Friday, November 11, 2011

Film | A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

I have actually owned this DVD for a few years now, but never got around to watching it. I had sat down to watch the special features awhile back, which got me interested in seeing the film. Now that I have seen it, I wonder why it took me so long. It was such a great film, but it was not at all what I expected. I'm not sure what I expected from it, but it was much more grim and real than I had imagined.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

"...When she got there she met the brute Stan, and the side of New Orleans she hardly knew existed."

Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois
Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski
Kim Hunter as Stella Kowalski
Karl Malden as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell

After losing the family plantation to creditors, aging Southern belle Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) travels to New Orleans seeking solace in her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter). Instead, she goes toe-to-toe with Stella's brute of a husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando). [Netflix]

The whole film was captivating, but I was really taken back by the scene that follows Stanley hitting Stella out of rage. While she and sister Blanche take refuge at the upstairs neighbors home, Stanley realizes the mistake he has made. His expression goes from big brute to a crying baby. I had no idea what a great actor Marlon Brandon was. This was my first film of his. The best part of the film was when Stanley is yelling Stella's name from the bottom of the stairs with tears in his eyes and his shirt torn. The expression on Stella's face as she hears his voice screaming her name pretty much wraps this entire film up. The blank look of desire for this man she lusts for shows how much they are truly in love. As she walks down the stairs almost teasing Stanley with what he could lose was some of the best cinematography I've ever seen. I would go so far as to call this scene perfect. His expression of wanting her back, her vamp-like walking down the stairs, the sexy jazz tune playing in the background... you feel the sexual tension between them. Then they embrace at the bottom of the stairs as she digs her nails into his bare back and you understand how they feel about each other.

I later learned that this scene in the original theatrical cut of the film was drastically different. The Production Code had the close up of Stella's face showing her 'desire' for Stanley cut, as well as the close-ups of her walking down the stairs. They even changed the music from sexy horn based jazz tune to a string arrangement. I am glad I was able to see the scene the way it was originally intended. I often feel grateful for the invention of DVD and digital imaging, they are able to restore films like this to their original state.

Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Rudy Bond, Nick Dennis and Richard Garrick repeated their roles from the original Broadway play for this film. Jessica Tandy, who originated Blanche on Broadway, was in line to reprise her role, but the studio felt she didn't' have enough star power to carry the film. At the time Marlon Brando hadn't reached his full star potential, so they felt it necessary to cast a well-known leading lady in the role of Blanche. Greats such as Bette Davis and Olivia De Havilland were considered for the role. As we all know the part went to Vivien Leigh, who played the role in the London production of the play. Leigh had the star power from such films as Gone With The Wind to get people into the theaters. I personally couldn't imagine the role played by anyone else. I thought Vivien was Blanche DuBois. Turns out the film almost went on without Marlon Brando as well, as the role was originally offered to John Garfield who turned it down because he felt his character would be overshadowed by the actress playing Blanche. 

Being that I live in New Orleans and have become quite familiar with the French Quarter, I thought the film was all shot on location here in the city. I was surprised to learn only the opening scenes where Blanche arrives in New Orleans were shot on location. The rest of the film was shot on a sound stage with a replica of the French Quarter. The set designers really captured the essence of the historic part of the city. Even the streetcar that was named Desire had to be made for this film. The streetcar used is actually still in service today in New Orleans, but goes by the name Perley Thomas #922 now.

Another thing I found interesting was that when the sets were designed, Kazan made the walls moveable. With this he was able to make the apartment walls move in closer and closer to Blanche. This was to help mirror Blanche's oncoming psychotic break.

It was fun for me to hear the characters use many references to real establishments here in New Orleans. In the film Blanche asks where she can find Elysian Fields (which is a real street here in New Orleans) and the two ladies dine at Galatoires (a real restaurant in the French Quarter still around in New Orleans).


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