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A Streetcar Named Desire

Theatrical poster by Bill Gold
Directed by Elia Kazan
Produced by Charles K. Feldman
Written by Tennessee Williams
Oscar Saul
Starring Vivien Leigh
Marlon Brando
Kim Hunter
Karl Malden
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Harry Stradling Sr.
Editing by David Weisbart
Distributed by Warner Brothers
Release date(s) September 18, 1951 (1951-09-18)
Running time 122 minutes
Country United States
Language English

A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1951 film adaptation of the play of the same name by Tennessee Williams. It was directed by Elia Kazan, who had also directed the original stage production, and stars Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden; all but Leigh were chosen from the Broadway cast of the play, while Leigh had starred in the London West End production. It was produced by talent agent and lawyer Charles K. Feldman, and released by Warner Bros. The screenplay was written by Williams himself and Oscar Saul, but had many revisions to remove references to homosexuality, among other things.

Contents

Plot

As in the play, the film presents Blanche DuBois (Leigh), a fading but nevertheless attractive Southern belle whose pretensions to virtue and culture only thinly mask delusions of grandeur and alcoholism. Her poise is an illusion she presents to shield others, and most of all herself, from her reality, in an attempt to make herself still attractive to new male suitors. Blanche arrives from her hometown of Auriol, Mississippi (changed from Laurel in the play) at the apartment of her sister, Stella Kowalski (Hunter), in the Faubourg Marigny of New Orleans, on Elysian Fields Avenue; the local transportation she takes to arrive there includes a streetcar route named "Desire." The steamy, urban ambiance is a shock to Blanche's nerves.

Explaining that her ancestral southern plantation, Belle Reve in Auriol, Mississippi, has been "lost" due to the "epic debachery" of her ancestors, Blanche is welcomed with some trepidation by Stella, who fears the reaction of her husband Stanley (Brando). Blanche says her supervisor gave her time off her job as an English teacher because of her upset nerves. The truth was, she was fired for having an affair with a 17-year-old male student. This turns out not to be the only seduction she had engaged in — and these problems led Blanche to run away from Auriol. A brief marriage scarred by the suicide of her spouse, Allen Grey, has led Blanche to live in a world in which her fantasies and illusions are seamlessly mixed with her reality.

In contrast to both the self-effacing and deferent Stella and the pretentious refinement of Blanche, Stella's husband, Stanley Kowalski, is a force of nature: primal, rough-hewn, brutish and sensual. He dominates Stella in every way and is physically and emotionally abusive. Stella tolerates his primal behaviour as this is part of what attracted her in the first place; their love and relationship is heavily based on powerful, even animalistic, sexual chemistry - something Blanche says she finds impossible to understand, despite long glances of admiration and lust towards Stanley.

The arrival of Blanche upsets her sister and brother-in-law's system of mutual dependence. Stella's concern for her sister's well-being emboldens Blanche to hold court in the Kowalski apartment, infuriating Stanley and leading to conflict in his relationship with his wife.

Stanley's friend and Blanche's would-be suitor, Mitch (Malden), is trampled as Blanche and Stanley head for a collision course. Stanley discovers Blanche's past through a co-worker who travels to Auriol frequently. He confronts Blanche with the things she has been trying to put behind her, partly out of concern that her character flaws may be damaging to the lives of those in her new home (just as they were in Auriol), and partly due to resentment of her airs of superiority toward him and a distaste for pretense in general. However, his attempts to "unmask" her are predictably cruel and violent.

Their final confrontation — a rape — results in Blanche's nervous breakdown. Stanley has her committed to a mental institution. In the closing moments, Blanche utters her signature line to the kindly doctor and nurse who lead her away: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers", reminding us of one of the flaws that has led her to this point — relying too heavily on the attentions of men to fulfill and rescue her.

The reference to the streetcar called Desire — providing the aura of New Orleans geography — is symbolic. Blanche not only has to travel on a streetcar route named "Desire" to reach Stella's home on "Elysian Fields" but her desire acts as an irrepressible force throughout the play — she can only hang on as her desires lead her.

