Play It Again – A Streetcar Named Desire. By Jess Lomas.
Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).
Most people would be familiar with Marlon Brando’s wail of “Hey Stellaaaaa!” from 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, or are at least aware of the Ned Flanders parody on The Simpsons. This adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play was co-written for the screen by Williams and Oscar Saul, and directed by Elia Kazan, who also helmed the great Gentlemen’s Agreement, On the Waterfront, and East of Eden.
Vivien Leigh plays Blanche DuBois, a fading Southern belle with a secret, who visits her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and her husband, Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando), in a seedy neighbourhood of New Orleans. Stella is pregnant and drawn to Stanley’s sporadic brutish nature, while Blanche worries about her sister, especially in the light of Stanley’s physical and emotional abuse. Of course, Stanley and Blanche continually clash, with Stanley believing Blanche is withholding inheritance money from Stella. While Blanche finds temporary solace in Stanley’s friend Mitch (Karl Malden), it doesn’t take long for the threads of her sanity and the truth about her past to begin unravelling, culminating in a brutal and raw finale.
Essentially a filmed version of the Broadway play – in which Brando, Hunter and Malden first played their roles – the film collected an impressive four Academy Awards from 12 nominations. While Williams lost out Best Screenplay to A Place in the Sun, the accolades for acting saw Leigh, Malden and Hunter all take home an Oscar. Brando lost out Best Actor to Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen; a shame, as many cite Streetcar as Brando’s career standout performance.
While shocking for the audiences of 1951, the pacing might prove somewhat slow for today’s viewers. With most of the film taking place in the dilapidated apartment building, it comes down to the cast’s stellar performances to enchant. Brando as the tortured Stanley is simply phenomenal (if not overpowering of the rest of the cast). His performance is a tad overplayed, but his energy really lifts the film, and it doesn’t hurt to see his shirt get ripped and torn either. Despite a host of unlikeable characters, Streetcar soars.
A Streetcar Named Desire is available on DVD, and can be viewed online via Quickflix’s Watch Now service.