Haved just finished watching for the fourth time this masterpiece. A Streetcar Named Desire was originally a play by Tennessee Williams, one of my favourite American playwrights. It was made into a movie in 1951 by director Elia Kazan, with Tennessee Williams himself as the scriptwriter, and starred Vivien Leigh as Blanche Dubois and Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski. The film won 4 Oscars, three of which are in the acting categories: Best Actress (Vivien Leigh), Best Supporting Actor (Karl Malden) and Best Supporting Actress (Kim Hunt). Marlon Brando was slighted in the Oscars, but he remains one of the main reasons to watch this movie: for his sheer animal charm as Stanley Kuwolski.

Plot?... I never liked to talk much about plots. Briefly, Blanch Dubois, a destitute, fading beauty, arrives in New Orleans to stay with her sister Stella, who's married to Stanley Kowalski. Blanche is repelled by the coarseness of her sister's surroundings, while Stanley, insulted by her airs, starts digging up nasty bits of Blanche's less than perfect past. Ok, with that done, let's talk themes. To quoteWilliams loosely, it's about the exploitation of the weak by the harsh forces of modern society. The weak, symbolised by Blanche, thrives in the half-light, in the comforting shade, in the crumbling memories of the Old Order, and in the decorated imagination of Blanche's fantasies. This fragile world is thrown against the harsh naked lights of Stanley's world of the factory, the bowling alley, the poker party, the unforgiving, sordid industrial world.

The movie was pretty controversial in its time, for its references to Blanche's sexual adventures and also for its amoral ending. Elia Kazan and Tennesse William had to make a few concessions to the prevailing public moral watchdogs in the movie version, but it is still a major milestone for social realism in the movies.

From the point of view of Stella in the play. Written as an exercise when I performed the character in college:

My name is Stella Kowalski. I am 25-years-old and I have been married to Stanley Kowalski for a brief amount of time. In Act 1 Scene 1, my older sister Blanche comes to visit me and she has never met Stanley before. I also had not seen her myself since I married him. ( Scene 1 Blanche: “Will Stanley like me, or will I be just a visiting in-law, Stella?”) I never went to college and Stanley and I live in a lower middle-class area of New Orleans, which is quite different from where I grew up. ( Scene 1 Blanche: “...explain this place to me! What are you doing in a place like this?”) Stanley has a violent temper and he gets extremely rough with me at times, but I don’t really mind. Stanley represents the opposite of my past; the wildness and unpredictability of Stanley’s temper excites me.( Scene 4 When Blanche asks me why I didn’t get upset when Stanley smashed all the lightbulbs on our wedding night I said, “I was sort of thrilled by it.”) Blanche does not understand this or my decision to live where I live. Stanley brought me out of the world I’d once lived in and I am happy to have left it, although Blanche still exists in that world.

Although I don’t want to admit it, I really want Blanche to leave. She has entered our home and disrupted everything, driving Stanley crazy and taking his a lot attention away from me. I would have been like Blanche were it not for Stanley, and when she is there she causes me to act like my former self at times, which I hate. (In scene 3, I yell at Stanley with rage: “Drunk- drunk- animal thing, you!” and we have a big fight, caused indirectly by my sister.) I want Blanche to leave because I want Stanley and me to be happy again living in our own world. ( Scene 8, Stanley attempts to reassure me by saying, “Stell, it’s gonna be all right after she goes and after you’ve had the baby. It’s gonna be all right again between you and me and the way that it was.”)

I cannot directly force my sister out of the house because I know that she’s in trouble, therefore I must have a reason for her to leave, and Stanley can help me with this. (In scene 11 we send her away to a mental institution claiming that she’s crazy- she tells me that Stanley raped her but I refuse to believe her.) Blanche can hurt me because she represents everything I’d wanted to flee from, and she can destroy my world with Stanley by trying to force realizations onto me. For although Stanley loves me he is filled with an implacable rage shown clearest when he rapes Blanche. (In scene 11 I remark to Eunice, “I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley.”) My deepest fear is that my world with Stanley could be destroyed, and by refusing to believe my sister I am refusing to let go of that world.

In order to get Blanche out of the picture I must send her away to a mental institution. I am a threat to Blanche because I am able to do this. I can induce Stanley to do things because he does love me. (By me leaving during scene 3 due to his rage, he cries for me to return and I get him to show his real and unabandoned affection for me.)

I expect to make Blanche leave because that is what I must do in order to restore my and my husband’s life. Stanley also wishes her out of the picture and we both make her leave. When Blanche finally does leave, I am not fully restored and I will never feel completely better because deep down I know the truth and I know it was wrong to send her away. (In the end of scene 11 I sob uncontrollably while Stanley tries to comfort me.)

