A Streetcar Named Desire (1951 film)

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A Streetcar Named Desire
Streetcar original.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed by Elia Kazan
Produced by Charles K. Feldman
Screenplay by Tennessee Williams
Oscar Saul
Based on A Streetcar Named Desire 
by Tennessee Williams
Starring Marlon Brando
Vivien Leigh
Kim Hunter
Karl Malden
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Harry Stradling
Editing by David Weisbart
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • September 18, 1951 (1951-09-18)
Running time 122 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.8 million[1]
Box office $8,000,000

A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1951 American film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 play of the same name by Tennessee Williams. Williams collaborated with Oscar Saul on the screenplay and Elia Kazan, who directed the stage production, went on to direct the film. Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden, all members of the original Broadway cast, reprised their roles for the film. Vivien Leigh, who had appeared in the London theatre production, was brought in for the film version in lieu of Jessica Tandy, who had created the part of Blanche DuBois on Broadway.

A Streetcar Named Desire holds the distinction of garnering Academy Award wins for actors in three out of the four acting categories. Oscars were won by Vivien Leigh, Best Actress, Karl Malden, Best Supporting Actor, and Kim Hunter, Best Supporting Actress. Marlon Brando was nominated for his performance as Stanley Kowalski but, although lauded for his powerful portrayal, did not win the Oscar for Best Actor. Brando's performance has since been cited as one of the most influential performances in the history of American cinema and has been widely credited for being one of the first performances to introduce Method acting to Hollywood moviegoers.

The film is also noteworthy for being the first film to honor actors in both the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress category. It has since been labeled by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest American movies of all time and subsequently selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" in 1999.

Plot[edit]

Blanche DuBois is a fading but still attractive Southern belle, whose manners and pretension of virtue thinly mask her alcoholism and delusions of grandeur. She clings to the illusions of beauty and her meager possessions, both to shield herself from reality and to attract new suitors. Blanche leaves her hometown of Auriol, Mississippi to visit her sister, Stella Kowalski, in the French Quarter of New Orleans. She is told "to take a streetcar named Desire, transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at — Elysian Fields!" The steamy, urban ambiance is a shock to Blanche's nerves.

Stella is thrilled to see Blanche but dismayed at how her husband Stanley will react when he learns that her family's plantation, Belle Reve, was lost due to the "epic debauchery" of her ancestors, according to Blanche. Blanche says she has taken a leave from her job as an English teacher because of her nerves, but in reality she was fired for having an affair with a 17-year-old male student. An early marriage left emotional scars after the suicide of her husband, Allan Grey, and now she plans to stay with Stella and Stanley in their cramped apartment indefinitely.

Blanche comments freely on her perceptions of Stanley, and his relationship with Stella. He is a force of nature: primal, rough-hewn, brutish and sensual, who dominates Stella in every way, including physical and emotional abuse. When they fight she runs upstairs to the neighbors but she always comes back. Stella's attraction to him overwhelms her breeding and sensitivity, and is compounded by the knowledge that she is now pregnant. Blanche's prolonged presence in their home upsets their routine, and Stella's concern for her sister's well-being emboldens Blanche to hold court in the Kowalski apartment, infuriating Stanley. One of Stanley's friends, Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, is smitten with Blanche and indulges her, accepting her stories at face value. But Stanley sets out to discover the truth behind her embellished tales, and cruelly confronts her after he learns what happened back in Auriol. He ridicules her marriage, her string of affairs with young men and students, and her conduct in the loss of the plantation.

Their final confrontation – a rape – results in Blanche's nervous breakdown. Stanley has her committed to a mental institution, and as the doctor takes Blanche away Mitch tries to assault Stanley. But Mitch is restrained by their other friends, and begins to weep. As the other men look on, Stanley claims he "never once touched her". Devastated by her sister's fate, Stella rejects Stanley and pushes him away. She runs out to see Blanche off, but is too late, as the car has already gone. Stanley calls out for Stella, and as he cries her name once more ("Stella! Hey, Stella!"), she vows that she is never going back to Stanley, and runs upstairs again, with their baby, to seek refuge with her neighbors.

Cast[edit]

Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

As of April 2014, Wright King (born 1923) is the last surviving cast member.

Production[edit]

Casting[edit]

Much of the original Broadway cast, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden, Rudy Bond, Nick Dennis and Richard Garrick repeated their roles for the film. Many big names were considered for the role of Blanche, including Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis. John Garfield turned down the lead role of Stanley as he did not want to be overshadowed by the lead actress playing Blanche.

