on December 6, 1998
While it will not replace the classic 1951 Kazan film version, this television production of Tennessee Williams' "Streetcar Named Desire" comes textually closer and remains more faithful to what Williams actually wrote (with the exception of a few minor deletions). The most noticeable restoration is the issue of homosexuality in regard to Blanche's dead husband, which in 1951 had to be sidestepped. The performances are all quite good. Diane Lane as Stella and John Goodman as Mitch are more human and less deliberate than their Kazan counterparts, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. Alec Baldwin does quite well, especially considering the shadow of Brando which hangs over the role of Stanley Kowalski. Baldwin may lack the complete rawness and animal sexuality, but he improves over Brando in giving Stanley a sympathetic edge; another advantage is that Baldwin does not mumble.
Which brings us to Jessica Lange, whose portrayal of Blanche is both delicately shaded and strongly characterized; she is heart-breaking and luminous. Comparing her to Vivian Leigh, it is impossible to rank one over the other, as both performances seem "definitive" (now if we only had the performances of Jessica Tandy, Uta Hagen, and Tallulah Bankead preserved). The production design for once truly emphasizes the squalor in which Stella and Stanley live and which so shocks Blanche upon her arrival. Worth purchasing, especially for devotees of Williams.
Tennessee Williams is one of America's greatest playwrights, and 1947's Putlizer-Prize winning "A Streetcar Named Desire" is his undisputed masterpiece. Sam Staggs, in his definitive history of "Streetcar", correctly describes the play as "a root canal on the soul."
The plot concerns Blanche DuBois, who arrives in New Orleans seeking refuge from her troubled past in her sister Stella's small apartment. Blanche hadn't counted on her brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, being so brutish and intensely sexual, however. She hopes to find a measure of happiness and peace with Stanley's friend Harold Mitchell (Mitch). A lesser playwright than Williams may well have given Blanche, and the audience, a happy ending with Mitch. But neither Williams nor his characters are that easy or simplistic. His characters are not all good or all bad. They exist in a morally gray area; with Williams exposing the cruel and harsh realities of life. When the truth of Blanche's sordid past is crudely and relentlessly exposed by Stanley, Mitch cruelly rejects her. Blanche loses her tenuous grip on reality. There is a final violent confrontation between Blanche and Stanley; which in turns leads to one of the most soul-shattering conclusions in theatre history.
The cast of this 1995 TV production, based on a successful Broadway revival starring Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin, does not have to contend with the censorship issues that plagued the otherwise outstanding 1951 film version. So here we have the full text and content of Williams' original play. This means we get the sad story of the suicide of Blanche's gay husband, and we see how it has haunted her for years. We also get the full, long scene between Blanche and Stella following the violent poker game. This 1995 production drips with the potent sexuality that was fairly muted in the 1951 film version. We also see, perhaps for the first time, how Stella is torn between her sisterly love and devotion to Blanche, and her powerful sexual attraction to Stanley.
I prefer Tennessee Williams' plays in black and white. This production is in color. Between 1951 and 1995, another TV version starring Ann-Margaret (1984; which, to my knowledge, has never been available on DVD) was shot in a strange sort of color. It looked like it was shot with an orange-colored filter on the camera lens. At any rate, the 1984 version is too rushed. This 1995 production shows great respect for the play. At Two hours, thirty six minutes, it is virtually the entire play; running thirty six minutes longer than the 1951 film version. And the color photography is fine.
While nothing will ever erase the impact of the outstanding cast of Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden in 1951, most of this cast is up to the challenge of presenting this full-force, complete and uncensored "Streetcar." Diane Lane and John Goodman are excellent as Stella and Mitch. If Vivien Leigh is the "definitive Blanche", then surely Jessica Lange deserves to be acclaimed as the "second definitive Blanche." Like Viven Leigh, Jessica Lange gives a tour-de-force, devastating, heartwretching performance. Leigh and Lange's performances should never be compared, because both performances are equal in terms of interpretation and emotional impact. Dramatic inequality is more evident if one compares Marlon Brando and Alec Baldwin as Stanley. To be fair, Baldwin turns his own performance down and never attempts to copy Brando. How in the world could he? Marlon Brando was a dangerous, dynamic, sexual force of nature as Stanley. Alec Baldwin, simply, is not.
The genius of Tennessee Williams and the power of "A Stretcar Named Desire" remains undiminished. Aficionados should own both the 1951 and 1995 productions. Both productions will provide a full-force emotional catharsis. I was crying uncontrollably during the final scene.
I was age two in 1951 when Tennessee Williams's A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE had its first Silver Screen incarnation. I don't recall seeing this film during the 50s as part of a twenty-five cent, Saturday, kiddy matinee double feature. Well, we would have been bored with such grown-up tempests-in-a-teapot anyway. As an adult, I can now view both the original and this 1995 version, and reap the benefit of improved film-making technology and relaxed censorship, though both versions are substantively identical - no surprise, since they're both working off the same script.
