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A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951)
Her family plantation lost to creditors, faded Southern belle Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) seeks solace and comfort with her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter), in the french quarter of New Orleans, where she ends up tangling with Stella's abusive and animalistic husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando). Leigh, Hunter and Karl Malden (as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, one of Stanley's poker buddies) all nabbed Oscars for their work in this controversial adaptation of Tennessee Williams's classic meditation on raw sexuality and lost gentility.
#45 on the AFI Top 100.
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE was nominated for the Best Picture award.
The director, Elia Kazan, brings Tennessee Williams classic stage play to the screen, to a great effect. Kazan received a nomination for best directing.
Quote: "A Literary Masterpiece on Film" - Brent Taft
The basic story involves the volatile relationship between a violent man , his pregnant wife and unbalanced sister-in-law, in a run down tenement apartment, located in the colorful French Quarter of New Orleans.
A nervous and mentally fragile woman, Blanche Dubois (Vivien Leigh) with no where else to go, winds up on the seedy doorstep of her pregnant sister, Stella (Kim Hunter), and her brutish, hostile husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando) claiming nervous exhaustion due to financial difficulties, which resulted in the selling of the family plantation, Belle Rive. Stanley doesn't like the devious Blanche or trust her a bit, and the two are at odds with each other, putting Stella (Kim Hunter) in the middle. Stanley and Stella truly love each other, and need each other. Despite his "macho swagger," Stanley is emotionally dependent on Stella, and Stella dearly loves Stanley, despite his obvious warts, faults, and weaknesses. Deep down Stanley is a good guy. But, is that enough?
Blanche, a lonely, tortured woman, who is on the edge of loosing her mind, tries to put herself between them in various ways, causing trouble. What a lovely situation for a pregnant woman and her volatile husband! Blanche looks down on her sister for marrying such a man, and does her best to influence her sister. Both Blanche and Stella, in a united front, harshly shame Stanley for his "crude Polack behavior," throughout the story, causing more friction build up.
Blanche also gives seductive signals to Stanley. The sexual vibes between Blanche and Stanley were detectable in several scenes, despite 1951 censor standards. As Blanche may be a victim, she is not an innocent, and uses promiscuity to express her emotional neediness, and escape from her loneliness. This "nymphomaniac" behavior has gotten her in trouble, and stems from a traumatic event in her teen years.
Stanley does some investigating and finds out that Blanche has been lying to them. Blanche mortgaged the plantation and spent all the money. It also comes to light the reason why Blanche had to leave her home in Ms., as her past catches up to her. She was exiled from her home town of Laurel, Mississippi because she seduced a 17 year old male student in her high school English class. It looks like Blanche has found a way out of her predicament, when one of Stanley's friends, Mitch (Karl Malden) falls for her, thinking that she is a refined southern lady. Stanley tells him the truth about Blanche, which stops that possibility, and puts Blanche a step closer to complete insanity.
When Stella goes to the hospital to have the baby, Stanley and Blanche are left alone in the house. Stanley sexually assaults Blanche, sending her over the edge into madness, which doesn't improve this family's troubles, to say the least.
True to the spirit of William's play, this intelligent and thought-provoking screenplay, by Tennessee Williams and Oscar Saul, explores the weaknesses of the human condition, as it shows us the story of yet another dysfunctional southern family, filled with flawed but human people, making bad choices, winding up in messes, and finding tragic ways to survive the resulting pain and havoc. The greatness of this screenplay relies not on action, but what is said between characters, and the build up of emotional reactions that result, as characters slowly loose control. By listening to the dialog between the characters, and putting two and two together, Williams gives the audience the opportunity to decide for themselves the truth about the characters, making this film a psychological puzzle of sorts, which requires the audience to think in order to get the most out of this film.
Marlon Brando's snarling, mumbling, violent Stanley Kowalski explodes from the screen with raw naturalism. Movie acting would never be the same after his intense, Method Acting portrayal. While not all critics appreciated it at the time, the movie audiences were knocked out by Brando, particularly the young, for whom he represented a spokesman for the inarticulate.
A favorite scene takes place outside Brando's
home at night. Sweating, with his ever present ripped t-shirt,
he cries out, "Stella!" in anguish, seeking his wife.
Sounding more like a wounded animal than a civilized man, Brando
vividly portrays the vulnerability inside the animalistic man.
A favorite scene with Vivien Leigh is her final harrowing, pitiful descent into absolute madness, a radiant, wrenching performance.
Kim Hunter, as Stella, does a wonderful job as the most stable character in the screenplay who carries the burdens put on her by her life, her husband, Stanley, her sister, and her pregnancy, like a trooper, always in control of her feelings, and holds everything together for awhile, despite being between two clashing worlds of the volatile and the insane.
The film is a classic because of the powerful, emotionally fiery screenplay, gifted direction, by Elia Kazan, and the powerhouse acting, particularly the brilliant Brando, and Vivien Leigh. Oscars went to Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden. Brando, who more than deserved it, didn't get one. The film also won Oscars for the art direction-set decoration.