Devastated with her sister's fate, Stella weeps and rejects Stanley's intention to comfort her and pushes him away. As he cries her name once more ("Stella! Hey, Stella!"), Stella clings to her child and vows that she will never return to Stanley again. She goes upstairs once more in order to seek refuge with her neighbor.

Cast

Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Adaptation, censorship and re-releases

The play's themes were controversial causing the screenplay for the film to be watered down to comply with the Hollywood Production Code. In the film, Stella renounces Stanley's rape of Blanche, perhaps to the point of leaving the household. In the original play, the ending is more ambiguous, with Stella, distraught at having sent off her sister Blanche, mutely allowing herself to be consoled by Stanley.

In the original play, Blanche's deceased husband, Allan Grey, had committed suicide after he was discovered having a homosexual affair. This material was removed for the film; Blanche says only that she showed scorn towards Allan, driving him to suicide.

Some of these changes were in the screenplay. Others were present but cut after filming was complete in order to conform to the Production Code and to avoid condemnation by the National Legion of Decency. According to the audio commentary track for the DVD version, these cuts were made without the knowledge of the director.

While the film was originally distributed by Warner Brothers, it was mainly a production of Charles K. Feldman's company. Feldman (and eventually his estate) would gain all ancillary rights through 1993. Through the decades, the film was re-released and outsourced through different studios, first by 20th Century Fox for a 1958 re-issue, and in 1970 through United Artists (which for many years owned the pre-1950 WB library). UA would ultimately hold television syndication and home video (through what was then CBS/Fox Video) until 1992 when the Feldman estate sold their share of the film to the Motion Picture and Television Fund. The Fund chose Warner Bros. to co-operate in a restoration of the film to director Kazan's original vision (adding back several minutes of controversial footage that had been previously cut[1]), and thus Warner Bros. would gain back major rights to this film for the first time since its original 1951 release. While the film is now copyrighted by the MPTF, WB now has all ancillary rights, including home video, theatrical, and television distribution, which explains why all current video releases are by Warner Home Video.

The current DVD release has the following restored scenes:

  • Stella says "Stanley's always smashed things. Why, on our wedding night, as soon as we came in here, he snatched off one of my slippers and rushed about the place smashing the light bulbs with it...I was sort of thrilled by it."
  • The dialogue makes it clearer that Blanche's husband was a homosexual and that she made him commit suicide with her insults.
  • Blanche's line explaining that she wants to kiss the paperboy "softly, sweetly" now has the words "...on the mouth" at the end.
  • When Stella takes refuge upstairs after Stanley punches her, her emotions are made clear as she is shown in close up, her face blank with desire.
  • Stanley's line "Maybe you wouldn't be so bad to interfere with." and the ensuing rape scene.

Production

Casting

Jessica Tandy, who had played Blanche DuBois on Broadway, was bypassed in favor of Vivien Leigh, star of the London production, at the insistence of the producers. This was because her fame from films such as Gone with the Wind provided the star power which they felt the film needed; Brando had not yet achieved the fame necessary to draw audiences.[2]

Locations and design

Most of the filming was on studio sets in Hollywood, but a few exteriors were filmed in New Orleans, most notably the opening scenes of Blanche's arrival. The streetcar visible in the film is Perley Thomas #922, still in service in New Orleans.[citation needed]

During studio shooting, Elia Kazan made the set walls movable so that, with each passing scene, the walls could close in on Blanche Dubois (thus mirroring her insanity).[citation needed]

Brando's iconic tight T-shirt had to be made specially, as one could not buy fitted T-shirts at the time; a regular T-shirt was bought, it was washed several times and its back was sewn in order to tighten it for Brando.[citation needed]

Soundtrack

The music score, by Alex North, was a radical departure from the major trend in Hollywood at that time, which was action-based and overly manipulative. Instead of composing in the traditional leitmotif style, North wrote short sets of music that reflected the psychological dynamics of the characters. For his work on the film, North was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music Score, one of two nominations in that category that year. He also was nominated for his music score for the film version of another play, Death of a Salesman, which also was composed with his unique technique. However, he lost to Franz Waxman's score for A Place in the Sun.

