“A Streetcar Named Desire”
The Kindness of Strangers
I have wanted to review this film for a long time and now that I am on vacation, I decided it was time for a New Orleans guy to try to have his say. I recently brought home the wonderful seven volume DVD set of “The Tennessee Williams Film Collection” and have been working my way through reacquainting myself with some of the greatest films ever made. I knew Williams when I lived in Louisiana and followed his career the best I could ad I must say that “Streetcar” is a masterpiece.
Set in the French Quarter of New Orleans during the years following WW II, “A Streetcar Named Desire” is the story of Blanche DuBois, a neurotic and fragile woman who is searching for a place in the world that she can call her own. Her past is not pretty—she has been exiled from her hometown for seducing a 17 year old student at the school where she taught. He suddenly appears at the home of her sister Stella and her husband Stanley stating that she is suffering from exhaustion. She has been beleaguered by financial calamities but Stanley is suspicious since some of the money that is gone also belongs to his wife and therefore himself. Stanley is a brute of a man and a panther. When he demands to see the bill of sale for the family plantation, Belle Reve, he defines his relationship with Blanche. They are in opposing camps and Stella is caught between the love of her sister and the love of her husband. When Blanche tries to help improve their relations, the animal in Stanley emerges and he is enraged. He deeply loves his wife but he is mystified by Blanche and is determined to teach her a lesson.
Blanche sees a way out of her troubles when she meets Mitch, a card playing pal of Stanley. Mitch reveres her but the rumors of her past begin to catch up to her and everything falls apart for Blanche.
The cast of the film is absolutely magic. Kim Hunter is Stella and she is magnificent. She is strong even though she is financially, sexually and emotionally tied to her husband and Stanley is somewhat emotionally dependent upon her. Stanley’s performance is one of the best supporting roles ever seen on the screen and she acts with every nuance of her mid and body.
Vivien Leigh is a total revelation. When she spoke, I was mystified. She is a victim but everything but innocent. She charms, she touches, and she emotes with a wonderful presence. The sexual attraction between her ad Marlon Brando as Stanley is quite noticeable and despite all of her lies ad deceptions, I was drawn to her. She is the human condition—she is hidden ugliness from the past and emotional and sexual neediness as well as ordinary human weakness. Leigh’s performance is brilliant but we must remember that it is the author who created the character. It is, however, Vivien Leigh who gives it life.
Brando as Stanley is magnificent with his breakthrough performance. His performance is without fault but this is Leigh’s movie. Her Blanche is profound as she clings to a very flimsy façade of respectability. When Leigh says she “wants magic” it is a cry from the very depth of the actress’s feeling and when she says she has always “depended on the kindness of strangers’, we want to hold out her hands and hearts to her.
The writing is some of the finest we have ever seen—the characters are beautifully written and their story s dutifully told. Their complexities are written into them but with subtlety so that they are never obvious or uninteresting.
Elia Kazan directed with a caution heretofore unseen on the screen. How he managed to get this movie made in the early 1950’s is a mystery but we should be so thankful that he did. Of course, the homosexual subplot was played down but it is graphic in its violence to women and animal sexuality. It is a compelling movie because the characters are compelling and the way we see them. The film feels humid helping to play up the sexuality therein. The entire atmosphere is wonderful and mesmerizing.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” is nothing short of a great film in which everything works. It was a superb play which successfully made the transition to the screen because of a marvelous cast and outstanding direction. There is not much that I can say that has not been said already over and over again. Let it suffice for me to say, yet once again, that “Streetcar” is magnificent in every aspect and is a landmark film in the world of cinema.