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A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire(1952)

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The opening credits read: "Warner Bros. Pictures present the Pulitzer Prize and New York Critics Award Play A Streetcar Named Desire." The 1949 Broadway production of Tennessee Williams' play was directed by Elia Kazan and starred Jessica Tandy as "Blanche." The New York production featured Kim Hunter, Marlon Brando and Karl Malden, as well as Rudy Bond, Nick Dennis, Peg Hillias and Edna Thomas, all of whom appeared in the film. The play's London premiere was held on October 11, 1949, with Vivien Leigh starring as "Blanche." In August 1949, Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety news items reported that Paramount was planning to buy the screen rights to the play with the intention of featuring Bette Davis in a lead role, under William Wyler's direction. In October 1949, however, Charles K. Feldman bought the rights to the play. According to modern sources, Warner Bros. insisted that a "star" play the lead role of "Blanche," and therefore rejected Kazan's casting of Jessica Tandy.
       Information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals the following information about the production: In a April 28, 1950 letter, the MPAA office notified Warner Bros. that the script posed "three principal problems" with regard to the Production Code. These problems were cited as "an inference of sex perversion...[with] reference to the character of Blanche's young husband, Allan Grey, [as] there seems little doubt that this young man was a homosexual;" "an inference of nymphomania with regards to the character of Blanche herself;" and the "reference to the rape." The MPAA offered various plot alterations to resolve these violations of the Production Code. In the first they suggested that the filmmakers "affirmatively establish...some other reason for [Allan Grey's] suicide which will get away entirely from sex perversion." Secondly, the MPAA suggested that Blanche appear to be "searching for romance and security, and not for gross sex" and frequently call for "Allan," so that she would appear to be "seeking for the husband she has lost in any man she approaches." The MPAA also recommended that all inferences to the rape be entirely eliminated and merely be Blanche's hallucination, brought on by her "dementia." In a May 2, 1950 memo, the MPAA noted that both Kazan and Williams were telephoned after receiving their comments, and "were inclined to make speeches about the integrity of their art and their unwillingness to be connected with a production which would emasculate the validity of their production. Mr. Williams actually signed off in a great huff, declaiming that he did not need the money that much."
       Negotiation continued between the MPAA and the filmmakers; however, a May 24, 1950 note written by Joseph I. Breen, head of the MPAA, noted that "we are not entirely out of the woods on this particular production....we still have some things to do by way of straightening out the characterization of the girl and the disposal of Stanley at the end of the script." A July 25, 1950 memo recorded a meeting between the MPAA and Warner Bros. representatives, in which they specifically discussed the "so-called rape scene," which the MPAA continued to reject. "A solution was suggested...that the indication of rape be simply abolished, and that in its place it be indicated that Stanley struck Blanche quite violently, and from this blow she collapsed. This would mean that his very pointed line, 'We've had this date with each other from the beginning,' would be simply eliminated."
       According to a New York Times article, Kazan began shooting the film in mid-August 1950. As of August 24, 1950, the matter of the rape scene was still unresolved. Actor Marlon Brando noted in a August 21, 1950 New York Times article that the MPAA office would not allow him "to pick Miss Leigh up and carry her off to bed." In addition, an September 8, 1950 letter written by Breen suggests that he still found inferences in the script that Blanche's first husband was homosexual. Kazan responded to Breen's concern in a September 14, 1950 letter by stating that "I wouldn't put homosexuality back in the picture, if the Code had been revised last night and it was now permissible....I prefer the delicately suggested impotence theme; I prefer debility and weakness over any kind of suggestion of perversion." On October 20, 1950, Williams wrote the following to Breen about the rape scene: "Streetcar is an extremely and peculiarly moral play, in the deepest and truest sense of the term....The rape of Blanche by Stanley is a pivotal, integral truth in the play, without which the play loses its meaning, which is the ravishment of the tender, the sensitive, the delicate by the savage and brutal forces in modern society." Williams went on to praise Leigh's performance as Blanche, and continued with "Please remember, also, that we have already made great concessions which we felt were dangerous to attitudes which we thought were narrow." Indeed, Williams rewrote the end of the screenplay to indicate, somewhat ambiguously, that Stella leaves her husband, whereas in the play she returns to him after her sister is removed.
       The film was completed and ready for release by July 1951, when the Catholic Legion of Decency condemned it. That same month, as reported in a Variety news item, a Chicago federal judge refused "to permit an extension of the two-week limitation in the Loop" for the run of the film, and declared that "he would not 'condone any picture which dealt with sex nymphomania and liquor' as its basic theme." According to Kazan, quoted in a October 24, 1951 Variety news item, Warner Bros. feared that a condemnation by the Legion of Decency would ruin their chances of getting an audience for the film. Without consulting Kazan, studio officials worked with the MPAA to make cuts in the film that would meet the MPAA's and Legion of Decency's approval. The editing was supervised by Martin Quigley (as identified in modern sources), a film trade magazine publisher and Catholic layman, who reportedly was "invited" by Warner Bros. In the October 24, 1951 Var article (which reprinted an interview with Kazan from a October 21, 1941 New York Times article), Kazan noted that twelve cuts were made in the film, which resulted in a total of "three or four minutes of film." Kazan noted the cuts as follows: "a trivial cut of three words;" "a recutting of the wordless scene in which Stella...comes down the stairway to Stanley after a quarrel;" Stanley's line "You know, you might not be bad to interfere with," which is spoken shortly before he rapes Blanche; and a few other cuts "of like nature."
       Kazan noted that the scene in which Stella descends the stairway "was carefully worked show Stella's conflicting revulsion and attraction to her husband....It was explained to me that both the close shots and the music made the girl's relation to her husband 'too carnal.'" In addition, Kazan noted that the elimination of Stanley's line before he attacks Blanche "removes the clear implication that only here, for the first time, does Stanley have any idea of harming the girl. This obviously changes the interpretation of the character, but how it serves the cause of morality is obscure to me, though I have given it much thought."
       After the cuts were made, the Legion of Decency awarded the film a "B" rating, and it was released to great critical acclaim. Although the film showed at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, Italian censors refused to permit its exhibition throughout the country for three years, according to an March 18, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item. In 1993, Warner Bros. re-released the film with the cuts restored. The film won Academy Awards in the following categories: Best Supporting Actor (Karl Malden), Best Actress (Vivien Leigh), Best Supporting Actress (Kim Hunter), and Best Art Direction (black & white). The film was also nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Music (scoring dramatic or comedy picture), Best Sound Recording (Warner Bros. Studio Sound Dept., Nathan Levinson, sound director), and Best Writing (Screenplay). In 1984, a television version of the play was aired featuring Ann-Margret, Treat Williams, Beverly D'Angelo and Randy Quaid; and in 1992, the play was revived on Broadway starring Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin. That version was also adapted for television.