Looking for a benchmark in movie acting? Breakthrough performances don't come much more electrifying than Marlon Brando's animalistic turn as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Sweaty, brutish, mumbling, yet wit... more »h the balanced grace of a prizefighter, Brando storms through the role--a role he had originated in the Broadway production of Tennessee Williams's celebrated play. Stanley and his wife, Stella (as in Brando's oft-mimicked line, "Hey, Stellaaaaaa!"), are the earthy couple in New Orleans's French Quarter whose lives are upended by the arrival of Stella's sister, Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh). Blanche, a disturbed, lyrical, faded Southern belle, is immediately drawn into a battle of wills with Stanley, beautifully captured in the differing styles of the two actors. This extraordinarily fine adaptation won acting Oscars for Leigh, Kim Hunter (as Stella), and Karl Malden (as Blanche's clueless suitor), but not for Brando. Although it had already been considerably cleaned up from the daringly adult stage play, director Elia Kazan was forced to trim a few of the franker scenes he had shot. In 1993, Streetcar was rereleased in a "director's cut" that restored these moments, deepening a film that had already secured its place as an essential American work. --Robert Horton« less
Themis-Athena | from somewhere between California and Germany | 06/12/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a playwright, Tennessee Williams was to the South what William Faulkner was as a fiction writer: a creative genius who revolutionized not only the region's arts scene and literature but that of 20th century America as a whole, bringing a Southern voice to the forefront while addressing universally important themes, and influencing and inspiring generations of later writers.
Pulitzer-Prize-winning "A Streetcar Named Desire" dates from the peak of Williams's creativity, the period between 1944 ("A Glass Menagerie") and 1955 ("Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," his second Pulitzer-winner). After its successful 1947 run on Broadway, "Streetcar" was adapted into a screenplay by Williams himself for this movie produced and directed by Elia Kazan, starring the entire Broadway cast except Jessica Tandy, who was replaced by the star of the play's London production, Vivien Leigh. The piece takes its title from one of the New Orleans streetcar lines that protagonist Blanche DuBois (Leigh) rides on her way to the apartment of her sister Stella (Kim Hunter), foreshadowing her later path, from (ever-unfulfilled) Desire to Cemetery (death, or the loss of reality) and a street called Elysian Fields, like the ancient mythological land of the dead.
Although Blanche is the person most visibly engaging in deception (of herself and others), almost everyone of the characters suffers loss after a brutal reality check: Stella, who hasn't been back home for years, first learns from Blanche that their genteel home Belle Reve (literally: "beautiful dream") is "lost" - although in what manner precisely Blanche doesn't specify, which immediately raises the suspicion of Stella's husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) - only to later hear from Stanley that under the veneer of Blanche's appearance as a delicate Southern lady lies a promiscuous past, and the true circumstances of her ouster from her job and ultimately from their home town were not as Blanche would have Stella believe. Stanley's friend Mitch (Karl Malden), who despite their disparate social backgrounds intends to marry Blanche after they are drawn to each other by their mutual need for "somebody" in their life, is similarly disillusioned by Stanley, and subsequently by Blanche herself when he insists on seeing her in bright light instead of the dim light of dancehalls and of the paper lamp she has insisted on hanging over Stella and Stanley's living room lamp, neither able to face the effects of age and a profligate lifestyle herself nor willing to reveal them to others. And Blanche's own loss of innocence, finally, set in years earlier, when she found her young husband in bed with another man and he committed suicide after she publicly reproached him. "Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see each other in life," Tennessee Williams says about "A Streetcar Named Desire" in Kazan's 1988 autobiography "A Life;" and in a letter opposing the movie's censoring before its release he described the story as being about "ravishment of the tender, the sensitive, the delicate, by the savage and brutal forces of modern society."
