Director: Elia Kazan
Writer: Tennessee Williams, Oscar Saul
As far as acting goes, it doesn’t get much better than this amazing adaptation of the classic, Pulitzer prize-winning Tennessee Williams play. This is a story as emotionally complex as it gets, revolving around a group of flawed, complicated, painfully human characters who are all played with rare intensity. And so we follow Blanche DuBois, as portrayed by Vivien Leigh. You probably associate Leigh to Gone With the Wind, where she shined as Scarlett O’Hara, but this is a unexplored, ambiguous territory. Blanche is a tortured soul, a beautiful school teacher past her prime but still clinging after her lost youth. She tried to find refuge in alcohol, imagined fantasies and in frivolous affairs with strangers, but that just got her a bad rep. She now arrives to New Orleans, with nothing but her demons and her tired, phony glamour. She moves in with her kind sister Stella (Kim Hunter), who lives in a small, crummy apartment with her working class husband Stanley (Marlon Brando). From the get go things are shaky between the fragile Blanche and the rude Stanley. He can see through the fabricated facade she laid to hide her weakness, and he’s not gonna do like everyone else and believe her bullshit. No, if she’s gonna live in his home and drink his liquor, he shouldn’t have to change his ways. But Stanley’s cruelty is all it needs to send Blanche over the edge, deep into madness. Unless the gentle, lonely Mitch’ (Karl Malden) affection saves her…
“A Streetcar Named Desire” is a fascinating, wrenching character study. It intelligently describes the needs and feelings of its four main characters, and director Elia Kazan uses moody lighting and subtle camera movements only to emphasize on the incredible performances of the leads, who all got Oscar nominations for the picture and all won except for, ironically, Brando, even though this turned is often hailed as the most influential male portrayal on screen. The great Method actor makes Stanley into a riveting, rough, sensual man’s man. His behavior is unacceptable, yet his blunt attitude and animal aura only make him more appealing, to his wife at least. Played by Kim Hunter, Stella is a tossed around housewife who can’t help but forgive her careless man. Then there’s Karl Malden, who also played along Brando in Kazan’s “On The Waterfront” and in the Brando-directed Western “One-Eyed Jacks”. Malden is a more conventional but still very effective actor, who carefully reveals his character’s nature. His Mitch is a sad, lonely man who desperately needs somebody, anybody. So does Blanche, and their thing could lead to marriage for all the wrong reasons, if Blanche’s twisted past doesn’t become an issue. And what about Blanche, whom Vivien Leigh propels into dangerous emotional grounds. Leigh bares all, making us forget that she’s just acting. “A Streetcar named Desire” is about the senselessness of desire, about fading beauty and shattered dreams. It’s a powerful masterpiece which still feels oh so relevant after almost 50 years.