125 of 138 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2004
As a playwright, Tennessee Williams was to the South what William Faulkner was as a fiction writer: a creative genius who revolutionized not only the region's arts scene and literature but that of 20th century America as a whole, bringing a Southern voice to the forefront while addressing universally important themes, and influencing and inspiring generations of later writers.
Pulitzer-Prize-winning "A Streetcar Named Desire" dates from the peak of Williams's creativity, the period between 1944 ("A Glass Menagerie") and 1955 ("Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," his second Pulitzer-winner). After its successful 1947 run on Broadway, "Streetcar" was adapted into a screenplay by Williams himself for this movie produced and directed by Elia Kazan, starring the entire Broadway cast except Jessica Tandy, who was replaced by the star of the play's London production, Vivien Leigh. The piece takes its title from one of the New Orleans streetcar lines that protagonist Blanche DuBois (Leigh) rides on her way to the apartment of her sister Stella (Kim Hunter), foreshadowing her later path, from (ever-unfulfilled) Desire to Cemetery (death, or the loss of reality) and a street called Elysian Fields, like the ancient mythological land of the dead.
Although Blanche is the person most visibly engaging in deception (of herself and others), almost everyone of the characters suffers loss after a brutal reality check: Stella, who hasn't been back home for years, first learns from Blanche that their genteel home Belle Reve (literally: "beautiful dream") is "lost" - although in what manner precisely Blanche doesn't specify, which immediately raises the suspicion of Stella's husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) - only to later hear from Stanley that under the veneer of Blanche's appearance as a delicate Southern lady lies a promiscuous past, and the true circumstances of her ouster from her job and ultimately from their home town were not as Blanche would have Stella believe. Stanley's friend Mitch (Karl Malden), who despite their disparate social backgrounds intends to marry Blanche after they are drawn to each other by their mutual need for "somebody" in their life, is similarly disillusioned by Stanley, and subsequently by Blanche herself when he insists on seeing her in bright light instead of the dim light of dancehalls and of the paper lamp she has insisted on hanging over Stella and Stanley's living room lamp, neither able to face the effects of age and a profligate lifestyle herself nor willing to reveal them to others. And Blanche's own loss of innocence, finally, set in years earlier, when she found her young husband in bed with another man and he committed suicide after she publicly reproached him. "Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see each other in life," Tennessee Williams says about "A Streetcar Named Desire" in Kazan's 1988 autobiography "A Life;" and in a letter opposing the movie's censoring before its release he described the story as being about "ravishment of the tender, the sensitive, the delicate, by the savage and brutal forces of modern society."
The brute, of course, is Stanley, who not only becomes the catalyst of Blanche's fate and the destroyer of Stella's, Mitch's and Blanche's own illusions, but is her antagonist in everything from background to personality: Where she is a fading belle dreaming of days gone by he is all youthful virility, a working-class man living in the here and now; where she is refined he is crude, and where she engages in pretense, he tears down the facade behind which she is hiding. The conversation during which Stanley tells Stella about Blanche's past is pointedly set against Blanche's humming the Arlen/Harburg tune "It's Only a Paper Moon," which sees love transforming life into a fantasy world, which in turn however "wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me." Yet, as portrayed by Marlon Brando, who with this movie stormed into public awareness with his unique and volcanic approach to acting, Stanley is no mere vulgar beast but a complex, often controversial character, despite his brutal streak almost childishly dependant on his wife and frequently hiding his own insecurities under his raw appearance (thus putting up a certain front as well, but unlike Blanche's, a socially acceptable, even common one). Ever the method actor, Brando reportedly stayed in character even during filming breaks; much to the disgust of Vivien Leigh, for whom lines like "[h]e's like an animal. ... Thousands of years have passed him right by and there he is: Stanley Kowalski, survivor of the stone-age, bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle" must consequently have come from the bottom of her heart.
In early 1950s' society, "Streetcar" was considered way too risque - even downright sordid - to be presented to moviegoing audiences without severe censorship, which Williams and Kazan were only partly able to fight. One of the most substantial changes made in the adaptation was that at the end of the movie Stanley is punished for his brutality towards Blanche, whereas in the play's cynical original ending he is the only character experiencing no loss at all; indeed seeing his world restored after Blanche's exit. Since Kazan's suggestion to produce two alternate versions (one to please the censors, one in conformity with Williams's play) was rejected, even the 1993 "Original Director's Version" retains its altered, censorship-induced ending. Therefore, the play will forever constitute the last word on Williams's intentions. But even in its censored version this movie was a deserved quadruple Oscar- and multiple other award-winner (albeit undeservedly not for Brando). It has long-since become a true classic: a cinematic gem of first-rate direction and superlative performances throughout.
