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A Streetcar Named Desire is a 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 Broadwaymarker cast of the play, while Leigh had starred in the London West Endmarker production. It was produced by talent agent and lawyer Charles K. Feldman, and released by Warner Bros. The screenplay was written by Williams himself, but had many revisions to remove references to homosexuality, among other things.

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, Mississippimarker (Laurel, Mississippi in the play) at the apartment of her sister, Stella Kowalski (Hunter), in the Faubourg Marigny of New Orleansmarker, 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 fornications" 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 him.

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 out of a distaste for pretence 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



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, Allen 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 Allen, 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. 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), 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.

Locations and design

Most of the filming was on studio sets in Hollywood, but a few exteriors were filmed in New Orleansmarker, 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.

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).

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.

Soundtrack

The music score, by Alex North, was a radical departure from the major trend in Hollywoodmarker 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.
Award Person
Best Supporting Actor Karl Malden
Best Actress Vivien Leigh
Best Supporting Actress Kim Hunter
Best Art Direction - Set Decoration, Black-and-White Richard Day
George James Hopkins
Nominated:
Best Actor Marlon Brando
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White Harry Stradling
Best Costume Design, Black-and-White Lucinda Ballard
Best Director Elia Kazan
Best Motion Picture Charles K. Feldman
Best Music, Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Alex North
Best Sound Recording Nathan Levinson
Best Writing, Screenplay Tennessee Williams


In , A Streetcar Named Desire was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congressmarker 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


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