Sometimes, when you wait to watch a particular film for so long, it can be a complete disappointment. Waiting in anticipation for a new release or to finally watch an old classic can occasionally lead to an anti-climax. Thank goodness that this does not apply to A Streetcar Named Desire. The 1951 film adaptation of the Tennessee William’s play is a film I have longed to see for several years. Today I finally sat down and watched it, eagerly awaiting Brando and Leigh in two of their most highly acclaimed cinematic roles. I was prepared for the tension and the violence that fills the scenes but I was not ready for the transformations that take on each character in their own hideous ways.
Vivien Leigh is astonishing. Her portrayal of the increasingly unhinged Blanche is haunting in the most beautiful way. Leigh knows exactly how to use the camera to her advantage and manages to captivate you with every bizarre piece of dialogue that she delivers. Leigh is so convincing in the role of a woman losing her mind that, at times, it feels as though she is playing the part of about five different women. This is meant as a compliment. She is versatile and subtle with these changes and, despite her constantly changing mood and vocal tone, her character is always recognisable and consistent. Vivien Leigh’s beauty is visible, even through her character’s ugly nature. Her natural beauty compliments the character of Blanche and adds an eerie quality to this character who is vanishing within the unstable shell of a woman that she is becoming.
Marlon Brando holds himself very well throughout the film. His character, Stanley Kowalski, oozes sexuality and masculinity. His frustration with himself, his relationship and his crowded living situation controls this character and creates a constant sense of unease. His unhealthy and dangerous dependency upon his wife, Stella, is at the heart of the tensions of this story. Marlon Brando’s timing is excellent and the swagger and posture of his character helps us to really de-construct him. His fiery temper keeps the plot exciting and realistic. His anger and violent nature towards his wife makes the scenes where he reveals his devotion to her even more emotional to watch. Brando is a powerful screen presence that is central to this film’s energy and story.
The real surprise for me was the performance from Kim Hunter. Hunter plays Stella, the abused wife whose love for her husband is strained yet strengthened with every abusive argument they have. What was truly delightful about A Streetcar Named Desire is how much I found myself caring about Stella, despite her self-inflicted situation. Blanche’s destiny becomes apparent as the film progresses but you are left waiting till the final moments of the picture to discover the fate of Stella. Hunter gives a much more subtle performance than Leigh or Brando and her character is all the better for it.
I was very impressed by this film’s bravery to address the subject of sexuality in the way it did. The film is driven by the sexual attractions and frustrations of the three main characters, a daring attempt for the early nineteen fifties. Director Elia Kazan does not shy away from the play’s themes and messages and boldly draws the audience’s attention to the issues of marital violence, abuse and suppression. A Streetcar Named Desireunravels at a rapid and satisfying pace, leaving you constantly on edge and constantly in fear.
“But some things are not forgiveable.
Deliberate cruelty is not forgiveable!
It is the one unforgivable thing,
in my opinion, and the one thing
of which I have never,
never been guilty.”
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