A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Tennessee Williams has a way with plays. He likes to choose horrid situations and melancholy monologues. His characters are emotionally prone, being almost caricatures of themselves; but this is fine, after all Lehman did this with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?".
With "A Streetcar Named Desire", arguably Williams' most famous play, Elia Kazan directs the screen adaptation which is as famous as it is completely insane.
Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) arrives in New Orleans to be with her sister. She had been staying in the old town that the sisters grew up in; but some horribly traumatic accident forced her to move in with her sister and her brother-in-law.
Stella (Kim Hunter) is a nice woman and virtually the opposite of Blanche. She's vibrant and full of happiness; Blanche masquerades being content while she dies inside.
For a movie with so many dramatic scenes, "A Streetcar Named Desire" really has a slight plot. It's more about the characters, which is interesting because there is no really likable main character. These people aren't anti-heroes or villains; they're just messed up and that makes it hard to connect with them. We are supposed to empathize the most with Stella, which is easy to do since everyone else is crazy.
Stella's husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) is the hot-head of the group. The first time that Blanche meets him, he is starting a fight at a bowling alley.
What the film is remembered for, more so than the cerebral and gritty way it is shot, is how Blanche rambles. Having seen "Blue Jasmine" before seeing this film, the resemblances are uncanny.
Blanche considers herself as a member of high society—she likes the fancy clothes and the nicest perfumes and a sharp retort is always on the tip of her tongue.
As the days pass on and we start to see the houseguest and the couple as more fully defined characters, we starts to realize how messy this situation is getting.
Stanley is abusive and doesn't hesitate to throw things out of the window in drunken rages. He beats his wife; but she always comes back to him—the two are expecting a baby together.
Blanche has a drinking problem, though the film doesn't show much of the drunkenness, instead focusing on her manipulation and the stories she spins.
The madness of the movie is evident even in the first moments, with the blaring jazz score and the grungy street corners coming into focus.
When Blanche first arrives in New Orleans, she seems very uncomfortable and out of place. She sticks out awkwardly and runs from street to street looking for her sister's place, which is much less refined than what Blanche is used to.
Living off the good graces of her sister doesn't make Blanche a good houseguest and it doesn't make Stanley a good host. These two are very strong personalities and when they clash, it's very loud and very violent.
The dishes are thrown, the screams are heard, and we slowly begin to understand that "A Streetcar Named Desire" is as bleak as pictures come. My own opinion of the movie is that the film is trying to destroy the cutesy notion of a "normal" household. No longer do we have the sweet families as seen in "Cavalcade" or "Mrs. Miniver"—dysfunctional, rude, abusive, and unrelenting is what we get instead.
At one moment, after Blanche provokes Stanley, he shouts that he is as American as the next person, and proud of it.
The problem that I have with the film is that I hate most everyone in the film. I hate Blanche for her fairy tale world. I hate Stanley for his anger and violence. I also hate Stella for not getting out of a horrible situation.
Blanche meets a man named Mick, one of Stan's friends, and she starts to date. Her past is kept secret from him and the audience; but we know that she's hiding something.
Whether it was introducing the insane lead character, which it didn't, or peeling back the curtain on domestic abuse, "A Streetcar Named Desire" is a powerful movie; but one that I'd rather not see again.
Posted by Micah Jones