And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice.
Hart Crane, "The Broken Tower": Preface to the published version of Tennessee Williams's play.
Tennessee Williams: Plays 1937-1955 (Library of America)
Tennessee Williams: Plays 1957-1980 (Library of America)
Tennessee Williams Film Collection (A Streetcar Named Desire 1951 Two-Disc Special Edition / Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958 Deluxe Edition / Sweet Bird of Youth / The Night of the Iguana / Baby Doll / The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone)
Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie (Broadway Theatre Archive)
The Rose Tattoo
Suddenly, Last Summer
This Property Is Condemned
Tennessee Williams' Dragon Country (Broadway Theatre Archive)
126 of 141 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2005
I won't go into how amazing this movie is. We all know that. What gets me is how little respect Warner Bros. pays to the classic films that built their studios. Here you have one of the best films of all time and they release it on a DVD with virtually no extras and a VERY sub-par transfer. From the moment the Warner Bros. logo pops up you can see how unstable the image is...not to mention a large amount of dirt and debris running through every scene. The sound quality isn't much better (I actually had to turn the subtitles on for some of the pivotal scenes).Isn't this film worthy of a restoration? I've run across this same problem a lot with this company's releases. I guess they know that people will buy these wonderful movies based on the reviews of the movies themselves and don't feel any need to fork out cash to ensure the quality of their products.
45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 1999
The film (like virtually all pre-1952 films) was shot in the Academy format of 1.37 to 1. Because your non-widescreen TV is 1.33 to 1, there is no reason to letterbox the DVD image. So the aspect ratio has only been altered to the extent that you're losing a few millimeters on each side. (The same is true of virtually all other pre-1952 films, despite numerous posts at Amazon.com complaining about no widescreen and pan-and-scan cutting, etc. It's great that people now look for widescreen videos and DVDs, but it's not so great that people don't understand that you're not going to find them before the fifties.) "Streetcar" is a masterpiece, certainly one of the top 50 American movies every made. The only reason I've given it 4 stars instead of 5 is because the film print used for this DVD is somewhat warn and there is much graininess in the image. There's also a hiss on the mono audio. Hopefully, this film will be remastered for DVD someday. In the meantime, this is still the best the film has ever looked for the home market. Also, at this price it's a real bargain.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2005
"I've always depended on the kindness of strangers," is a very difficult line to read convincingly. Recent years have brought us a plethora of *Blanches DuBois*. Just ask Jessica Lange or Ann-Margaret how hard that line is to read - neither of them came close to convincing us of it. But Vivien Leigh - the ethereally lovely and vastly skilled actress who brought us the immortal Scarlett O'Hara - utters the line in such a way that makes the heart ache. Leigh, who won Best Actress for her performance, plays the seminal Blanche. She is flighty, unstable and riddled with neuroses, and the very apex of Tennessee Williams' dysfunctional but immense creativity. Her character is strongly contrasted by that of Marlon Brando's crude, Neanderthal-like Stanley Kowalski, and both of them, perhaps because of their personal parallels to their characters, excel at these playing parts. This re-release restored several minutes of sexual tension to the film that had been hacked out by the censors, notably filling out Kim Hunter's Oscar-winning role as Blanche's beloved sister, Stella. Despite the stifling mores of the Fifties, the film also garnered awards for Karl Malden, and Best Art Direction.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2008
This is a very good, touching and terrifying at times film about how people use, intimidate and ill-treat each other even among families. A poor, long-suffering lady is close to a mental breakdown and comes to seek out her sister for help but in the end this only leads to a totally opposite outcome. Both Leigh and Brando put in excellent performances here and so does Karl Malden who together with Brando would go on to even better things with "On the Waterfront."
The problem is with the DVD which hasn't been restored at all making for very, very poor picture and sound quality. With the advent of Blu-Ray, here's hoping they would take this opportunity to totally remaster this film and to add good bonus features which are totally missing here. Dolby Digital 5.1 surround or DTS THX sound options would be a real treat.