The brute, of course, is Stanley, who not only becomes the catalyst of Blanche's fate and the destroyer of Stella's, Mitch's and Blanche's own illusions, but is her antagonist in everything from background to personality: Where she is a fading belle dreaming of days gone by he is all youthful virility, a working-class man living in the here and now; where she is refined he is crude, and where she engages in pretense, he tears down the facade behind which she is hiding. The conversation during which Stanley tells Stella about Blanche's past is pointedly set against Blanche's humming the Arlen/Harburg tune "It's Only a Paper Moon," which sees love transforming life into a fantasy world, which in turn however "wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me." Yet, as portrayed by Marlon Brando, who with this movie stormed into public awareness with his unique and volcanic approach to acting, Stanley is no mere vulgar beast but a complex, often controversial character, despite his brutal streak almost childishly dependant on his wife and frequently hiding his own insecurities under his raw appearance (thus putting up a certain front as well, but unlike Blanche's, a socially acceptable, even common one). Ever the method actor, Brando reportedly stayed in character even during filming breaks; much to the disgust of Vivien Leigh, for whom lines like "[h]e's like an animal. ... 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" must consequently have come from the bottom of her heart.
In early 1950s' society, "Streetcar" was considered way too risque - even downright sordid - to be presented to moviegoing audiences without severe censorship, which Williams and Kazan were only partly able to fight. One of the most substantial changes made in the adaptation was that at the end of the movie Stanley is punished for his brutality towards Blanche, whereas in the play's cynical original ending he is the only character experiencing no loss at all; indeed seeing his world restored after Blanche's exit. Since Kazan's suggestion to produce two alternate versions (one to please the censors, one in conformity with Williams's play) was rejected, even the 1993 "Original Director's Version" retains its altered, censorship-induced ending. Therefore, the play will forever constitute the last word on Williams's intentions. But even in its censored version this movie was a deserved quadruple Oscar- and multiple other award-winner (albeit undeservedly not for Brando). It has long-since become a true classic: a cinematic gem of first-rate direction and superlative performances throughout.
And so it was I entered the broken world To trace the visionary company of love, its voice An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled) But not for long to hold each desperate choice.
Hart Crane, "The Broken Tower": Preface to the published version of Tennessee Williams's play.
Also recommended: Tennessee Williams: Plays 1937-1955 (Library of America) Tennessee Williams: Plays 1957-1980 (Library of America) Tennessee Williams Film Collection (A Streetcar Named Desire 1951 Two-Disc Special Edition / Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958 Deluxe Edition / Sweet Bird of Youth / The Night of the Iguana / Baby Doll / The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone) Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie (Broadway Theatre Archive) The Rose Tattoo Suddenly, Last Summer Baby Doll This Property Is Condemned Tennessee Williams' Dragon Country (Broadway Theatre Archive)"
My rating is for the DVD...not the film.
Shane J. Byrd | Florida | 03/06/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I won't go into how amazing this movie is. We all know that. What gets me is how little respect Warner Bros. pays to the classic films that built their studios. Here you have one of the best films of all time and they release it on a DVD with virtually no extras and a VERY sub-par transfer. From the moment the Warner Bros. logo pops up you can see how unstable the image is...not to mention a large amount of dirt and debris running through every scene. The sound quality isn't much better (I actually had to turn the subtitles on for some of the pivotal scenes).Isn't this film worthy of a restoration? I've run across this same problem a lot with this company's releases. I guess they know that people will buy these wonderful movies based on the reviews of the movies themselves and don't feel any need to fork out cash to ensure the quality of their products."
There was no widescreen
Shane J. Byrd | 12/05/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The film (like virtually all pre-1952 films) was shot in the Academy format of 1.37 to 1. Because your non-widescreen TV is 1.33 to 1, there is no reason to letterbox the DVD image. So the aspect ratio has only been altered to the extent that you're losing a few millimeters on each side. (The same is true of virtually all other pre-1952 films, despite numerous posts at Amazon.com complaining about no widescreen and pan-and-scan cutting, etc. It's great that people now look for widescreen videos and DVDs, but it's not so great that people don't understand that you're not going to find them before the fifties.) "Streetcar" is a masterpiece, certainly one of the top 50 American movies every made. The only reason I've given it 4 stars instead of 5 is because the film print used for this DVD is somewhat warn and there is much graininess in the image. There's also a hiss on the mono audio. Hopefully, this film will be remastered for DVD someday. In the meantime, this is still the best the film has ever looked for the home market. Also, at this price it's a real bargain."
Good Film! Terrible DVD!
