Americana Movie Month: "A Streetcar Named Desire" Review

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Disturbed Blanche DuBois moves in with her sister in New Orleans and is tormented by her brutish brother-in-law while her reality crumbles around her.
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Americana Movie Month: "A Streetcar Named Desire" Review

--Rating: PG
Length: 122 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 19, 1951
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Genre: Drama

"A Streetcar Named Desire" is a story brimming with the primal instinct for survival. It appeals to our most basic impulses: lust, hate, and the desire to claim what is ours in an unforgiving world. The film is set in a seedy section of the French Quarter in post-World War II New Orleans, where we meet tough-guy laborer Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando) and his down-trodden, dependent pregnant wife Stella (Kim Hunter). When Stella's crazed sister, Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh), comes for a visit, true insanity prevails. Blanche finds a love interest in the sensitive character of Harold "Mitch" Mitchell (Karl Malden), but the main conflict lies in the relationship between Stanley and his sister-in-law, Blanche. Stanley is characterized by Blanche as an animalistic and crude brute, whereas Stanley feels Blanche is an opportunistic fake who parades around as a demure Southern belle drinking all his liquor. Much to the dismay of a fearful Stella, the two tear each other down with insults at every opportunity, each believing that the other is the only thing standing in the way of his or her own happiness. Stanley's distrust of Blanche drives him to seek the truth about her, while Blanche does all she can to keep a veil of secrecy between him and her past. There are rumors and possible truths about thievery, promiscuity, homosexuality, pedophilia, and rape. There are glimpses of hope trampled by anger, violence, lies, and loathing. This is "A Streetcar Named Desire."

The actors in "A Streetcar Named Desire" taunt one another with incredible zeal. Marlon Brando epitomizes the tough working-class aggressor who thrives on telling it like it is, while Vivien Leigh shines as a perfect example of a delicate Southern belle dripping with flirtatiousness and neuroticism. Rounding out the cast in this crazed foursome are Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. The two portray their characters as perfect accompaniments to their counterparts: Hunter with desperate lust and Malden with a hopeful love.

Broadway director Elia Kazan invited his original stage actors, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden, to be in the cast for the film remake of "A Streetcar Named Desire," whereas Vivian Leigh reprised her role from London's West End theatre production of what simply became referred to as "Streetcar." This definitive American movie was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tennessee Williams, who also collaborated on the movie with screenwriter Oscar Saul.

Despite an overpowering performance by Marlon Brando, who was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Actor category, it was his coperformers who set a winning record for three out of four of the Academy Awards categories: Best Actress went to Vivian Leigh, Best Supporting Actor for Karl Malden, and Best Supporting Actress for Kim Hunter. The film's fourth win, out of twelve nominations, was for art direction, and the sultry setting has been an extremely effective element in the film's appeal, success, and longevity.

The dynamic character portrayals in "A Streetcar Named Desire" were infused with exceptional dialogue that offers up some of the most memorable cinematic quotes in existence to this day. It is doubtful that anyone will fail to recall Marlon Brando's one-word cry of "Stella," an excruciating plea for his wife to return to him, or Vivian Leigh's softly spoken line: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." These words alone will more than likely trigger a sense of recall for anyone who has experienced "Streetcar." That alone should be an impetus for anyone who has missed out to see what most have already voraciously devoured in the original play, the ensuing Broadway play, and the eventual cinematic production of "A Streetcar Named Desire."

If you have not had the opportunity to see "Streetcar," stop what you are doing and go watch it now. It is a great movie that showcases the insanity, frailty, and toughness of life. It defines what a classic movie is and without a doubt will be one that you will remember. This black-and-white film presents the true grit of American life; it exhibits the struggle to survive in a desperate, unforgiving, and savage world. It offers fleeting glimpses of hope only to tragically rip them away. It shines a looking glass on the American psyche of days gone by yet is as current a picture today as it ever was. This is "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Rating: 4 out of 5