Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden, Rudy Bond, Nick Dennis, Peg Hillias, Wright King
Tennessee Williams (play "A Streetcar Named Desire and screenplay), Oscar Saul (adaptation)
Tennessee Williams based his screenplay on Oscar Saul's adaptation of Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play set in a grimy New Orleans project. The story of the fragile sentimentalism of a former prostitute who visits her sister only to be taunted mercilessly by her childish brother-in-law. Academy Award Nominations: 12, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), and Best Screeplay. Academy Awards: 4, including Best Actress (Vivien Leigh), Best Supporting Actress (Kim Hunter), and Best Supporting Actor (Karl Malden). The director's cut contains three minutes of previously censored footage.
Runtime: 125 min.
Release Date: 9/3/1997
• Cast and Crew
• Production Notes
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A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 26, 2006)
Frankly, I rarely care for film adaptations of stage plays, and I had little reason to think that 1951’s version of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire would be any different. Sure, the project has maintained a strong reputation over the years, but other stage adaptations remained well known too, so why should I like this one?
I suppose because it’s really good. At times the stage-related trappings of Streetcar got on my nerves, but as a whole, it provided a rich and well-executed experience that developed nicely as it progressed.
Streetcar focuses on the story of Blanche DuBois (Vivian Leigh), a faded Southern belle who comes to visit her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) at the New Orleans apartment she shares with her husband Stanley (Marlon Brando). Blanche arrives under somewhat questionable circumstances, and as the story unfolds - while Stanley becomes more and more suspicious - we learn additional details of her less-than-graceful exit from the DuBois estate.
Some of my interest in Streetcar stemmed from the opposing acting styles found in it. As withering southern rose Blanche, Vivian Leigh provides a performance that often skirts the theatrical borders of campiness, and during the early parts of the film, I thought she seemed awfully affected and fake. However, as the movie progressed, I saw the method to her madness. Blanche needs to be broad because of the character’s mental instability. Had she been played as a more realistic person, the grand nature of her problems would have seemed less involving.
Leigh’s work contrasts sharply with the nicely naturalistic performance of Marlon Brando as Blanche’s brother-in-law Stanley. Brando provides a sublimely subtle yet powerful job here. He makes Stanley strong and brutish but always keeps him human. Brando manages to create a forceful presence who shows nuances not usually found in this type of role. The aspect of Stanley I found most difficult to believe came from Brando’s physique. Since we saw him as a fat guy for so long, it’s hard to accept Brando as a hunk, but well-muscled and firm he was half a century ago.
Streetcar often works simply because of this study in opposites. The two actors exhibit a strong chemistry that makes their time shared on-screen all the more valuable. Between fragile, delicate Blanche and rough, surly Stanley, something’s got to give, and by the end of the film, it does. The performances create a very memorable experience.
I also liked the manner in which Elia Kazan opened up the original stage production. I often dislike films adapted from plays just because they remain so true to their roots; the directors frequently do little to broaden the visual experience and make it appropriate for the big screen. In some ways, that seems to occur here as well, since Streetcar usually remains firmly anchored within the same settings.
However, for some reason the piece seemed to work better on screen than on the stage. The cinematic expansions remain minimal, but Kazan gives it a force and life that appear impossible to achieve in a theater. As such, though Streetcar still shows signs of its origins, I found it to provide a well-executed move onto the big screen.
Ultimately, A Streetcar Named Desire comes across as a cinematic classic that deserves its acclaim. From some terrific performances by its leads to a cleanly and vividly adapted move to film, the movie fires on all cylinders. Despite my general dislike of stage material, I thought this one was a winner.
The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio B-/ Bonus D-
A Streetcar Named Desire appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Note that the movie is presented in its original aspect ratio. The DVD incorrectly indicates that the picture has been “modified” to fit the TV screen, but that’s wrong; Streetcar was shot 1.33:1 and the DVD shows the appropriate image.
While not a total loss, the transfer suffered from a lot of problems. Sharpness was mostly good throughout the film. Much of the flick looked reasonably concise and accurate, but wider shots came across as looser and less defined. Some of this came from edge enhancement, and I also noticed some instances of jagged edges and shimmering.
Black levels seemed fairly deep and rich, and contrast usually appeared solid. For the most part, Streetcar presented a clean gray image that suited the production. Shadow detail looked slightly heavy on a couple of occasions, but it usually came across as appropriately dark but not excessively thick.
The main problems I saw during Streetcar resulted from print flaws. Speckles were a major concern, as they cropped up during most of the film. I also discerned grit, grain, streaks, blotches, hairs, tears, dots and nicks. In addition, frames jumped and skipped at times. Speckles remained the biggest issue, as they appeared awfully frequently. Though the rest of the transfer looked pretty good, the surfeit of source problems left it as a “D+” image.
I found the monaural soundtrack of Streetcar to provide a clear but unexceptional auditory experience. Speech seemed acceptably natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were clean and relatively accurate, and the score appeared fairly bright and vivid. Both elements lacked any substantial dynamic range, however, as the track seemed thin in a manner typical of audio from the era. Ultimately, it represented the material adequately and worked fine within those confines.
Streetcar includes a smattering of supplements. In the Cast and Crew area we find minor biographies of director Kazan plus actors Leigh, Brando, Hunter, and Malden. The Production Notes offer some fairly good details about the play and the creation of the film, while Awards indicates the prizes with which the film was honored. It’s a lackluster collection of extras.
A Streetcar Named Desire provided a surprisingly engaging and compelling effort, mainly due to some excellent acting that virtually leapt off the screen. The disc itself offers reasonably solid audio but comes with insubstantial extras and messy visuals. This is a weak DVD for a strong movie.
To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE