Disturbed Blanche DuBois moves in with her sister in New Orleans and is tormented by her brutish brother-in-law while her reality crumbles around her.
_**Interesting themes, but an overrated melodrama**_ Released in late 1951 and directed by Elia Kazan based on Tennessee Williams play, "A Streetcar Named Desire" stars Vivien Leigh as the neurotic Blanche DuBois, who moves in with her sister (Kim Hunter) in the French Quarter of New Orleans where she is antagonized by her brutish brother-in-law, Stanley (Marlon Brando). As she seeks a relationship with one of Stanley's friends (Karl Malden) her reality crumbles around her. The story is thematically rich and I enjoy evaluating and interpreting it. For instance, Blanche represents the dying Southern aristocracy, its airs of sophistication, its morality and delusions of superiority, whereas Stanley Kowalski represents the simple primal world of working class immigrants and the moral decay of modern society or, at least, its veneer of morality (which is the root of legalism). But the way the conflict between Blanche and Stanley plays out shows that Williams doesn't advocate either side, which leaves the audience uncertain on who to support. While Blanche's initial arrogance shouldn't be condoned and deserved rebuked, I squarely side with Blanche as Stanley's ongoing (and increasing) assaults become less and less justifiable. What Blanche did or didn't do with the Dubois estate is a legitimate issue of contention and the truth needed to be pursued, aggressively if necessary; but most of the other issues Stanley has with Blanche are basically none of his business. After all, everyone has shameful skeletons in their closets, even Stanley, but he's too oafish to likely ever admit it. One critic erroneously criticized Blanche for being a "pedophile," but he obviously doesn't know the definition of the word. Pedophilia refers to a persistent sexual fascination with pre-pubescent kids. The worst Blanche can be accused of is ephebophilia, which is an attraction to those in their later teens, 17 and up. This condition is balanced out by her serious romantic interest in Mitch (Malden). People rave about Brando's acting in "Streetcar," but there are far better examples of his genius, such as "The Young Lions" (1958), "One-Eyed Jacks" (1961), "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962), "The Missouri Breaks" (1976) and "Apocalypse Now" (1979), to name a handful. Marlon's portrayal of Kowalski is undermined by the needlessly antagonistic nature of the character. In other words, the performance might be excellent, but the character is so distasteful it's hard to appreciate it. This is one of the main eye-rolling problems with the story and the movie: The characters are too one-dimensional and unbelievable. Blanche is the drama mama with airs of sophistication, Stanley is the animalistic brute, Stella is the blindly loyal wife and Mitch is the infatuated dumbaxx. Leigh's depiction of Blanche is so over-the-top and artificial it would've received a Razzie if the film were released a mere decade later. And I'm not blaming Vivien; she did the best she could with the melodramatic script. Even worse, you have ridiculous elements, like the idea that Mitch was never able to see Blanche in the full light of day, so to speak, even though he took her on a date to the pier. The whole "dimming the lights" component is absurd and poorly executed, especially in light of Vivien's obvious beauty, whatever her age. In reality, Mitch would (and should) be worshipping at her feet for eternity, regardless of any skeletons of her past. Then there's the preposterous explanation of the suicide of an off-screen character. In the play the reason was that he was caught in a homosexual affair, which is interesting and works (particularly considering the time period), but they changed this for the movie due to the moral codes and they failed to pull it off, to be nice. BOTTOM LINE: The movie is thematically rich and has a great cast, but the execution is seriously problematic. The story's not compelling, the characters are aggravatingly one-dimensional and there are too many eye-rolling elements. If you want to see a good Tennessee Williams movie check out 1964's "The Night of the Iguana" or even 1960's "The Fugitive Kind" (the latter has its problems, but it's better than this). The ongoing praise of "A Streetcar Named Desire" is a good example of the emperor having no clothes. The movie runs 122 minutes (125 minutes re-release) and was shot at Warner Brothers Burbank Studios in California, with the bowling scene done in Los Angeles and the opening railway station filmed in New Orleans. GRADE: C-