Frederick Baptist | Singapore | 04/25/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
"This is a very good, touching and terrifying at times film about how people use, intimidate and ill-treat each other even among families. A poor, long-suffering lady is close to a mental breakdown and comes to seek out her sister for help but in the end this only leads to a totally opposite outcome. Both Leigh and Brando put in excellent performances here and so does Karl Malden who together with Brando would go on to even better things with "On the Waterfront."
The problem is with the DVD which hasn't been restored at all making for very, very poor picture and sound quality. With the advent of Blu-Ray, here's hoping they would take this opportunity to totally remaster this film and to add good bonus features which are totally missing here. Dolby Digital 5.1 surround or DTS THX sound options would be a real treat.
This is a good film but I recommend you wait for a much better restored version to surface and not to waste your hard earned money on this very, very poor DVD version."
Death...the opposite is Desire
A. Casalino | Downers Grove, IL USA | 03/20/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Tennessee Williams's play of sultry passion set in the French Quarter of New Orleans is a masterpiece flawlessly rendered by the magnificent cast in this classic Elia Kazan directed film. I first laid my eyes on this wonderful work of art over a decade ago, while in my mid-twenties. The stark human drama that unfolded before me on the screen literally had me enthralled. I could not find sufficient words to say enough about it then, nor can I even now, I fear. Yet as it is in my ultra-indulgent nature to do, I shall, amidst all this rambling, try to do this film fair justice -This is the harsh and burning tale of an emotionally fragile woman, Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) who goes to find shelter under her younger sister Stella Kowalski's (Kim Hunter) roof in New Orleans after losing their inherited southern plantation estate. Marlon Brando is Stella's rough, sexually volatile husband Stanley. Driving this fervent tale is the war of wills that is waged between Leigh's fading Southern Belle and Brando's blue collar brute.After having recently viewed this movie after so many years away from it, I was much struck by the distinct transformation that my own reaction to this story had undergone over the years - as if living in the world a decade longer had completely altered my perspective. Watching this in my twenties, I saw a madly impassioned play depicting unheeded fervor and unrequited yearnings - a fierce romance. It had been impossible to take my eyes off Brando, his presence on the screen and the power of his performance were so palpable. I even found some of his cruel outbursts, his pointed darts aimed with such cold precision, amusing. I saw Blanche's off-hand remarks, likening Stanley to animal or bluntly telling her sister that he's "common," more as unfair and underhanded attacks rather than what they actually were: desperately wrought defenses against a heartless, malevolent force. It's far more heart wrenching to view this movie now - it disturbs me to the quick, and on some deep intangible level. Perhaps at 25, I was not yet mature enough to fully appreciate or understand the meaning of this brilliantly insightful play. Indeed, my viewpoint of the movie is no longer so one-dimensional.This film, when viewed as a whole, encompasses a great many ideals - the acting for one, not only by Brando, but by the entire cast - is shear mastery. Forget her stints as Scarlett O'Hara or Anna Karenina; Vivien Leigh's Blanche DuBois is bar none the performance of her life! Her haunting portrayal of the deeply disturbed starlet hiding behind her thin veiled illusions and lyrical genteelness is brilliant. The sexual tension between Blanche and Stanley is riveting to witness - to this day, there's never been an actor anything like Marlon Brando. With mumbled speech and brutish force, his innate mode of sexual energy is unequaled. He belts out a flawless performance here, and it passes me why it did not earn him an Oscar. Kim Hunter as the down-to-earth sister and Karl Malden as Blanche's momma's-boy suitor each won well-deserved Oscars for their respective supporting roles. I can now with equanimity say that I see this amazing play for what it is: a revelation of life's dark truths. "Death...the opposite is Desire," says Blanche as she throws up for the taking the last shreds of her sanity. She had come that way on a Streetcar Named Desire via another called Cemetery. True that human beings from the birth of desire, en route to the grave, grasp in vain for the beauty and innocence of their youth. True that the meek of this earth are easy prey to the ruthlessly cruel. True that illusion and romance are deft sanctuaries from the harshness of reality. Tennessee Williams hauntingly captures these truths in this wonderful, atmospherically alluring play."