One may be pardoned after seeing this movie if he were to ask, “What is the good of harrowing people like that?” This opening line isn’t mine but I am echoing a review of Brooks Atkinson of the play in the NY Times in 1947.’There is no purpose in “Streetcar.” It solves no problems;it arrives at no general moral conclusions. It is the rueful portrait of one person’, a faded Southern belle Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) who comes to visit her pregnant sister, Stella (Kim Hunter), in a seedy section of New Orleans. The predicament of Blanche is not something universal and in tracking her descent (for who like Ophelia fate hasn’t been too kind and has difficulty in separating reality from imaginings) into madness Tennessee Williams sets the stage in so many scenes to be compassionate and prise open poetic truth from that particular case.
In the classic play by Tennessee Williams, brought to the screen by Elia Kazan, Stella’s boorish husband, Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando), not only regards Blanche’s aristocratic affectations as a royal pain but also thinks she’s holding out on inheritance money that rightfully belongs to Stella. On the fringes of sanity, Blanche is trying to forget her checkered past and start life anew. Attracted to Stanley’s friend Mitch (Karl Malden), she glosses over the less savory incidents in her past, but she soon discovers that she cannot outrun that past, and the stage is set for her final, brutal confrontation with her brother-in-law.
The movie transcended “filmed theater” to become a groundbreaking Hollywood work. Battling the stringent Production Code, Kazan and Williams made concessions concerning the “perverse” sexual elements of Blanche DuBois’ past, but they retained the crucial rape of “delicate,” old-fashioned Blanche by brutal, Stanley Kowalski, earning the Code’s approval for a film definitively aimed toward adults. Marlon Brando’s performance as the ‘pollack’ Stanley was brilliant. The scene where he demands his rights and howls ‘Stella!’ was electrifying. It burned itself into popular consciousness what with Stella descending the steps slowly in a combination of carnality and doing her duty to her husband though he had wronged her sister and the scene was something elemental. Method-acting “naturalness,” established Brando as the premier purveyor of the then-innovative Method acting style and a striking erotic presence. Brando, Hunter, and Malden had all starred in the original Broadway version. The more traditional Vivien Leigh, replacing Broadway’s Jessica Tandy, similarly flourished as Blanche, while the Oscar-winning art direction, Harry Stradling’s photography, and Alex North’s moody, influential jazz score enhanced the hothouse atmosphere.
The film was nominated for 12 Oscars, including Best Picture, and took home awards for Leigh, Karl Malden, and Kim Hunter, though Brando lost to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. It was re-released in 1993 with four minutes of footage that had originally been censored by the Legion of Decency, including close-ups of Hunter’s Stella eyeing Stanley with too much desire. (ack: Hal Erickson)
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