Defending Against Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams is centered upon interpersonal relations. From the moment Stanley sees Blanche for the first time, he knows that she will greatly threaten the relationship he has with Stella. Throughout the play, Blanche criticizes the way that Stella lives and the way that she allows her husband to behave. By the end, Stanley knows that the only way he can protect his way of life is to remove Blanche from it. Stanley’s actions at the end of the play can be justified in that they are the only way to make sure Stella never challenges him again.

The first problem that Stanley encounters with Blanche is that she avoids the truth, which is often symbolized by light. She only is seen going to dark places, only meets people in the evenings and in places without much light. Blanche also refuses to be truthful when asked to reveal her age. Even Mitch, the person to whom she is most connected, is never allowed to find out her true age. “Not only would direct light divulge her true age, but it would also render her vulnerable to the truth” (“Streetcar”). It soon becomes clean that she can’t keep all her secrets forever. Stanley spends many hours researching these “shadowed secrets”(“Streetcar”). When he discovers what she had been up to recently, he wastes no time in telling Stella and Mitch. This is Stanley’s first step in his quest for total destruction of Blanche.

The second aspect of Blanche’s persona that threatens Stanley is that she pretends to be upper class when she clearly is not. When Stanley open’s Blanche’s trunk, he is amazed on the number of furs and the amount of jewelry she has. “Being a very poor judge of such things, Stanley does not realize that all of Blanche's possessions are cheap imitations…”(“Works”). Along the same lines, Blanche is obsessed with her outward appearance and constantly asking to be told how beautiful she is. From the first moment she enters the neighborhood, Blanche was complaining about the size of the house, the type of neighborhood, and especially about Stanley. Blanche refers to Stanley as everything from a “polack,” to a savage to common and unsophisticated. What disturbs Stanley the most is that she makes a very compelling argument to Stella on why she should stand up to him. This influence is seen in how Stella asks Stanley to help clear the table in scene 8.

Finally, Blanche disturbs Stanley because there is a mutual attraction between them. The insults Blanche uses against Stanley involving “…his animal prowess [also] indicate a strong fascination and subconscious desire [for him]”(“Works”). If this final aspect did not exist, then it would be sufficient for Stanley to just kick her out of town. Instead, “He must prove that the world is a pigsty and he is the king of pigs…”(“Works”). Stanley does this first, by telling Blanche’s boyfriend Mitch and sister Stella about her past. Finally, to make sure that Blanche has nothing left, Stanley corners her and rapes her, saying “We’ve had this date with each-other from the beginning”(130)

Stanley lives in a world that is very different from that in which Blanche resides. The greatest fear that Stanley has is that Stella will be coerced to join Blanche’s world and leave him. We see throughout the play how dependent Stanley is upon Stella and therefore understand how disturbing Blanche’s behavior is to him. If Blanche were a typical enemy who wronged Stanley, he would have beat her up, kicked her out of town and that would have been the end of it. However, when someone tries to undermine his way of life and the relationship he has with is wife, Stanley feels it justified to perform an act so atrocious, that it pushes Blanche over the edge and makes sure that she will never return. “Like all men, and animals, he [insists upon] security in his own home”(“Works”).

Works Cited

“A Streetcar Named Desire”, Magill's Survey of Cinema, 06-15-1995.
“Works of Tennessee Williams: A Streetcar Named Desire”, Monarch Notes, Simon & Schuster, Inc: 1963-1990
I wrote this a few years ago, so please don't steal it. Node your homework instead.

Streetcar

There is also a great significance in where Blanche used to live which we learn in the opening scene, ‘Why I -live in Laurel.’ Laurel is important as it has several significant meanings that apply to Blanche and her demeanour. Firstly Laurel is a mark of honour particularly in the ancient times. This is important in the first scene as it shows the audience the history with which Blanche descends from, which therefore helps to explain her air of dominance towards people she considers to be beneath her.

Another meaning of Laurel is ‘to rely on past achievements instead of working to maintain or advance ones statues or reputation.’ This applies to Blanche because although she owns nothing ‘everything I own is in that trunk,’ and she is completely dependent on others kindness, she still believes that her reputation of upper classes puts her needs above others. Blanche also believed because of her superior background that her reputation could not be damaged and would remain clean whatever she did.

So when she acted with promiscuity in her home town she didn’t understand the full effects that would take their toll on her reputation, until it was too late and she could no longer maintain her prim exterior; she depended on Laurel to support her.

