21
Jul
11

“A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)

Rotten Tomatoes

IMDb

Wikipedia

Co-stars: Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden

Awards: Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor

AFI Rankings: 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edtion) #47 (down from #45)

100 Years… 100 Passions #67

100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes #45 & #75

100 Years of Film Scores #19

Character: Stanley Kowalski

Let’s start with a bit of small trivia about me: this was the first movie I ever watched starring Brando. (What!? No, I have never seen The Godfather or Apocalypse Now. I know, how can I call myself a movie lover and not have seen those? I don’t know, but I’m working on rectifying that, so that is all that matters.)  However, it was not the movie that made me decide to write this blog, but more on that later. I found, upon watching this for the first time, that in every frame that Brando appears in, my mouth hung agape. On the second viewing, which was for this review, I was somewhat more capable of focusing on the performances and the film itself instead of Brando. If you have seen this film though, you know I can’t be blamed. His presence is positively electric

This is the story of Blanche DuBois, a Southern belle of fading beauty (pfffffffft this is Vivien Leigh we’re dealing with here- fading beauty my ass), dancing along the thin line of sanity and in denial of her alcoholism. She flees her home of Auriol, Mississippi after finally losing the family plantation and being dismissed from her job as a high school English teacher (although she says she is on a leave of absence). The movie opens with her stepping off a train in New Orleans and catching a streetcar named ‘Desire’. She goes to the home of her sister Stella, a two room apartment so culturally different from her Mississippi plantation home she grows instantly distressed.  Stella is married to Stanley, a decorated veteran of Polish descent and a working class background. He is a brute; loud, uncouth, violent and abusive- yet he vibrates with an incredible sexual energy. This is what attracts Stella to him: they’re a codependent couple drawn together by a powerful sexual chemistry. There is never a doubt that they are in love.

Blanche is both repulsed by, and attracted to, Stanley. She fears his violent outbursts yet barely conceals her desire for him. However, it is her concern for her sister Stella’s well-being, and her  having nowhere else to go, that has her keeping court in the tiny apartment. Stanley hates Blanche’s presence, as it disrupts his relationship with his wife. He also doesn’t trust her, and refuses to play into her delusions of grandeur. There is a moment near the end of the film, when Stanley gives us a glimpse of life before Blanche:

“You showed me a snapshot of the place with them columns, and I pulled you down off them columns, and you loved it, having them colored lights goin’. And wasn’t we happy together? Wasn’t it all okay till she showed here? And wasn’t we happy together? Wasn’t it all OK? Till she showed here. Hoity-toity, describin’ me like a ape.”

This is the ultimate dilemma of the audience- we’re attracted to Stanley, yet his demeanor is absolutely repulsive and his treatment of Blanche is deplorable. Yet, we are able to understand him, as Blanche isn’t exactly wonderful. She verbally assaults him behind his back, and oft tries to convince Stella to leave him. Stella is the character the audience can ultimately sympathize with, as she tries to find a balance between supporting her sister emotionally and nurturing her relationship with her volatile husband. We also find out early on that she is pregnant, likely in her first trimester as she doesn’t yet show, which is how we can judge the passing of time. As Stella’s belly grows, the walls of the apartment literally close in on Blanche (a brilliant device used by the director to make both the atmosphere claustrophobic and to demonstrate Blanche’s descent into madness). It can be of no coincidence that the night Stella goes into labour is also the night of Stanley and Blanche’s ultimate showdown- a terrible assault that leads to Blanche’s nervous breakdown.

The above still showcases the depth of Stanley’s brutality (and of Brando’s talent): he relishes in Blanche’s torment, and his desire to overpower and break her down completely is laid bare. It’s all right there, in the eyes. Before, when he would tear into her, he simply looked angry. When he would have a violent outburst, he’d recover shortly and clean up after himself and demonstrate his remorse to Stella. In this scene, he clearly enjoys Blanche’s fear and is taking pleasure in the hunt. It’s downright chilling.

This film is about many things- madness, humanity (and inhumanity), culture clash, and of course desire. The main actors were all veterans of the stage productions: Brando, Hunter, and Malden of the Broadway production, and Leigh of the London show. It is safe to say that they knew the characters inside and out, and therefore were able to carry this intelligence to the film. For their efforts, they were all nominated for the acting Academy Awards, and all but Brando won in their respective categories. He lost to Humphrey Bogart, who won for his role in The African Queen. I will admit to not having seen The African Queen, but I can’t imagine this to not be an absolute injustice. With his portrayal of Stanley, Brando had completely shook up Hollywood and changed previous conceptions of what it meant to act in film. Never had this kind of performance been seen before by Hollywood or audiences, except for audiences who had the great fortune to catch Brando on Broadway or had seen The Men.

There is a genius to this film, and it is incredibly well done. It can be difficult to watch for the casual movie viewer though, as Vivien Leigh’s Blanche is exhausting to deal with. Brilliant, brilliant acting, but she is a bloody headache. If you are lover of cinema however, or simply in desire of some serious eye candy, this is a must watch. Thumbs up. Thumbs way up.

Gratuitous.

Also gratuitous.

Quotes: “Stellaaa! Hey! Stellaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Stanley “Man,liquor goes fast in the hot weather.You want a shot?
Blanche “No, I rarely touch it.”
Stanley “Well,there’s some people that rarely touch it,but it touches them often.”

“You think I’m gonna interfere with you?… Huh. you know, maybe you wouldn’t be bad to interfere with.”

“I am not a Pollack. People from Poland are Poles. They are not Pollacks. But what I am is one hundred percent American. I’m born and raised in the greatest country on this earth and I’m proud of it. And don’t you ever call me a Pollack.”

The Hairpin’s “Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Marlon Brando’s Dirty Dungarees”

Buy it on Amazon

More content on the GMB Tumblrd

(*Note: near the completion of this post, my power went out and my internet stopped connecting. That is why this post is a little late.  Sorry, yo.)

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4 Responses to ““A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)”


  1. July 27, 2011 at 12:48 am

    Loving the reviews darling, have to say Streetcar is my personal favourite Brando!

    The one thing that always disturbed me about the film was the fact that Blanche’s life story was a parallel to Leigh’s. Watching the decent of madness in Blanche is watching what Olivier was facing on a daily basis.

    The unanswered questions of the movie also put my teeth on edge and the cruelty displayed by Stanley make this an absolute classic, must watch piece of cinema.

    • July 27, 2011 at 12:49 pm

      Thank you very much my dear, it is indeed a wonderful film.

      Thanks for bringing up that point about Leigh. I am a long winded son of a bitch, and since the focus of this blog is Brando, I keep the notes about co-stars to a minimum. You’re right though, she played it so convincingly because she had been living Blanche’s life, onstage and off. I can’t remember where I read it exactly, but she spoke of Blanche making things worse, as she had lived her on stage for 2 years, and then on film. It must have brutal on her psyche, and she wasn’t even a subscriber to the method!

      I’m reading a biography on Brando now, and in it they talk of Tennessee Williams’ desires when he wrote the play: one of moral ambiguity, with no real heroes or villains. Just flawed people. It’s a powerful story, and I think anyone can recognize themselves or people they know in the characters. I think any intelligent person with a love of art and of story needs to watch this at some point in their lives. And I think to fully appreciate what Brando did for acting, they need to see films released in the 30’s or 40’s, and the stylistic differences.


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"He's an angel as a man and a monster as an actor."
- Bernardo Bertolucci

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