This is a good film but I recommend you wait for a much better restored version to surface and not to waste your hard earned money on this very, very poor DVD version.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
I think this is my favorite film, so I have to add my impressions, even tho everything that could be said about it has already been said. A wonderful film, filled with incredible performances. Vivien Leighs "Blanche" is as fragile as that glass in Tennesse's Menagerie. She won the best actress Oscar for her interpretation of Tennessee Williams alter-ego, Blanche DuBois, the Southern belle on her last stop. She takes the role that Jessica Tandy famously originated in the stage production, and makes it her own. Her performance would have been enough to make this movie a milestone, but the fact there's two groundbreaking performances in it only adds to it's power and legend. Marlon Brandos "Stanley Kowalski", which he originated on stage, was a revelation, then and now. A new kind of acting was brought to the general public. Cast with top New York "method" actors,(Kim Hunter & Karl Malden received best-supporting actor Oscars)it was a once in a lifetime production. That Brando did not receive the award, (I believe Humphrey Bogart won that year, for "The African Queen"), does not take away the lasting effect Brandos role had on cinema. It has been said that Tennessee Williams found much humor in Blanche, his most famous creation, and, often during the stage performances, would cackle maniacally at her (his) remarks, and her final line... one of the most famous lines in entertainment history, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers", always struck him as incredibly funny, to the annoyance of many.(He wrote her, I guess he's entitled.) Maybe his own proximity to madness was a little too close to Blanche's. All said, from the moment she enters the movie, emerging from the steam of the dark New Orleans train station, to her final, lost exit, it is the beautiful and tragic Vivien Leighs Blanche who pervades this film. She and Tennessee were just too gentle for this world.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Tennessee Williams's play of sultry passion set in the French Quarter of New Orleans is a masterpiece flawlessly rendered by the magnificent cast in this classic Elia Kazan directed film. I first laid my eyes on this wonderful work of art over a decade ago, while in my mid-twenties. The stark human drama that unfolded before me on the screen literally had me enthralled. I could not find sufficient words to say enough about it then, nor can I even now, I fear. Yet as it is in my ultra-indulgent nature to do, I shall, amidst all this rambling, try to do this film fair justice -
This is the harsh and burning tale of an emotionally fragile woman, Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) who goes to find shelter under her younger sister Stella Kowalski's (Kim Hunter) roof in New Orleans after losing their inherited southern plantation estate. Marlon Brando is Stella's rough, sexually volatile husband Stanley. Driving this fervent tale is the war of wills that is waged between Leigh's fading Southern Belle and Brando's blue collar brute.
After having recently viewed this movie after so many years away from it, I was much struck by the distinct transformation that my own reaction to this story had undergone over the years - as if living in the world a decade longer had completely altered my perspective. Watching this in my twenties, I saw a madly impassioned play depicting unheeded fervor and unrequited yearnings - a fierce romance. It had been impossible to take my eyes off Brando, his presence on the screen and the power of his performance were so palpable. I even found some of his cruel outbursts, his pointed darts aimed with such cold precision, amusing. I saw Blanche's off-hand remarks, likening Stanley to animal or bluntly telling her sister that he's "common," more as unfair and underhanded attacks rather than what they actually were: desperately wrought defenses against a heartless, malevolent force. It's far more heart wrenching to view this movie now - it disturbs me to the quick, and on some deep intangible level. Perhaps at 25, I was not yet mature enough to fully appreciate or understand the meaning of this brilliantly insightful play. Indeed, my viewpoint of the movie is no longer so one-dimensional.
This film, when viewed as a whole, encompasses a great many ideals - the acting for one, not only by Brando, but by the entire cast - is shear mastery. Forget her stints as Scarlett O'Hara or Anna Karenina; Vivien Leigh's Blanche DuBois is bar none the performance of her life! Her haunting portrayal of the deeply disturbed starlet hiding behind her thin veiled illusions and lyrical genteelness is brilliant. The sexual tension between Blanche and Stanley is riveting to witness - to this day, there's never been an actor anything like Marlon Brando. With mumbled speech and brutish force, his innate mode of sexual energy is unequaled. He belts out a flawless performance here, and it passes me why it did not earn him an Oscar. Kim Hunter as the down-to-earth sister and Karl Malden as Blanche's momma's-boy suitor each won well-deserved Oscars for their respective supporting roles.
