Classic Movie Review: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Title: A Streetcar Named Desire 
Release Date: September 18, 1951
Director: Elia Kazan
Production Company: Warner Bros.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a Tennessee Williams play adapted to film by director Elia Kazan.  Vivien Leigh stars as Blanche DuBois, a woman who invested in the ideals of Southern culture regarding proper behavior and femininity.  Falling on desperate times, she arrives in New Orleans to stay at the home of her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and her brother-in-law Stanley (Marlon Brando).  The film largely depicts the battle of wills between Blanche’s snobbery and propriety and Stanley’s raw masculinity and violent temperament. Karl Malden also appears as Mitch, a man that Blanch hopes to marry after they form a romance.

The different acting styles of the two leads is quite striking.  Brando famously practiced the Method which serves him well in inhabiting Stanley.  But Leigh’s more classical British theater training works really well for Blanche who is always “acting” the role she believes she needs to play as a proper Southern belle.  Blanche, and just about everyone else, weirdly obsess about how old she is (Leigh was only in her mid-30s when this was filmed), but that is also sadly true to societal beauty myths.

Directorially, the film retains some of its stage play origins but is really pulled in to hustle and bustle of the French Quarter with the doors and windows open to a constantly active street scene.  I was surprised at how frank this movie was about matters of sexuality and violence for a movie made in 1951, although I was watching a 1993 restoration of the film that included scenes that had been cut by censors.  There’s a lot that has been said about A Streetcar Named Desire, so I won’t add anything more to it other than to say it is deservedly an all-time classic and I’m glad I had the opportunity to revisit it.

Rating: ****

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