A Streetcar Named Desire (1951 film)
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|A Streetcar Named Desire|
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
|Directed by||Elia Kazan|
|Produced by||Charles K. Feldman|
|Screenplay by||Tennessee Williams
|Based on||A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams
|Music by||Alex North|
|Editing by||David Weisbart|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||122 minutes|
A Streetcar Named Desire is the 1951 film adaptation of the 1947, Pulitzer Prize winning stage play 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, and although lauded for his powerful portrayal, did not win the Oscar for Best Actor.
The film is also noteworthy for being the first film to honor actors in both the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress category.
Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) is a fading, but nevertheless attractive Southern belle, whose culture and pretensions to virtue only thinly mask her alcoholism and delusions of grandeur. Her poise is an illusion she presents to shield others, and most of all herself, from reality to try to make herself still attractive to new male suitors. Blanche arrives from her hometown of Auriol, Mississippi at the apartment of her sister, Stella Kowalski (Kim Hunter), in the French Quarter of New Orleans, on Elysian Fields Avenue. The local transportation that she takes to arrive there includes a streetcar route named "Desire". The steamy, urban ambiance is a shock to Blanche's nerves.
Explaining that her ancestral southern plantation, Belle Reve in Auriol, Mississippi, has been "lost" due to the "epic fornications" of her ancestors, Blanche is welcomed with some trepidation by Stella, who fears the reaction of her husband, Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando). Blanche says her supervisor gave her time off her job as an English teacher because of her upset nerves. In truth, however, she was fired for having an affair with a 17-year-old male student. This turns out not to be the only seduction she had engaged in – and these problems led Blanche to run away from Auriol. A brief marriage scarred by the suicide of her spouse, Allan Grey, has led Blanche to live in a world in which her fantasies and illusions are seamlessly mixed with her reality.
In contrast to both the self-effacing and deferential Stella and the pretentious refinement of Blanche, Stanley is a force of nature: primal, rough-hewn, brutish and sensual. He dominates Stella in every way and is physically and emotionally abusive. Stella tolerates his behavior as this is part of what attracted her in the first place. Their love and relationship is heavily based on powerful, even animalistic, sexual chemistry – something that Blanche says that she finds impossible to understand, despite long glances of admiration and lust towards Stanley. The arrival of Blanche upsets her sister's and brother-in-law's system of mutual dependence. Stella's concern for her sister's well-being emboldens Blanche to hold court in the Kowalski apartment, infuriating Stanley and leading to conflict in his relationship with his wife. Stanley's friend and Blanche's would-be suitor, Harold "Mitch" Mitchell (Karl Malden), is trampled as Blanche and Stanley head for a collision course. Stanley discovers Blanche's past through a co-worker who travels to Auriol frequently. He confronts Blanche with the things she has been trying to put behind her, partly out of concern that her character flaws may be damaging to the lives of those in her new home (just as they were in Auriol), and partly due to resentment of her airs of superiority toward him and a distaste for pretense in general. However, his attempts to "unmask" her are predictably cruel and violent.
Their final confrontation – a rape – results in Blanche's nervous breakdown. Stanley has her committed to a mental institution. Mitch, knowing that Stanley raped Blanche and had her committed to a mental institution, lashes out and punches Stanley but is then held back by the other men, and he starts to weep. As the other men stare at Stanley, he claims he "never once touched her".
Devastated with her sister's fate, Stella weeps and rejects Stanley's intention to comfort her and pushes him away. Stella runs out to see Blanche off, but is too late, as the car Blanche left in has already gone. As he cries her name once more ("Stella! Hey, Stella!"), Stella clings to her child and vows that she is "never going back" to Stanley again. She goes upstairs once more in order to seek refuge with her neighbor, Eunice (Peg Hillias), as Stanley continues to call her name.
- Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois
- Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski
- Kim Hunter as Stella Kowalski
- Karl Malden as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell
- Rudy Bond as Steve Hubbel
- Nick Dennis as Pablo Gonzales
- Peg Hillias as Eunice Hubbel
- Wright King as A Collector
- Richard Garrick as A Doctor
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.
Locations and design 
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, and is still in service in New Orleans.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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".
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 in order 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Critical response 
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.
A Streetcar Named Desire won four awards at the 24th Academy Awards. 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.
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
- 1998 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies #45
- 2002 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions #67
- 2005 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes:
- "Stella! Hey, Stella!" #45
- "I've always depended on the kindness of strangers," #75
- 2005 AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores #19
- 2007 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) #47
In popular culture 
- 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 (film)", 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."
- 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."
- Rudy Behlmer, Behind the Scenes, Samuel French, 1990 p 231
- 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
- "New Orleans Public Service, Inc. 832". Retrieved November 13, 2011.
- "Newest Images Posted on 02/07/2011". Retrieved November 13, 2011.
- Williams, Tennessee, Memoirs, 1977
- Censored Films and Television at University of Virginia online
- Weintraub, Bernard. "For a Less Restrained Era, a Restored 'Streetcar". The New York Times (September 16, 1993).
- 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952
- A Streetcar Named Desire at Rotten Tomatoes
- "The 24th Academy Awards (1952) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-20.
- "NY Times: A Streetcar Named Desire". NY Times. Archived from the original on 25 January 2009. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
- "Wu-Tang Clan - Triumph Lyrics". Retrieved 12 February 2013.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951 film)|
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- A Streetcar Named Desire at the American Film Institute Catalog
- A Streetcar Named Desire at the Internet Movie Database
- A Streetcar Named Desire at the TCM Movie Database
First film to achieve this
|Special Jury Prize, Venice||Succeeded by
tied with La sfida
|Academy Award winner for
The Miracle Worker
First film to achieve this
|Academy Award winner for
Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress
From Here to Eternity