A Streetcar Named Desire

Dir: Elia Kazan
Star: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden

The origins of this one as a play are pretty obvious, both in the restricted set, and in a series of performance which, while certainly memorable, appear to be largely aimed for people at the very back of the theatre. Leigh, as mentally fragile, aging Southern belle Blanche Dubois, and Brando, portraying her sullen brother-in-law Stanley, appear to be in a scenery-eating contest, and it's a close thing. Brando's performance is, at least, ahead of its time - you can see its influence on someone like Edward Norton. Being more used to the padded, mumbling Marlon, it was also a shock to see him in his prime, prowling round in a selection of tight, white T-shirts, looking like he has strayed in from a Calvin Klein ad. On the other hand, Leigh plays a character playing a character, and Blanche is not supposed to be convincing camouflage, making any theatrical excesses understandable. Right from their first encounter, it's clear we're going full speed towards a head-on collision between these two, who could not be more different.

Despite his brutish demeanour, I am impressed that Stanley manages to put up with the barking mad Blanche for five months, apparently sponging off him and his wife (Hunter), without any attempt at finding employment outside of making googly-eyes at his friend Mitch (Malden). That's about 4 1/2 months after I'd have been dropping not-so-gentle hints about alternative residence: family is family, yet Blanche's grasp on reality is so tenuous, it's clear she needs a sleeveless jacket and pharmaceuticals much more than gentle help. Still, despite the obvious derangement and resulting implausibility, it has stood the test of time fairly well, and you can see why it was one of a very few films to win three Academy Awards [Leigh, Malden and Hunter - Brando was overlooked, despite it being one of his iconic roles]. But Leigh and Brando are just too clearly Acting, with a capital A, to be convincing to me; I prefer my performances with a slightly-less keenly hysterical edge.

[November 2008]

Mine's a Stella
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