Review: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

A Streetcar Named Desire is the kind of movie that if you haven’t seen it in forever you forget how good it is. It is film driven by the brilliance of Tennessee Williams’ play, the direction of Elia Kazan and often gutwrenchingly powerful performances of the cast. In this film, casting is everything, which is why it has stood the test of time.

Marlon Brando is spetacular, to say the least, in one of his career-defining roles as Stanley Kowalski. Vivien Leigh is equally breathtaking, mesmerizing, and infuriating as the tragic Blanche DuBois. The supporting cast of Karl Malden and Kim Hunter also do a fabulous job. (Karl Malden is by far one of the most underrated and underappreciated actors of all-time.

A Streetcar Named Desire the story of Blanche DuBois (Leigh) a Southern belle who has lost everything: her beauty, dignity, home, career, mind, and most of all, her love for a certain “young boy”. She moves in with her pregnant sister (Hunter) and her no-good husband (Brando), who live in the French Quarters of New Orleans.

Blanche obviously disapproves of her sister’s lifestyle and most of all of Stanley. There is no doubt that that feeling is mutual. And he does one thing to her that entirely changes the mood of the movie. Blanche, who finds Stanley to be no good for her sister, clashes with her brother-in-law. But underneath the extravagent cloths, the jewelry, the make-up, and a doomed relationship with Malden’s Mitch, Blanche is a woman falling apart.

Of her confrontations with Stanley, their final one proves to be the most destructive. Stanley’s rape of Blanche leaves Blanche utterly wrecked and she is committed. Stella vows never to return to Stanley and in the final scene she seeks refuge with her newborn son at a neighbors. It is a scene that was changed from the original play. Although ambiguous, the play’s ending implied that Stella, although different from her sister, would be heading down a similar destructive path because of her marriage to Stanley. The movie says otherwise.

Nevertheless, A Streetcar Named Desire has given us one of the most iconic sequences in the history of cinema. And because of it, the nature of cinematic performanc changed forever.

Updated October 6, 2010

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3 thoughts on “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)”

  1. I’ve seen about half of that movie on TCM. I will probably rent it sometime this week. I really liked the half that I saw.

  2. I loved “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”! The story is really good, sad and funny all at once, plus the character of Maggie blew me away. “Lean on me baby” with that whole cooing southern accent. Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman made a great team and I love Elizabeth Taylor when she was young and gorgeous.

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