A Streetcar Named Desire

Saturday nights on long weekends are rather wonderful, don’t you think? … Of course any Saturday night is a delight, but knowing there’s an extra day to be spent however you wish, just makes them seem so much more luxuriant. It was on such a Saturday night that I took the opportunity to watch a film I’ve been meaning to catch up with for years – ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. After seeing Marlon Brando in ‘On the Waterfront’ a few months ago, I was pretty sure his performance here would be equally mesmerising (and I was right).

Sitting down to prepare this piece got me thinking that I used to write about movies so much more than I do now. In fact I used to watch many more movies than I do now. That’s such a shame, because I really love movies. I grew up with a love of film, and thought there was little better than an afternoon spent at the cinema. Now though, the ridiculous expense and pain of having to deal with ‘other people’ tends to put me off going out to the movies regularly, and time is my enemy when it comes to watching movies at home.

Anyway, back to ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. Firstly, it’s brilliantly cast … Kim Hunter as Stella Kowalski, offers a perfectly measured performance as the unfortunate person caught between the conflicts of her husband and her sister. Marlon Brando is the noisy, messy Stanley Kowalski, whose animal magnetism often borders on, and sometimes goes far beyond that of aggressively brutish behaviour. While Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois is about as far removed from her role in ‘Gone With the Wind’ as I could imagine. She is fragile, troubled and emotionally unstable.

A Streetcar Named Desire: Stella reunites with Stanley ...

There are lots of themes to explore here – violence and power, lust and love, honesty and deceit, passion and madness, loneliness and marriage … but the one I still find myself thinking on relates to the unmasking of one’s true self. More specifically, the dangerous circumstances that can arise when an unlikely person sees our true character – with all our flaws and weaknesses exposed. This is the situation that Stanley and Blanche find themselves in … she sees him for what he is, and he sees her. In fact, she states this in an early scene, where Blanche says to Stanley (of Stella), ‘the poor thing was out there listening to us, and I have an idea she doesn’t understand you as well as I do’. However it is the way that Blanche and Stanley each respond to this character ‘threat’ through action rather than conversation, which highlights the vast differences that lie between them.

This is a film filled with rich, interesting elements. There are many memorable moments brought about through strong character performances, or something as subtle as a change in lighting or costume … not to mention the fantastic source material the script is drawn from (Tennessee Williams crafts the crispest of dialogue). Oh, and that scene where Stella practically oozes down the stairs towards the waiting Stanley, who then falls to his knees before her … well that scene kills me.

Since discovering that the film is a slightly sanitised version of the original play, it leaves me very much wanting to see a full stage production at some point – now that would be a powerful production! … Enough about me and my movie-watching experiences, how about you? Have you watched any interesting movies lately?

28 Comments

  1. jan

    I’ve seen Williams’ original play three times, but no one came close to matching the genius and power of young Marlon Brando. Even old Marlon Brando could never match his earlier works.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Jan – I think I’d be intrigued to see the play so that I can compare it to scenes from the film … but I suspect you’re right about no one being able to match the incredible performance of Brando. He is a force on screen.

  2. Gabrielle Bryden

    Marlon Brando has always been one of my favourite actors along with Humphrey Bogart. I saw On the Waterfront when I was in grade 6 or 7 and fell instantly in love with him; and A Streetcar Named Desire is amazing. That is a great review you have written 🙂 I hardly ever get to the movies but watch some on DVD (still not enough) – I’d rather watch a movie by myself so I can really concentrate on things (and have a good cry if necessary).

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Gabrielle – I can’t believe it took me so long to discover the genius of Brando for myself … I suppose it’s like that with a lot of early actors and films, it can take some time to get back to them all. When I do, I’m rarely disappointed by ‘the classics’.

      Anyway, back to Brando. He is amazing in ‘On the Waterfront’, so I completely understand your younger self falling completely in love with him. A Streetcar Named Desire is an incredible film – powerful and emotionally intense. Such performances it contains!! Brando is magnetic even when his character is less than a gentleman.

