AFI # 47: A Streetcar Named Desire

Stella! Stella!

A Streetcar Named Desire is one of those films I’ve always heard about but never saw. And of course, the famous scene with Marlon Brando screaming for his wife Stella has become a meme and a staple of any Hollywood montage sequence. I also must admit I have never read any Tennessee Williams plays nor have I seen any other films based on Tennessee Williams writing, so I’m not expert on the guy or his genre. My guess is that the play was better than the film and the written work was better than the play. I say this because the screenplay is clearly the highlight of the film and as if you need any proof the acting ensemble all took home Oscars or Oscar nominations — good writing!

Let’s get this out of the way first — I really didn’t like the film. In fact, I fell asleep for a few minutes in the middle of the damn thing. But I did like the acting and the screenplay. Vivian Leigh was amazing as Blanche DuBois and it seemed as if the part was written for her. For anyone who thought her turn as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind was a clinic on overacting, she certainly redeemed herself 12 years later as DuBois. She won the Oscar for both, but without question her portrayal of DuBois was a tour de force. It’s never easy to play someone who is mentally ill without going over the top, but in this role she slowly starts to come apart from the beginning of the film until she completely loses it by the end. Brilliant work. Karl Malden was also very good as poor Mitch who falls for Blanche and watches as she comes undone. It’s funny how we think of an actor like Karl Malden for one particular role (for me Karl will always be Detective Mike Stone from The Streets of San Francisco) but he has quite a film career prior to his television success. Malden won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this film and was nominated again a few years later for On The Waterfront. Kim Hunter was also nominated for an Oscar, for her role as Stella. I had no idea who she was until I looked her up on IMDB and found out she made a name for herself as Zira in The Planet of the Apes series!

And then there was Marlon Brando. What can we say about Mr. Brando? The man was nominated eight times for an Academy Award and won twice (for On The Waterfront and The Godfather). He was nominated for his role in this film as the brutish Stanley Kowalski and frankly I could barely understand a fucking word he said. What is it with this guy? Why is a guy who mumbles like this considered such a great actor? I don’t get it. He’s the film equivalent of Bob Dylan (the greatest mumbler of all time). I get that he’s a method actor who gets into the head of his characters, but why the hell can’t he annunciate? Whatever.

Maybe I’m just not a Tennessee Williams fan. We’ll see as he gets another shot later in the AFI list.

Next: It Happened One Night

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