Blanche Dubois arrives in post-WWII New Orleans from Mississippi to visit her younger sister Stella, who's married to Stanley Kowalsky. Both women were the products of a genteel, Southern upbringing, and Blanche is appalled by Stanley's brutishness and the sweltering, seedy, French Quarter apartment in which her sister happily lives. Early in life, Blanche was psychologically devastated her young husband's death. He'd committed suicide after Blanche had discovered his homosexuality and confronted him. Stella having departed the family estate, Belle Reve, for the Big City, the widowed Blanche was left to deal with the deaths of parents and the eventual loss of Belle Reve to creditors. Now, at the edge of sanity, Blanche perceives herself as a classic Southern lady fallen on hard times. But she has another side which Stanley, a male "pig" if there ever was one, immediately perceives. It's their tense interaction over several months that provides the story's conflict and seals Blanche's fate.
How do the players compare?
Alec Baldwin's 1995 Stanley is more than adequate. OK, he doesn't have the animal presence of Marlon Brando's original, but at least the former doesn't talk as if through a mouthful of cotton. And if I hear the 1951 Stanley screech his high-pitched "Stella!" one more time, I'll lose it.
The role of Blanche is better served by Jessica Lange than Vivien Leigh. To me, Leigh's version came off with a touch of spoiled brat, while Lange's embodied more of the vulnerability and residual gentility that comprised the essence of Blanche. In that persona, Leigh's illusions and delusions seemed overacted, while Lange's seemed inherently genuine. (Do I suffer from being too infatuated with Jessica's role in TOOTSIE?)
John Goodman as Mitch, who becomes smitten with Stanley's sister-in-law, is more of a flawed-yet-sympathetic figure than was Karl Malden's original. Perhaps it's because Goodman's more massive physique contrasts better with his (initial) gentleness.
Played by Diane Lane (1995) and Kim Hunter (1951), Stella is a toss-up. I give Ms. Lane the nod simply because she's a superb, contemporary actress that I fondly recall from LONESOME DOVE and UNFAITHFUL.
Purists will rage, but if I had to recommend one version over another, it would be this one. Filmed in color, it provides more atmosphere and depth than the B&W original. And the viewer no longer has to cope with the early-1950s censorship that muddied dialog and scenes having to do with homosexuality, rape and nymphomania. This is a half-century later; let's move on for Chrissakes! After all, the "classic" story is Williams's original play. (Who knows? In 2050, a third screen edition may do it even better. Perhaps it'll be a holographic presentation.)
For me, the best scene in both is at the end when Blanche is gallantly treated like the lady she believes herself to be, and she poignantly remarks, "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." To get through life, we all do.
on September 27, 2011
At least Glen Jordan, the director, was working with a script much closer to the stage version than the expurgated Warner Bros. film. And somewhere in the libraries of remakes is the Anne Margaret/Treat Williams version.
Okay, for this version....John Goodman's Mitch brings a sweetness and a pain to the screen that is almost physically uncomfortable to watch, it is so naked and vulnerable.
Let's face it....no one is ever going to make Stanley their own....it's been done. It's owned. I find that Alec Baldwin has grown in the years he's been working, into a wonderfully adept comedian, as well as honoring his dramatic abilities. His anger and frustration was, for me, too cerebral....Stanley IS a primal man. It's hard for an intelligent actor to make us believe that he isn't smart. It really showed me the difference between acting and being, looking at Brando.
However, it cases like this, where Stanley doesn't overwhelm the screen (or stage) it allows Blanche to take her rightful place in the spotlight, stage center. And that's why when this version was first aired I thought that we'd found a new Blanche for the ages. And in many ways, we have. My only question, complaint, disappointment came with Ms. Lange's adoption of every note, every nuance, every breath of Vivien Leigh's vocal performance. I thought it was my imagination, since that's the performance I've seen and heard so many times. But now, watching it again, I had the same experience.
Stella is definitely worth Stanley's attention, and Blanche's devotion, and her physical inability to believe her husband's cruelty reminded me of another piece of acting that Ms. Lane accomplished in UNFAITHFUL....the ability she has of showing the audience what is going on in her mind and in her gut....if you missed her performance, especially the train ride the morning after her first tryst in UNFAITHFUL, then you have missed a performance that shows what acting is all about.
Maybe we say there are definitive performances because we have film to back up the brouhaha....but you can only hear people talk about Jessica Tandy on Broadway, bringing Blanche to life....we'll never know, only words to remind us.
I enjoyed the film, do not find anything to rave about. Glad I have a pastel picture to go along with the black and white but the color was always there. Why look for more? But then.....who knows.....
Perhaps I had lower expectations of this production since I have always been taken by the 1951 version of this Tennessee Williams classic with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. I couldn't imagine any performance by any actor competing with theirs. But in this version both Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange distinguish themselves. Of course they are not Brando and Leigh but they don't have to be. Lange who is famous for playing disturbed women (FRANCES and BLUE SKIES) is quite good as the fragile, mentally wobbly Blanche. There are times when she has that scary, crazy look in her eyes that puts chills on your spine. While Baldwin is not quite as much of an animal as Brando, he certainly is believable as the rough and sexy Stanley. Nobody exhibits more anger on screen than Mr. Baldwin. John Goodman brings a gentleness to his role as Mitch that makes him just right for the guiles of Blanche.