      I really should watch more DVDs too … I’m a bit like you in watching movies at home so you can concentrate properly (or stop the film for a snack break), and have a cry without judgement (I’m a shocker when it comes to that!). Ha! 🙂

  3. jan

    The last movie I saw was “Paul” which was an exceptionally good, funny, bubble gum for the brain type of movie. One of the things that I am going to do when I retire, is see all of the movies that I want to see, especially the art house movies. At the moment I have to travel to see art house or the less commercial movies and it is always a time problem. If you could go on a week day at 10 am or 11 am, that would be so awesome!! I love movies and very much miss the deeper ones, although I love the commercial ones as well. Ahh, movie and coffee or movie and lunch – what better way to spend a day????

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Jan – A lot of people have told me that ‘Paul’ is really enjoyable … my husband watched it recently, but I was busy doing other things … he certainly got a lot of laughs out of it. It can be hard to catch up on all the movies we want to see … while I try to catch ‘event’ movies at the cinema, I’m often playing catch-up on my ‘must-watch’ list at home.

      I think all kinds of movies have a place – depending on my mood and the particular film, I can love a foreign, arthouse or blockbuster movie equally … (sometimes we need something meaningful, and other times we just need to be entertained). 🙂

  4. Monica {bohemian twilight}

    glad you enjoyed it.
    i thought the film was beautifully cast. the leading actors play the dangerous undertone perfectly. but yes, do see a stage version if you ever get the chance. of course, it will depend on the actors, but still…

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Monica – It was a great film! I agree, the casting is sublime … they work perfectly against and with each other. I can imagine that a stage production would be fantastic to see … I’ll have to keep my eye out for when one ‘comes to town’. 🙂

  5. Rol

    Not seen it for years, but I do love this movie. I never really considered Brando a great actor – he always seemed to be trying too hard – but he’s convincing here. That said, I think Karl Malden is the best thing in it.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Rol – It’s been a movie I’ve been meaning to see for ages … I’m more than a little slack in catching up on films (especially the older ones). I find Brando mesmerising on screen … but in saying that of his earlier works I’ve only seen two so far. Perhaps I’m just distracted by his incredible good looks? 😉

  6. Camila F.

    I consider myself a movie buff, but can you believe I’ve never watched this one? This (awesome) review made me think I need more time to watch all the great movies I haven’t seen yet.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Camila – Just like yourself I consider myself a big movie lover but for some reason this one passed me by as well. As you can tell I would highly recommend it. 🙂

      I’m slowly working my way through a back catalogue of old films, I’m thinking of perhaps exploring some more work by Bette Davis or Elizabeth Taylor next … I love them both.

  7. Sam

    Oh dear! This is one of those classics I have yet to see! Thank you for this very insightful post here – I will put it on my “to see” list immediately! I did see Rebel Without a Cause the other day, however, and it was very interesting to finally see that iconic film.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Sam – It’s hard to keep up with all the movies we have to see, isn’t it? I think my list of movies to watch grows by the year, with likely no hope I’ll ever catch up. I’m so glad you enjoyed my thoughts on the film, it’s certainly an interesting one. 🙂

      Ohhhh, I haven’t seen Rebel Without a Cause yet … everyone keeps telling me how good it is, and I’m kind of keen to see what James Dean is like (I don’t think I’ve seen any of his films).

  8. Andrew

    Hi Tracey,

    What a lovely well written review. I love the fact you don’t just dip your toes into the past, but engulf yourself in the B&W movie era and devour the content. No lar-di-dar special effects, but strong powerful film making. I’ve never seen this movie, but your review makes me want to.

    All the best

    Andrew

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Andrew – Thanks so much, I’m glad you liked reading my thoughts on A Streetcar Named Desire. It is a powerful film, and at times quite disturbing, but well worth the watch. There are some amazing visuals, not to mention that incredibly tight script!