I can now with equanimity say that I see this amazing play for what it is: a revelation of life's dark truths. "Death...the opposite is Desire," says Blanche as she throws up for the taking the last shreds of her sanity. She had come that way on a Streetcar Named Desire via another called Cemetery. True that human beings from the birth of desire, en route to the grave, grasp in vain for the beauty and innocence of their youth. True that the meek of this earth are easy prey to the ruthlessly cruel. True that illusion and romance are deft sanctuaries from the harshness of reality. Tennessee Williams hauntingly captures these truths in this wonderful, atmospherically alluring play.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
"A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951) is one of the few masterpieces of American cinema - a true work of art. The story unfolds in New Orleans where former teacher of english, Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) comes to live with her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter) and brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando) in their small, run down apartment in a poor section of town. When Blanche and Stanley meet for the first time, the sparks begin to fly almost immediately, setting the tone for the entire film. Blanche's intentions to leave behind her unsavory past and begin anew (having been run out of her town of Oriole) are at odds with her brother-in-law's determination (intensified by his suspicion that Blanche has duped Stella out of an inheritance) to expose her social airs and genteel manner as a cover for a life of depravity and immorality. The conflict between the two characters builds to a shocking and pathos-filled climax resulting in the disintegration of the last fragile thread of Blanche's sanity. The film's star, Vivien Leigh, gives the greatest screen performance of her life, moving the viewer to feel her character's despair and regret, particularly when confessing to her newly acquired beau, Mitch (Karl Malden), one of Stanley's buddies, the reason behind her husband's suicide when they were both teenagers. Marlon Brando is unforgettable as brutish, antagonistic, slur-speeched Stanley. His presentation of beer & sweat stained, animal-like masculinity is quite sensational even today, 50 years later. Kim Hunter is equally as brilliant in her role of expectant mother, Stella Kowalski. Her valiant attempts to keep peace between her husband and sister prove futile and eventually she, too, is dragged down into a quagmire of disillusion and resentment. The film contains several messages, but perhaps the most striking sentiment is that a careless, unkind word spoken can cause irreparable damage and lead to tragic consequences, ruining many lives in the process. Add these four players' performances to the excellent Tennessee Williams' story, Elia Kazan's great direction and Alex North's outstanding score - what you get is a genuine first rate classic!
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2003
At the outset, I have to say that I never had a particular interest in reading or seeing this play. Sadly this is due to the various interpretations I have heard or read over the years concerning the Blanche DuBois character. For me, the interpretations formed preconceived notions which encouraged me to avoid this play like a plague. The idea of encountering another frail, southern belle, losing her mind and descending into madness, simply did not intrigue me. Hearing Lange's own commentary on the mindset of Blanche DuBois, sadly made me even less inclined to explore this story.
Consequently, upon watching this film, I cannot adequately express my shock at what a brilliant piece of theater this play is. Let's be honest, Vivien Leigh? Marlon Brando? does it get better? Please! How anyone can even attempt to criticize is beyond me. In my mind Jessica Lange and Jessica Tandy are lacking in that they do not have Leigh's extraordinary beauty, a quality which I felt essential to the story.
Since I see that everyone else offers an interpretation, I'll offer mine too....Although this may differ with some other interpretations,I consider Blanche to be the strongest character in the play, as opposed to being the weakest. She has the purest understanding of reality, as happiness and love being elusive and abstract thus making them eternal and true. We are only happy when we are wanting and striving for the ideal. Blanche is fully aware of the illusion and of the necessity of illusion as the means to greater realization.
Blanche, as her name suggests, embodies a medieval concept of the chase and the search, the white hind in the forest which tempts the knight as he is described in the "Lais of Marie de France" or the novels of Chretien de Troyes.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Stanley, who, in my view, is ironically not the strongest character in the piece. He merely serves to challenge Blanche, thus creating a modern manifestation of the biblical battle between good and evil. He is drawn to her due to her purity of purpose and understanding, her goodness. He knows how strong she is, and he is relentless. He plays on his own wife, challenging what is "real," and she succumbs to his tyranny, whereas he knows that Blanche will not. He, as in the biblical "Fall," cannot undermine her strength, her vision. The fight between Stanley and Blanche is electrifying. I felt that they were two powerful gods at war. (When Leigh smashes that bottle and stares Brando down, you will have chills. Come hell or high water, he is not going to defeat her, and he knows it. He is the veritable moth to the flame.)