Director: Elia Kazan
Writers:
Tennessee Williams (original play)
Oscar Saul (adaptation)
Tennessee Williams (screenplay)
Release Date: September, 1951
Starring: Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden, Kim Hunter

We've Created Enchantment:
Departures From Stage to Film and What They're All About


Elia Kazan, having directed a successful stage production of Tennessee Williams’s "A Streetcar Named Desire", was the logical pick to tell the film version of the same stunning story, and the choice in director proved to be an intelligent one. Transplanting multiple members of the original stage cast to the silver screen, Kazan’s film works well as an interpretation and production of the play, rarely departing at all in terms of dialogue and setting. He walks a fine line at moments, particularly in regards to certain plot points. It's in that respect that the transition from stage to film becomes interesting, as we can trace quite clearly the hand of the censors. Furthermore, comparing the 1951 version with a re-release in 1993 (featuring additional footage censored from the earlier version) reveals places in which Kazan's vision was stifled.

Departures in Setting

The film holds true to Williams’s directions as far as setting go, but only to an extent. The bluesy jazz music described in the text is a joy to hear transferred successfully, permeating nearly every scene to the point that it’s faintly audible within the Kowalski residence. The same applies to the sounds of the trains, which appear during moments of emotional tension and at times increase to the level of a low roar. The film does have its departures from the play, however. It’s difficult to know why the film was shot in black and white, since Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz employed color techniques as early as 1939, a full decade before A Streetcar Named Desire. The fact of the matter is that even in 1951 dramatic films were commonly shot without color, but the lack of color makes it impossible to employ the prescribed blue, hazy lighting prescribed for the stage. Fog is introduced during Blanche’s date with Mitch as she sits on a dock and tells the story of her husband’s death, enhancing the feeling of Blanche stumbling haphazardly through painful memories. The dock also brings up another important point: the film uses locations outside of the Kowalski home which are not present in the play. The bowling alley, the dock, and a brief scene in the factory that Stanley works at are all present, as well as early larger shots of New Orleans at large. While they give the audience a better feel for the mood of New Orleans, staging the entire play around a relatively small space created a cramped, stuffy atmosphere appropriate for the humid, hot climate and the tension of the play at large. We do still get this, to an extent, however — Stanley sweats profusely throughout the film, and the walls of the Kowalski home literally close in on Blanche from scene to scene.

Departures in Characterization

Despite any changes made for the film version, all of the characters in Kazan’s film admirably bring to life the roles assigned to them, from the minor characters to the two most important roles of Stanley and Blanche. Kim Hunter and Karl Malden perform commendably, portraying Stella as a woman completely dependant and submissive to her husband’s aggressive desires and Mitch as a sensitive, well-meaning man who is nonetheless prone to frustration when lied to. The two characters most interestingly portrayed, however, are that of Stanley Kowalski and Blanche Dubois.

Stanley is first present during an altercation at the bowling alley, an image not seen in Williams’s original text. His first impression is one of imposing physicality and unquestionable attractiveness. Marlon Brando looks exactly like what he later became, a movie star, and the other bowlers are older, out of shape, and are clearly meant to stand in sharp contrast to the young, muscular Brando. Stanley’s volatile nature becomes a defining character trait. When Stella speaks of the combination of men, alcohol, and poker as a “powder keg,” she’s not speaking in generalities – she means Stanley. Appropriately, Stanley comes across as something of a ticking time bomb, reasonable and cool one moment, roaring the next. Prone to vocal outbursts and acts of physical violence (whether it’s hitting Stella, smashing plates, or simply slamming a drawer closed), Stanley is liable to erupt at any moment. It's a brilliant performance, visceral and animal.1

Were this the only imposing aspect of his character, he would come across as one-dimensional, but Brando wisely chooses to accentuate the quiet moments as well as the loud ones. For every violent moment, there’s an equally tense moment of silence, a savage calm that seems just as dangerous. There are still other moments, however, in which the intimidating, potentially harmful Stanley breaks down and shows a more vulnerable side. When Blanche claims she’ll need to burn the love letters and poems that he pulls from her trunk, Brando’s facial expressions and tone of voice clearly convey that his feelings have been hurt. Shortly thereafter, he apologetically explains to Blanche that, “under the Napoleonic code, a man has to take interest in his wife’s affairs.” Most notably, however, he bares himself in full in the street in front of his home, crying out Stella’s name at the top of his lungs, his shirt ripped, hanging off of one shoulder like a caveman’s fur garment. The pure emotion resonant in his voice is piercing, and though we only see his face briefly, it’s contorted in pain and frustration.

Vivien Leigh’s treatment of Blanche is eloquent and thoughtful, accurately capturing her nervousness and mental instability. As is directed in the original text, she coyly hides her face whenever it’s in the light, and has occasional bouts of uncalled for hysteria, screaming when Stella drops a glass of cola or hurriedly covering her ears over the sound of the trains. In moments of particular mental anguish, phrases repeated by other characters echo in her mind, their voices growing distant while her body tenses, her face revealing nothing but pain attached to a distant memory. This first occurs when Mitch asks her, “you were married once, weren’t you?”, but persists throughout the film, coming to a climax near the end when entire conversations reverberate inside her head, sending her further into her own delusional state. The times she seems most relaxed are the times in which she’s playing the part of the flirtatious coquette, a role that Blanche repeatedly falls into as a way of compensating for her own aging and lack of control over her life. Her fragility is evident throughout the film, a product of the delivery of her lines and a broad collection of nervous movements and furtive glances. Her delusional state is the twisted culmination of her desire for magic and fantasy, and when she dances in the dim illumination of her paper lantern, her exclamation that she and Mitch have “created enchantment,” a statement not found in the original play, serves as a haunting foreshadowing of her mental state in the play’s final moments.

