A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951. 9/10

Brando and Leigh fill in all of the dark corners in the New Orleans flat and its ornate courtyard, the claustrophobic, even haunting world of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Many reviewers have commented on Leigh’s/Blanche’s affected speech, as well as Brando’s contrasting inarticulateness. It’s sometimes almost impossible to figure out what either of them mean to say, even if you can understand them. But I think it helps both characters: Brando’s Stanley pretty much doesn’t care what he says; like a more seasoned James Dean, he’s action-oriented, talking just gets in the way of doing.

Blanche, on the other hand, depends on talking as a sort of prop–to build herself up; thus her elaborate explanations and digressions about trivial or imaginary topics. She’s all about keeping up appearances, while Stanley could care less how he looks, or even, to a certain extent, how he acts.

Though Stanley is a capable person, and grudgingly respected, he’s also deeply flawed. Being a wife-beater wasn’t then seen as the disgusting and unacceptable behavior that it now is; but it’s clearly the most obvious manifestation of his problems. He doesn’t seem to feel right unless he’s angry.

The interesting thing about Stanley is that he can be calm, even cordial. It’s as though he becomes a better person when he puts on better clothes. In a way, he’s worse than Blanche, because he can control himself; but he simply has more fun being Mr. Hyde then Dr. Jekyll.

Instead of fading in and out like Stanley’s Jekyll and Hyde poses, Blanche gets steadily worse. In fact, the last part of the movie plays closer to horror, as Blanche’s delusions give us flickering lights, ethereal voices, and the mournful lady selling “flowers for the dead.”
The creepy doctor from the asylum adds a final scare. He’s literally come to take her away; she’s undergoing a figurative death, the end of her delusional lifestyle.

Maybe it’s good that Kim Hunter’s and Karl Malden’s characters are relatively weak compared to Brando and Leigh. Otherwise, either Stella would stand up to Stanley, and Blanche would never leave, or Mitch would marry Stella, and then maybe he would go nuts. No resolution possible in either alternative plot.

With all the yelling and acting out, the physical confines of A Streetcar Named Desire are dwarfed by the psychological tumult. Maybe the best film adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play. 9/10.

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