --- and all the more effective for that.
"The Method actors, Brando foremost, always claimed their style was a way to reach realism in a performance, but the Method led to super-realism, to a heightened emotional content that few 'real' people would be able to sustain for long, or convincingly.
"Look at the way Brando, as Kowalski, stalks through his little apartment in the French Quarter. He is, the dialogue often reminds us, an animal. He wears a torn T-shirt that reveals muscles and sweat. He smokes and drinks in a greedy way; he doesn't have the good manners that 1951 performances often assumed. (As a contrast, look at Bogart's grimy riverboat captain in The African Queen. He's also meant to be rude and crude, but beneath the oil and sweat you can glimpse Bogart's own natural elegance.) At the same time, there is a feline grace in Brando's movements: He's a man, but not a clod, and in one scene, while he's sweet-talking his wife, Stella (Kim Hunter), he absent-mindedly picks a tiny piece of lint from her sweater. If you can take that moment and hold it in your mind with the famous scene where he assaults Stella's sister, Blanche DuBois Vivien Leigh), you can see the freedom Brando is giving to Stanley Kowalski --- and the range.
"When A Streetcar Named Desire was first released, it created a firestorm of controversy. It was immoral, decadent, vulgar and sinful, its critics cried. And that was after substantial cuts had already been made in the picture, at the insistence of Warner Bros., driven on by the industry's own censors. Elia Kazan, who directed the film, fought the cuts and lost. For years the missing footage --- only about five minutes in length, but crucial --- was thought lost. But this 1993 restoration splices together Kazan's original cut, and we can see how daring the film really was.
"The 1951 cuts took out dialogue that suggested Blanche DuBois was promiscuous, perhaps a nymphomaniac attracted to young boys. It also cut much of the intensity from Stanley's final assault of Blanche. Other cuts were more subtle. Look at the early scene, for example, where Stanley plants himself on the street outside his apartment and screams, 'Stella!' In the censored version, she stands up inside, pauses, starts down the stairs, looks at him, continues down the stairs, and they embrace. In the uncut version, only a couple of shots are different --- but what a difference they make! Stella's whole demeanor seems different, seems charged with lust. In the apartment, she responds more visibly to his voice. On the stairs, there are closeups as she descends, showing her face almost blank with desire. And the closing embrace, which looks in the cut version as if she is consoling him, looks in the uncut version as if she has abandoned herself to him.
"Another scene lost crucial dialogue. Stella tells her sister, 'Stanley's always smashed things. Why, on our wedding night, as soon as we came in here, he snatched off one of my slippers and rushed about the place smashing the light bulbs with it.' After Blanche is suitably shocked, Stella, leaning back with a funny smile, says 'I was sort of thrilled by it.' All that dialogue was trimmed, perhaps because it provided a glimpse into psychic realms the censors were not prepared to acknowledge.
"The 1993 version of the film extends the conversation that Blanche has with a visiting newspaper boy, making it clear she is strongly attracted to him. It also adds details from Blanche's description of the suicide of her young husband; it is now more clear, although still somewhat oblique, that he was a homosexual, and she killed him with her taunts.
"Despite the overwhelming power of Brando's performance Streetcar is one of the great ensemble pieces in the movies. Kim Hunter's Stella can be seen in this version as less of an enigma; we can see more easily why she was attracted to Stanley. Vivien Leigh's Blanche is a sexually hungry woman posing as a sad, wilting flower; the earlier version covered up some of the hunger. And Karl Malden's Mitch --- Blanche's hapless gentleman caller --- is more of a sap, now that we understand more fully who he is really courting, and why.
"The movie was shot, of course, in black and white. Dramas made in 1951 nearly always were. Color would have been fatal to the special tone. It would have made the characters seem too real, when we need them exactly like this, black and gray and silver, shadows projected on the screens of their own dreams and needs. Watching the film is like watching a Shakespearean tragedy. Of course the outcome is predestined, but everything is in the style by which the characters arrive there. Watch Brando absently scratching himself on his first entrance. Look at the way he occupies the little apartment as if it were a pair of dirty shorts. Then watch him flick that piece of lint."
Oscars went to Leigh (Best Actress), Malden (Supporting Actor), and Hunter (Supporting Actress); and to the film for Best Art Direction (Richard Day). STREETCAR was also nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Brando), Screenplay (Williams), Cinematography (Harry Stradling), Score (Alex North), Costume Design (Lucinda Ballard), and Sound (Colonel Nathan Levinson).