This entire production holds up well against the original with one exception. While I appreciate the additions that were omitted from the 1951 production-- we can speak about homosexuality now when even the Vice President of the United States talks about his gay daughter-- this version, however, is close to being too long. By the time the movie ended, I was ready for Blanche-- in what must be one of the saddest scenes in film-- to leave and make her famous statement about the kindness of strangers.
on February 15, 2013
As a homosexual male born in 1955 I don't see how I could be more invested in the original film version of this magnificent play. I was pretty much raised on it. The films of Tennessee Williams plays were about the only cultural containers that I had to project into during my youth. But, I am so glad that I bought this particular filmed version of "A Streetcar Named Desire." How often do you get to watch performances this brilliantly filmed which are the result of this degree of preparation, development, and performance experience and largess. Which can pretty much only come from a successful long-run Broadway production. Don't be confused that this might be one of those awkwardly filmed theatre productions for television. I am not sure I have ever seen a film of a play that is this cinematically successful. The very generous use of close-up allows us to appreciate just how rich, nuanced and fully realized these performances are. I had alway heard that Ms. Lange was miscast for this role. I don't know, this seems to me to be an absolutely bravura performance which vastly deepened my understanding of a character which I thought I knew quite well. Of course it does help, a lot, that we are finally able to watch the actual original play, and I am not sure we all appreciate just how long this took. Nor why. Mr. Baldwin's excellent performance has considerable range and hits all the right "Stanley" notes and moments and the potential for violence feels very palpable. But for some reason I kept thinking that the actor was perhaps a bit too middle class for the performance to be absolutely believable. I may have just been resistant and you should decide for yourself. All the supporting actors give commendable fulfilling performances. But, the best part of this film is that the psycho-emotional logic and development of the play is so completely there and so satisfying. It, finally, all makes so much sense. And the shear dramatic intensity of the playwright's work and accomplishment is thrilling. No matter how much you love the original film of this play I can't imagine anyone being the least bit disappointed that they purchased this DVD. Not if you like Tennessee Williams.
on June 26, 1999
I always thought that Vivien Leigh's interpretation of Blanche will be the definitive performance for this role. I am not so sure after I watched Lange's heart-breaking performance in this version. She is truly amazing. ALthough this actress given tons of great performance in her career ('Frances', 'Country', 'Sweet Dream', 'Music Box', 'Blue Sky'), she very likely gives the performance of her career in a made for TV movie.
This lavish 1995 television remake of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE is simply sublime. Jessica Lange is perfect casting for the tour-de-force role of Blanche DuBois, and Tennessee Williams' play still packs a hell of a punch.
Blanche DuBois (Jessica Lange) goes to visit her sister Stella (Diane Lane) and her husband, boorish Stanley Kowalski (Alec Baldwin) one sultry summer in New Orleans. Blanche lives in a world of her own creation to protect herself from the frightening, black gaping void of a hostile real world from which she simply cannot survive. When Stanley discovers Blanche's weaknesses it's only a matter of time before she cracks completely.
Tennessee Williams' dramatic tale of the innocent and fragile being crushed by a hostile and cruel world is still amazingly relevant. John Goodman turns in a heartbreaking performance as Mitch, the man who falls in love with Blanche but is too weak to fight for her. Diane Lane is a knockout as Stella, Stanley's wife who'll stand by him whatever happens. Alec Baldwin is all menace and smouldering sexuality as Stanley.
Jessica Lange, treading in the hallowed footsteps of Jessica Tandy, Uta Hagen and Vivien Leigh, is a vibrant and vital Blanche. Completely enchanting and bubbly in her early scenes and then slowly letting the mask fall as the world around her becomes too raw and real.
This STREETCAR will completely break your heart.
on August 21, 2015
OF THREE REMAKES, THIS ONE IS TRULY THE BEST. JESSICA LANGE AND ALEC BALDWIN SIMMER AND SMOLDER ON THE SCREEN. MS. LANGE'S BLANCHE IS VULNERABLE. YOUR HEART BREAKS FOR HER. AND MR. BALDWIN'S STANLEY IS STILL GRUFF AND CRUEL, BUT YOU SEE A TINY BIT OF HUMANITY EMERGE TO HIS SAVAGE SURFACE. DIANE LANE IS GREAT, AS USUAL. AND THE REST OF THE CAST CARRY THE PRODUCTION VERY WELL. ONE OF MY FAVORITE MOVIES.
on April 26, 2015
Lange and Baldwin exceed expectations. This version of the play stays true to the play script (unlike the Marlon Brando version) Both Alect Baldwin and Jessica Lange absolutely SHINE in this drama. Well worth the time. Great casting, effective art production. As good as seeing a Broadway play.