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A Streetcar Named Desire, Groundbreaking Hollywood

Updated on September 25, 2014

An Historic Work Of Art

'A Streetcar Named Desire', made in 1951, is a highly charged work of art, which challenged the prevailing censorship laws and which deals openly with such adult subjects as rape, domestic violence, homosexuality, and nymphomania.The movie features remarkable acting performances from the main stars. Marlon Brando's uncouth, sweaty animal magnetism contrasts with and compliments Vivien Leigh's frail, faded belle, and dominates the screen.

The movie received an amazing twelve Academy nominations and won 4, including an unprecedented 3 in the Best Acting categories: Best Actress for Vivien Leigh (her second Best Actress Oscar), and Best Supporting Awards to Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. This was the first time in Academy history that three acting awards were won by a single film.

Basic Story Line

The name of the play and film is taken from a streetcar route in New Orleans where the story takes place. In a line of dialogue from the movie, Blanche asks about the streetcar that runs on Desire Street. That is the streetcar that will take her to Stella and Stanley's apartment on Elysian Fields Avenue. Elysian Fields is the name of the final resting place of the heroic souls in Greek Mythology.

The movie is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the years immediately following World War Two. Having lost the declining family estate to back taxes Blanche, a schoolteacher, arrives in New Orleans to stay with her pregnant sister Stella and churlish brother-in-law Stanley in their cramped, sweltering apartment. Stanley doesn't like Blanche, and starts pushing her for information on some property he know was left to the sisters. He discovers she has mortgaged the place and spent all the money, and he starts to be driven wild by her neurotic behaviour, as she pathetically tries to cling to her refinement and delusions.

Blanche's heavy drinking, which she attempts to conceal, is another sign that all is not well with her. She has a romance with one of Stanley's friends, Harold 'Mitch' Mitchell (Karl Malden) which blows up when Stanley learns news of Blanche's sordid past and tells Mitch. He says that after losing the DuBois mansion, Blanche moved into a fleabag motel from which she was eventually evicted because of her numerous sexual liaisons. Also, she was fired from her job as a schoolteacher because the principal discovered that she was having an affair with a teenage student.

Under Stanley's resentful bullying, Blanche's last hopes are brutally destroyed, everything comes to a head in a rape scene that is hinted at but not shown and she retreats into a psychotic state.

The Actors

'Streetcar' features some of the finest acting ever offered on the screen and a lot of the film's raw emotional power is generated by great performances from the main characters. Brando's acting contains the kind of raw sexual energy seldom seen anywhere. His animal-like force on the screen is staggering. To see his performance in this film is to see one of the greatest actors in history at the height of his power.

His animalism is given greater force when compared to the stiff theatricality that surrounds him, personified by Vivien Leigh's Blanche DuBois. The battle of wills between Stanley and Blanche is beautifully captured in the differing styles of the two actors, Brando's new 'method,' inner emotion, acting and Leigh's theatrical, genteel artificiality.

Kim Hunter has the straightest role as the down to earth Stella, but she does it skilfully and holds her own against Brando effectively. Karl Malden as the hopeless, timid Mitch also does a great job and brings fire to the role as the climatic scenes play out.

* Marlon Brando - Stanley Kowalski

* Vivien Leigh - Blanche DuBois

* Kim Hunter - Stella Kowalski

* Karl Malden - Harold 'Mitch' Mitchell

* Rudy Bond - Steve Hubbel

* Nick Dennis - Pablo Gonzales

* Peg Hillias - Eunice Hubbel

* Wright King - A Collector

* Richard Garrick - A Doctor

Brando's Performance

When discussing this movie, you just can't get away from Brando. Breakthrough performances don't come much more electrifying than this one. He had starred in the Broadway production of "Streetcar," and he gives a repeat in the movie, as Stanley Kowalksi - half child, half animal, all menacing masculinity.

Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden — who plays Mitch, Stanley's buddy with a romantic interest in Blanche — all received acting Oscars. Brando was spurned at the awards ceremony in favor of Humphrey Bogart's magnificent performance in "The African Queen". Nevertheless, the movie made his reputation in Hollywood, establishing him as an international icon. He cemented it forever with films like "On the Waterfront," "The Wild One," "The Young Lions," and "The Fugitive Kind," and for a time during the 1950s, people considered him America's greatest actor.

Brando's performance showcased 'the method' school of acting, as taught by Lee Strasberg at The Actors Studio in New York in the 1940s and 1950s and by many others since then. The method is a technique whereby actors try to create a realistic performance by internalizing the emotions attributed to the character they are portraying. Imagination and memory of past experiences and emotions are used by the actor to help them internally 'become' the character.

Brando's reputation later faded as his temperamental personality got the better of him. Nevertheless, he influenced the whole acting generation that followed him, actors like James Dean, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Warren Beatty, and Jack Nicholson. We owe him a lot.

Vivien Leigh as Blanche - For I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

An Important and Meaningful Film

The movie was adapted from Tennessee Williams' 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play (his first) of the same name. It was directed by Elia Kazan (his first piece of work with Williams), a socially-conscious, independent director who had also directed the

play on Broadway and who insisted that the film should not deviate significantly from the original. It proved to be a landmark in American filmmaking.

The movie caused a sensation n its release and was described as "decadent", and "morally repugnant" and it challenged the regulatory Production Code's censors with its bold adult drama and sexual subjects. Although some scenes were deleted or had to be rewritten, there is still a raw sexuality about the story that is communicated in the characters' actions, their looks, the squalid setting, and the steamy music and it signalled a significant weakening of Hollywood censorship. Things would never be the same again.

Clips From A Mighty Movie

Leigh and Brando, Two Geniuses At Work

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    • MusicFan57 profile image

      MusicFan57 5 years ago

      I wish everyone would watch this movie at least once. Brando turned traditional acting on it's head with this one. One of my favorite movies of all time.