The Cutting Room Floor and the 1993 Re-release

Interestingly, the rape scene is cut short. In the original text, two pivotal things occur that are absent from the movie: Firstly, Stanley says the famous line, “We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning,” and secondly, he physically picks her up and carries her to the bed. The words are a blatant indication of his intentions, and picking her up works as an exhibition of total physical domination and her surrender to his will. The movie leaves this out, to an extent cutting the legs out from under the scene. To a mature and engaged audience, rape is the natural assumption and the strong implication, but a reasonable argument can still be made that it didn’t occur at all. The audience knows only that Blanche and Stanley were drunk, that they had a violent argument, and that it had a vicious effect on her psyche. This is arguably the most blatant example of censorship, toning down the harsh reality of the scene Williams called for. Similarly, the film version doesn’t let Stanley off the hook for his abuse of Blanche, ending in Stella’s retreat up the stairs to Eunice’s home.

The invisible hand of the censors is shown more concretely in Blanche’s recounting of her young husband’s death, which is utterly devoid of any homosexual themes. On the dance floor, just moments before his suicide, instead of saying, “I saw! I know! You disgust me!” (96) as she does in the play, she claims to have said, “You are weak. I have lost all respect for you. You disgust me.” Again, the audience may still conclude from her descriptions of him and his troubles that he was, in fact, gay, but the assumption is in this case a larger leap.

These are changes mandated by the social context and time frame of the film’s creation, a sometimes necessary evil arising from the transition from stage to film, but here they undermine the larger goals of the play. Sex is repeatedly linked with tragedy and death, and this fundamental truth helps drive the play from the very beginning. Blanche travels on a streetcar named “Desire” to one called “Cemeteries,” finally arriving at Elysian Fields, the Greek land of the dead. Her husband’s death comes as a result of the pain he feels from his own sexuality. Blanche’s own past is defined by systematically chasing after her own wild desires and gaining nothing but more pain. The only things left for her at home are a bad reputation, no home, and a graveyard full of relatives and acquaintances. Running from this past, she attempts to hide from her future by concealing her face in light, lying about her age, and asserting her sexuality. This is especially evident in the scene in which she seduces the young man taking collections for The Evening Star, only to immediately send him away. Here, her repetition of the word “young” and her use of the word “children” divulge her real motivation — she doesn’t want the young man, she just wants to know she could have him if she did. She is conquering the aging process. The movie version of the work treats this scene well; the young man seems a bit unsure of how to respond, but allows himself to be commanded by her, and she in turn lures him in and then sends him home.

The cuts later added back into the 1993 re-release of the film are short but critical, showing the full film for what it was: a braver exploration into realms of desire and thought that the movie industry was not ready to allow. During the scene in which Blanche seduces The Evening Star's donation collector, lines of dialogue make it clear that her husband was gay and that her insults are what drove him to suicide. Furthermore, it is suggested that not only is Blanche somewhat obsessed with sex (and may even indulge compulsively), but also that she might feel an especially strong attraction to young boys.

Additionally, Stella's relationship with Stanley becomes even more tumultuous, complicated, and intriguing. In a conversation with Blanche, Stella remarks: "Stanley's always smashed things. Why, on our wedding night, as soon as we came in here, he snatched off one of my slippers and rushed about the place smashing the light bulbs with it." After a moment's pause, she adds: "I was sort of thrilled by it." It's a small addition, but one that makes all the difference in the context of the film — there's a sexual element to the power struggles Stanley creates, and Stella is excited by it.

Final Remarks

In the final analysis, Kazan’s film is remarkably true to the play's spirit despite the changes made. The vast majority of the differences between the play and the film arise not from a desire on Kazan’s part to stray from the text, but to successfully make the movie. It’s a harsh reality that creativity within a complex industry is not always unlimited, and the impression one gets is that Kazan stayed as true as possible, making a few concessions where it was absolutely necessary. What the audience is left with is a raw masterpiece (despite the pulled punches), and the restored scenes in the re-release only make it better.

1 Brando was passed over for the Academy Award in 1951, but he was up against some legendary competition. Humphrey Bogart took the prize for The African Queen.

Works Cited

A Streetcar Named Desire. Dir. Elia Kazan. Perf. Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. 1951/1993.

"A Streetcar Named Desire." The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). .

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.