There is a lot of talk that Stanley shatters Blanche's frail world in the classic rape scene. In accordance, with my own humble interpretation :) he does no such thing. Desire is merely human, and for that matter, it is common. It's the opposite of death and it is, again, human. It is tangible, and it is an essential component of love. Nevertheless, love cannot be defined only by the tangible, and those who can only believe what they can see or touch are lost. Love, in its highest sense, is not tangible; faith is not tangible. Consequently, Blanche has no fear of sexuality or sensuality. They are necessary. She merely feels that we are weighted down by the flesh and that it is incumbent upon the soul to find a higher level, to transcend in order to complete the circle. We need the physical to live, but we also need the spiritual to endure, to remain eternally beautiful. Purity is internal, and it is only achieved on another more abstract plane.
Therefore, ironically, in my mind, Blanche wins in the end. Being led to the institution, on her doctor's gallant arm, she leaves the rabble to play in the dirt, the weak to wail and cry and die in degenration, never knowing true love, never "seeing God" (for lack of a better phrase.) Stanley and the others are ultimately lost.
Ultimately (if you have made it though my long windedness) watch the Brando and Leigh version of Streetcar. They are magnificent, and you will not be disappointed!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2006
*WARNING: May contain spoilers.*
A Streetcar Named Desire is a fascinating film for a lot of reasons. It's very difficult for me to compose my thoughts on this film, as there are just so many things happening on so many different levels.
I suppose I'll begin with the element that really makes the film what it is: the one and only Elia Kazan. For some reason these days, Kazan's films seem to get labeled as outdated and heavy-handed. I can understand why one might think that about Boomerang! or Gentleman's Agreement (though I think those are both very good films, especially the latter), but there is certainly nothing outdated or heavy-handed about A Streetcar Named Desire. It is one of the subtlest and most well crafted films I have ever seen.
The story concerns aging southern belle Blanche DuBois (Leigh), who moves to New Orleans to stay with her younger sister Stella (Hunter) and finds a culture clash at every corner, especially with Stella's "unrefined" husband Stanley, who is played by a very sexy Marlon Brando.
It is extraordinarily interesting to see the juxtaposition between Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando. Leigh is an old-fashioned, classical actress of the highest order, charming the audience with her sunny disposition and perky smile, though she definitely has a dark side. Then we have Brando, a young, up-and-coming user of the rising art of method acting. It is one of the most interesting on-screen interactions one is likely to see.
What is also very interesting is watching Blanche's slow spiral into insanity. All of the elegance and wealth she grew up in is gone, and she has done unthinkable things to survive. Now she is stuck in a New Orleans slum with a sweaty simpleton yelling at her. Pair that with the tormenting suicide of a past lover, and you have a recipe for madness.
Being based on a Tennessee Williams play, the film takes place in essentially one location, that being Stella and Stanley's apartment, but Kazan utilizes the New Orleans locale to perfection, and the combination of his direction, the gorgeous, glowing black and white cinematography, and Alex North's sultry, jazzy score gives the film a consistently surreal, almost dreamlike atmosphere.
But more notably, the New Orleans atmosphere gives Kazan the perfect opportunity to play with the story's sensual aspects, and he occasionally even delves into pure primal sexuality, such as in the famous "Stella!" scene. The film is so subtly steamy and wrought with sexual tension that it pushed the boundaries of censorship back in its day. This also may be due to the fact that it alludes to some very controversial subjects. This is another point at which the film's subtlety becomes a marvel of cinematic engineering. Was Blanche's lover homosexual? Did Stanley rape Blanche? There are no solid answers to these questions - it is left for the viewer to decide.
But as I first mentioned, the real virtuoso behind this film is Elia Kazan. Some people may still be upset over his actions during the Red Scare, but it is undeniable that he made some extremely good films. A Streetcar Named Desire is one of his absolute finest masterpieces. It was very much ahead of its time, and it remains one of the most intense, subtle, and well-made dramas in the history of film.