Tuesday, February 08, 2011
#54: A Streetcar Named Desire
A Streetcar Named Desire is based on the 1947 Pulitzer-prize winning play of the same name. The producers tried to retain as much of the core team from the play to work in the movie. As a result, playwright Tennessee Williams co-wrote the screenplay with Oscar Saul, Elia Kazan directed the movie as he did the play and the cast members had all worked either on a Broadway or a West End production of the play.
The fulcrum of the story is the life of the emotionally unstable Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) who visits her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando). The apparent reason for her visit is the loss of her apartment to moneylenders that ends up mentally disturbing her. Stanley suspects that Blanche is only trying to fib her way through the money that she might've made by selling the house. This leads to an uneasy confrontation between the two but with the moderation of Stella things do not escalate. But this was just the tip of the iceberg. In the days to follow, Stanley grows increasingly suspicious of Blanche's ways and never misses a chance to confront her with references to her character in the past. This even while Stanley's friend Mitch (Karl Malden) takes a liking to Blanche and wants to marry her. The story is about how Blanche DuBois' life eventually shapes up during this stay at her sister's house.
The higlight of the movie is Marlon Brando's animalistic portrayal of the character of Stanley. As the short-tempered factory worker, Brando is a fire-cracker waiting to be lit with a matchstick. He explodes without warning and is rude without getting provoked. His ill-mannered, drunk and abusive ways have become a way of life for Stella - his meek and ever-forgiving wife. Some of the scenes in which Brando takes off on in anger seem like outbursts so natural, you could sense the trepidation of the recipients- including his wife Stella. As a character Stella is wedged between love for her sister and the inherent submissiveness she's built towards her husband. Kim Hunter performs her part commendably as the doting sister and wife often making you feel as to what wrong she has done to deserve what she goes through. Vivien Leigh is equally convincing as the distraught and disturbed Blanche - her mood swings and eccentricities and revelations at different points of time is what keeps you hooked to the story. In an Oscar- winning performance, she nails her character by bringing out her fears both through her body language and her speech. Her underlying need to be attracted to strangers is whimsical but a necessary part of her character and this eccentricity adds depth to her portrayal. Karl Malden who also won an Oscar for his role as Blanche's comforting friend Mitch comes across as a nice guy who is purposeful but not exactly admirable.
A Streetcar Named Desire is a fascinating watch for the performances of each of its leading characters. I am not sure if Karl Malden was in the same league as the others but Brando, Leigh and Hunter put in exemplary turns. As a story, it might've outlived itself but it does absorb you. What was lacking in the movie was that the whole mystery that was building around Blanche DuBois was never exploited fully. So when one finally gets to know what had happened to her in the past, it doesn't work as a 'wow' moment and that to me was a failing. A Streetcar Named Desire is hailed as an all-time great movie. It surely didn't do that much for me as a viewer but it did hover around comfortably around the periphery of greatness.