Awards and honors

The film won four awards at the 24th Academy Awards.[3]

Award Result Winner
Best Motion Picture Nominated Charles K. Feldman, producer
Winner was Arthur Freed (MGM) – An American in Paris
Best Director Nominated Elia Kazan
Winner was George StevensA Place in the Sun
Best Actor Nominated Marlon Brando
Winner was Humphrey BogartThe African Queen
Best Actress Won Vivien Leigh
Best Writing, Screenplay Nominated Tennessee Williams
Winner was Harry Brown and Michael WilsonA Place in the Sun
Best Supporting Actor Won Karl Malden
Best Supporting Actress Won Kim Hunter
Best Art Direction–Set Decoration, Black-and-White Won Richard Day and George Hopkins
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White Nominated Harry Stradling
Winner was William C. MellorA Place in the Sun
Best Costume Design, Black-and-White Nominated Lucinda Ballard
Winner was Edith HeadA Place in the Sun
Best Music, Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Nominated Alex North
Winner was Franz WaxmanA Place in the Sun
Best Sound Recording Nominated Nathan Levinson
Winner was Douglas ShearerThe Great Caruso

In 1999, A Streetcar Named Desire was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

American Film Institute recognition

Notes

  1. ^ Censored Films and Television at University of Virginia online
  2. ^ Manvell, Roger. Theatre and Film: A Comparative Study of the Two Forms of Dramatic Art, and of the Problems of Adaptation of Stage Plays into Films. Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Presses Inc, 1979. 133
  3. ^ "NY Times: A Streetcar Named Desire". NY Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/47311/A-Streetcar-Named-Desire/details. Retrieved 2008-12-19. 

External links

Preceded by
n/a
Special Jury Prize, Venice
1951
Succeeded by
The Lovers
tied with La sfida

Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1951 film based on a play by Tennessee Williams.

Directed by Elia Kazan. Written by Tennessee Williams and Oscar Saul.

Contents

Blanche DuBois

  • The first time I laid eyes on him I thought to myself, "That man is my executioner!"
  • Some things are not forgivable. Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable. It is the one unforgivable thing in my opinion and the one thing of which I have never, never been guilty.
  • I don't want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don't tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth.
  • Tarantula was the name of it! I stayed at a hotel called the Tarantula Arms! Yes, a big spider. That's where I brought my victims. Yes, I have had many meetings with strangers. After the death of Allan, meetings with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty heart with. I think it was panic — just panic — that drove me from one to another, searching for some protection. Here, there and then in the most unlikely places. Then, at last, in a seventeen-year-old boy. But someone wrote to the superintendent about it: "This woman is morally unfit for her position!" True? Yes... unfit somehow anyway.

Stanley Kowalski

  • You know what luck is? Luck is believing you're lucky, that's all... To hold a front position in this rat-race, you've got to believe you are lucky.
  • Don't you ever talk that way to me. "Pig," "Polack," "disgusting," "vulgar," "greasy" — those kind of words have been on your tongue and your sister's tongue just too much around here. What do you think you are, a pair of queens? Now just remember what Huey Long said — that every man's a king — and I'm the king around here, and don't you forget it.
  • Listen, baby, when we first met — you and me — you thought I was common. Well, how right you was. I was common as dirt. 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 okay till she showed here, hoity-toity, describin' me like a ape?

Dialogue

Blanche: You're married to a madman.
Stella: I wish you'd stop taking it for granted that I'm in something I want to get out of.
Blanche: What you are talking about is desire, just brutal desire. The name of that rattle-trap streetcar that bangs through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another.
Stella: Haven't you ever ridden on that streetcar?
Blanche: It brought me here, where I'm not wanted and where I'm ashamed to be.
Stella: Don't you think your superior attitude is a little out of place?
Blanche: May I speak plainly?... If you'll forgive me, he's common... He's like an animal. He has an animal's habits. There's even something subhuman about him. Thousands of years have passed him right by, and there he is. Stanley Kowalski, survivor of the Stone Age, bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle. And you — you here waiting for him. Maybe he'll strike you or maybe grunt and kiss you — that is, if kisses have been discovered yet. His "poker night" you call it. This party of apes.

Cast

External links








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