  9. charmaine

    We love the movies. I am a big fan of the European Movies but haven’t watched one for a while and the name escapes me of the last one we watched. My son loves the TV series Jonathan Creek so we have borrowed all the series from the local library and working our way through them. I agree it has become very expensive to go to the movies. ACMII in Melbourne sometimes show films for $5 which is great.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Charmaine – It’s wonderful to be in a household of movie-lovers … especially if everyone has slightly different tastes, that way you can explore all sorts of films together. There are some fantastic foreign films, that’s for sure … it seems a shame to me that some people don’t like reading subtitles … they’re missing out on some fantastic movies! 🙂

      I’ve never seen Jonathan Creek, but it’s great when you can borrow a series from the library … we used to do that too. You’re so lucky in Melbourne to have ACMI … they always have something interesting going on! 🙂

  10. westwood

    This is the push I needed to finally watch it.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Westwood – Great! If you see it I hope you drop back and tell me what you think. 🙂

  11. hila

    oh yes, it’s an amazing film! and every time I see brando in his youth, I can’t help thinking what an astonishingly good-looking man he is.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Hila – Such an intense move experience! I felt quite emotionally drained by it. I know what you mean about Brando … gosh, he’s incredibly good-looking in A Streetcar Named Desire. I read somewhere that they made his t-shirts especially form-fitting just for his performance here. I am very appreciative of this! 😉

  12. Mel

    I don’t know this story (film or play or otherwise) at all, but from what you say here I need to remedy that asap! I rarely watch films these days, though I do enjoy them. I prefer to watch them at home (DVD or TV) rather than at the cinema. The Harry Potter films are the exception to that! I’m too impatient to wait for the DVD! But generally I’m more of a romcom girl, so curling up on the sofa at home is perfect 🙂

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Mel – Oh yes, you should definitely see it … the performances and the story are amazing. Watching movies at home is always fun, in some ways I think it makes the sitting down to a film more of an ‘experience’ … and of course it’s much cheaper and more convenient! 😉

      The Harry Potter movies are always enjoyable … I have a lot of friends who go to the first viewing of them when they are released. 🙂

  13. woolf

    why thank you so much for this elaborate view on a film i have not yet seen. heard about many times, i mean, the title suggests so much… whenever i bump into it, i will most certainly think of you too now.
    i love film, and can’t stand theatre houses. i watch film at home.
    i have just finished mad men 4. while crocheting away on some or other thing, i love a series better than a ‘short’ film. i also tend to name my projects after the series i dive into. therefore i do own a tudor rose blanket!
    of all films seen recently, there’s only bright star that’s haunting me. i love a good haunt. 😉
    n♥

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Woolf – Thanks for your kind words. I really enjoy writing about film, but hate it when people include spoilers … there’s just no excuse for it! 🙂

      A Streetcar Named Desire is a fantastic film, I hope you have a chance to see it some time … I’d love to know what you think of it too. More often than not we’ll watch movies at home too, other people tend to ruin the experience for me when I go out to the cinema … or perhaps I’m just too sensitive?

      I am a big fan of Mad Men and I’m very impatiently awaiting the start of the next season. There are some great TV shows around the place … I love that you name your projects after what you’re watching. Speaking of The Tudors, that’s yet another favourite of mine … though I’m a little behind on watching the more recent seasons.

      Bright Star is a beautiful film, and you’re so right about it’s haunting nature … I think on it often too.
      xx

  14. Selma

    Love the play. Love the movie. Love Brando and Vivien Leigh. And who doesn’t like to walk along the streets at night shouting: ‘Stella. Stella!’ If anyone says anything to me I just say :’I’m quoting Tennessee Williams. Don’t be such as pleb.’ Hahaha.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Selma – I’d love to see the play … the movie was amazing! I’ve only recently come around to the talents of Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando … such incredible performers that they are! 🙂

      Haha, you’re so right about the fun to be had in screaming ‘Stella, Stella’ into the street … You are hilarious!! 🙂

Comments are closed.