Jessica Tandy, who had originated Blanche DuBois on Broadway, was originally slated to play the role but was bypassed as not being well known enough. Vivien Leigh was cast, star of the London production, at the insistence of the producers. This was because her fame, from films such as Gone with the Wind in which she had also played a Southern belle, provided the star power which they felt the film needed. Brando had originated the role of Stanley on Broadway but had not yet achieved the fame necessary to draw audiences, which is why in trailers and during the credits of the film he is credited after Vivien Leigh.[2]

Locations and design[edit]

Most of the filming was on studio sets in Hollywood, over the course of 36 days, but a few exteriors were filmed in New Orleans, most notably the opening scenes of Blanche's arrival. By the time the film was in production however, the Desire streetcar named in the play had been converted into a bus service and the production team had to gain permission from the authorities to hire out a streetcar with the "Desire" name on it. The streetcar visible in the film, Perley Thomas #922, was restored in 1998,[3] and is still in service in New Orleans.[4]

Vivien Leigh was viewed as an outsider by some of the cast, who already had met during the Broadway production, and Kazan told her to exploit her isolation in the role to reflect Blanche's. Leigh was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was said towards the end of her life to have mistaken herself for Blanche at many times.[citation needed] During studio shooting, Elia Kazan made the set walls movable so that, with each passing scene, the walls could close in on Blanche Dubois (thus mirroring her insanity).[citation needed]

Brando's iconic tight T-shirt had to be made specially, as one could not buy fitted T-shirts at the time; a regular T-shirt was bought, washed several times and its back was sewn in order to tighten it for Brando.[citation needed]

Music[edit]

The music score, by Alex North, was a radical departure from the major trend in Hollywood at that time, which was action-based and overly manipulative. Instead of composing in the traditional leitmotif style, North wrote short sets of music that reflected the psychological dynamics of the characters. For his work on the film, North was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music Score, one of two nominations in that category that year. He also was nominated for his music score for the film version of another play, Death of a Salesman, which also was composed with his unique technique. However, he lost to Franz Waxman's score for A Place in the Sun.

Releases[edit]

The play's themes were controversial, causing the screenplay for the film to be watered down to comply with the Hollywood Production Code. In the film, Stella denounces Stanley's rape of Blanche, perhaps to the point of leaving the household. In the original play, the ending is more ambiguous, with Stella, distraught at having sent off her sister Blanche, mutely allowing herself to be consoled by Stanley. Williams, in his memoirs, describes the film as "marvelous performances in a great movie, only slightly marred by Hollywood ending".[5]

In the original play, Blanche's deceased husband, Allan Grey, had committed suicide after he was discovered having a homosexual affair. This material was removed for the film; Blanche says only that she showed scorn towards Allan, driving him to suicide.

Some of these changes were in the screenplay. Other scenes were present but cut after filming was complete to conform to the Production Code and later, to avoid condemnation by the National Legion of Decency. According to the DVD's audio commentary, these cuts suggested by the Legion of Decency were made without the knowledge of the director.

While the film was originally distributed by Warner Brothers, it was mainly a production of Charles K. Feldman's company. Feldman (and eventually his estate) would gain all ancillary rights through 1993. Through the decades, the film was re-released and outsourced through different studios, first by 20th Century Fox for a 1958 re-issue, and in 1970 through United Artists. UA would ultimately hold television syndication and home video rights (through what was then CBS/Fox Video) until 1992 when the Feldman estate sold their share of the film to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.

Restoration[edit]

Years later, the negatives, including the censored footage, wound up in the archives of Lorimar-Telepictures. Warner Bros. rediscovered said footage during a routine inventory of the Lorimar archives after Warners purchased the latter company. It was through this discovery that a reconstruction of the film restoring Kazan's original vision was sanctioned.[6] Editors used Kazan's autobiography A Life and Rudy Behlmer's Inside Warner Bros. – both of which went into great detail about the censored material – as a reference. Kazan himself was not involved with this version.[7]

The current cut has the following restored scenes:

  • Stella says "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...I was sort of thrilled by it."
  • The dialogue makes it clearer that Blanche's husband was homosexual and that she made him commit suicide with her insults.
  • Blanche's line explaining that she wants to kiss the paperboy "softly and sweetly" now has the words "...on your mouth" at the end.
  • When Stella takes refuge upstairs after Stanley punches her, her emotions are made clear as she is shown in close up.
  • Stanley's line, "Maybe you wouldn't be so bad to interfere with", and the ensuing rape scene.

