A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

It must have been so exciting to see this great play A Streetcar Named Desire on the cinema  screen and acted by great performers, and directed so well.  How could there not have been immense hope for everybody?  There was no Missouri Breaks (1974) and no Superman (1980), but instead a future of promise, of hope and the determination that art would triumph, as it does here.  Marlon Brando is without doubt and in this time capsule, the greatest actor that ever lived, breathed and said ‘Now that's how I'm gonna clear the table.'

 

That said A Streetcar Named Desire was still an immense challenge for its audiences.  It had as its protagonist a hideous vulgarian, it featured a rape, plus suggestions of homosexuality, and it was made at a time when Hollywood was plain scared of rocking anybody’s boat, for fear of the arbitrary and malicious blacklisting process. 

On top of that profanity was removed, as was as much of the sex as possible, but the ravishment remained.  It all had to be handled quite carefully, and this isn't always the best environment for great art. Ha ha though, sometimes it is, and those restrainst just add to the final showing.  Kazan was good at that.

Leigh told Kazan that Marlon was ‘an equal-opportunity seducer. On many a night he rose from Larry’s bed and joined me in mine,’ although Stefan and others have said that her testimony was unreliable as she was in Kanfer’s words ‘a woman of notorious instability.’

Acting Masterclass, '51

Fuss, cuts, the HUAC and the Catholic Legion of Decency aside, A Streetcar Named Desire was one of the top 5 earners of 1951 and nominated for eight Academy Awards.  Leigh won hers, as did Karl Malden and Kim Hunter, though there was no way Brando was going to beat Humphrey Bogart, who strolled into first place with his showing in The African Queen.  

It made sense on the day but we know now that Marlon Brando and in fact all of cinema was robbed. Brando knew this too, and that evening the world witnessed the often to be repeated Brando Oscar-indifference routine.  After that loss indeed, Brando failed to attend any ceremonies, instead releasing a statement saying that performing had no magic for him any more.

'Performing holds no magic for me anymore.'

 

Listen, baby, when we first met - you and me - you thought I was common. Well, how right you was. I was common as dirt. You showed me a snapshot of the place with them columns, and I pulled you down off them columns, and you loved it, having them colored lights goin'. And wasn't we happy together? Wasn't it all okay till she showed here? And wasn't we happy together? Wasn't it all OK? Till she showed here. Hoity-toity, describin' me like a ape.

 

That the magic died so early we have no doubt, and yet A Streetcar Named Desire has everything, and in fact is everything.  It's the Brando voice, the body, the stance, the style and the perfection of training and technique. 

It is a triumph of technique, and although there is much to praise in the cast and production, it remains to this day all about Marlon Brando.  Here he is in pyjamas:

 

Now will you just open your eyes to this stuff here. Now I mean, what - has she got this stuff out of teacher's pay?... Will you look at these fine feathers and furs that she comes to bring herself in here. What is this article? That's a solid gold dress, I believe... Now what is that? There's a treasure chest of a pirate... That's pearls, Stella, ropes of 'em. What is your sister - a deep sea diver? Bracelets, solid gold. (To Stella) Where are your pearls and gold bracelets?... And here you are. Diamonds. A crown for an empress... Here's your plantation Stella, right here... Well, the Kowalskis and the DuBois - there's just a different notion on this.

 

A great American play brought to life with passion and fury. One of the greatest acting ensembles ever assembled. Unrestrained and unabashedly emotional, Brando's pecs are an indelible image.

As A Streetcar Named Desire is now an item of ancient history, it can be looked at in a more objective manner than ever before. The traditional acting style of Vivien Leigh, makes stark contrast to the rest of the production personnel, and she continues to hold her own brilliantly, despite her and everyone else being overacted over the edge of the screen by Brando.

 'You must be Stanley'

Stanley Kowalski: Man,liquor goes fast in the hot weather.You want a shot?

Blanche DuBois: No,I rarely touch it.

Stanley Kowalski: Well,there's some people that rarely touch it,but it touches them often.

 

How Stanley clears the table

Now that's how I'm gonna clear the table. Don't you ever talk that way to me. 'Pig,' 'Pollack,' 'disgusting,' 'vulgar,' 'greasy.' Those kind of words have been on your tongue and your sister's tongue just too much around here. What do you think you are? A pair of queens? Now just remember what Huey Long said - that every man's a king - and I'm the King around here, and don't you forget it.