Reception[edit]

The film earned an estimated $4,250,000 at the US and Canadian box office in 1951, making it the fifth biggest hit of the year.[8]

Critical response[edit]

The film drew very high praise from critics upon release. The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther praised the film, stating that "inner torments are seldom projected with such sensitivity and clarity on the screen" and commending both Vivien Leigh's and Marlon Brando's performances. Film critic Roger Ebert also expressed praise for the film, calling it a "great ensemble of the movies." The film currently has a very high 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 50 reviews.[9]

Accolades[edit]

A Streetcar Named Desire won four awards at the 24th Academy Awards.[10] The film set an Oscar record when it became the first film to win in three acting categories (this achievement was later equalled by Network in 1976). The awards it won were for Actress in a Leading Role (Leigh), Actor in a Supporting Role (Malden), Actress in a Supporting Role (Hunter), and Art Direction.[11]

Award Result Notes
Best Motion Picture Nominated Charles K. Feldman, producer
Winner was Arthur Freed (MGM) – An American in Paris
Best Director Nominated Elia Kazan
Winner was George StevensA Place in the Sun
Best Actor Nominated Marlon Brando
Winner was Humphrey BogartThe African Queen
Best Actress Won Vivien Leigh
Best Writing, Screenplay Nominated Tennessee Williams
Winner was Harry Brown and Michael WilsonA Place in the Sun
Best Supporting Actor Won Karl Malden
Best Supporting Actress Won Kim Hunter
Best Art Direction–Set Decoration, Black-and-White Won Richard Day and George Hopkins
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White Nominated Harry Stradling
Winner was William C. MellorA Place in the Sun
Best Costume Design, Black-and-White Nominated Lucinda Ballard
Winner was Edith HeadA Place in the Sun
Best Music, Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Nominated Alex North
Winner was Franz WaxmanA Place in the Sun
Best Sound Recording Nominated Nathan Levinson
Winner was Douglas ShearerThe Great Caruso

In 1999, A Streetcar Named Desire was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

American Film Institute recognition

In popular culture[edit]

  • In "Modern Family" episode "Door to Door", Gloria loses Jay's new dog Stella. Gloria in a panic asks Cam for help. While searching for the dog, Cam realizes that he is to play the role he was meant to play, screaming Stella just as Stanley did in A Streetcar Named Desire.
  • In The Simpsons episode Secrets of a Successful Marriage, Waylon Smithers has a flashback to his love, with Mr. Burns below his balcony yelling "SMITHERS!" the way Stanley called for Stella.
  • The Simpsons episode A Streetcar Named Marge is centered around a musical remake of A Streetcar Named Desire in which Marge plays Blanche Dubois. Marge's portrayal of Blanche is meant to mirror her relationship with her husband, Homer.
  • In The Princess and the Frog, when Naveen and Tiana had turned into frogs and accidentally disrupt a party, "Big Daddy" La Bouff calls for a dog named Stella, in the same manner, to get the frogs.
  • In Over the Hedge, when Tiger the Persian cat is separated from Stella the skunk, who is disguised as a cat, he calls for her as Stanley called for Stella.
  • In Wu-Tang Clan's song "Triumph", Method Man references the movie: "Transform into the Ghost Rider / A six-pack and A Streetcar Named Desire."[12]
  • In Panic! at the Disco's song "Memories", they refer to the play: "And it was beautifully depressing,Like a street car named Desire. They were fighting for their love that had started growing tired."
  • New Orleans rapper Curren$y references the film in his song "Famous": "this morning staring down at the ocean, inspired, scribbling fire on a streetcar named Desire."
  • In Seinfeld episode "The Pen", Elaine takes too many muscle relaxants and meets a woman named Stella at a function. She screams "Stella" repeatedly during the function.
  • In Saves The Day's song entitled "Hot Times In Delaware", the track starts with an excerpt from the movie's script: "Oh, how pretty the sky is. I oughta go there on a rocket that never comes down. Which way do we go now, Stella, this way? Stella: No, honey this way."

References[edit]

  1. ^ Behlmer, Rudy (1990). Behind the Scenes. Samuel French. p. 231. 
  2. ^ Manvell, Roger. Theatre and Film: A Comparative Study of the Two Forms of Dramatic Art, and of the Problems of Adaptation of Stage Plays into Films. Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Presses Inc, 1979. 133
  3. ^ "New Orleans Public Service, Inc. 832". Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Newest Images Posted on 02/07/2011". Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  5. ^ Williams, Tennessee, Memoirs, 1977
  6. ^ Censored Films and Television at University of Virginia online
  7. ^ Weintraub, Bernard. "For a Less Restrained Era, a Restored 'Streetcar". The New York Times (September 16, 1993).
  8. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952
  9. ^ A Streetcar Named Desire at Rotten Tomatoes
  10. ^ "The 24th Academy Awards (1952) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-20. 
  11. ^ "NY Times: A Streetcar Named Desire". NY Times. Archived from the original on 25 January 2009. Retrieved 2008-12-19. 
  12. ^ "Wu-Tang Clan - Triumph Lyrics". Retrieved 12 February 2013. 

External links[edit]

Awards
Preceded by
First film to achieve this
Special Jury Prize, Venice Succeeded by
The Lovers
tied with La sfida
Preceded by
Mrs. Miniver
Academy Award winner for

Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress

Succeeded by
The Miracle Worker
Preceded by
First film to achieve this
Academy Award winner for
Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress
Succeeded by
From Here to Eternity