A Streetcar Named Desire
Although The Glass Menagerie (1950) was William's first commercial success, A Streetcar Named Desire became his signature play, full of visceral emotion and unnerving tragic realism. It earned Williams' his first Pulitzer Prize and the first of four New York Drama Critics Circle Awards. In the stage version directed by Elia Kazan, Jessica Tandy played Blanche DuBois, Kim Hunter was Stella, and Marlon Brando became the talk of Broadway for his performance as the primal Stanley Kowalski. The major principals and the same director were also recruited for the movie version with the exception of Tandy. Her coveted stage role of Blanche went instead to Vivien Leigh, who had starred in a London production of the play directed by her husband, Laurence Olivier.
Needless to say, the filming of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) was more problematic than the stage production. Vivien Leigh clashed with Elia Kazan over her interpretation of Blanche and also had problems connecting with her fellow cast members who were trained in the "Stanislavsky Method." At the time, Leigh's relationship with her husband was also starting to unravel and her immersion into the role of Blanche only accented her current manic-depressive state. "In many ways she was Blanche," Brando said in his autobiography, Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me."She was memorably beautiful, one of the great beauties of the screen, but she was also vulnerable, and her own life had been very much like that of Tennessee's wounded butterfly...Like Blanche, she slept with almost everybody and was beginning to dissolve mentally and to fray at the ends physically. I might have given her a tumble if it hadn't been for Larry Olivier."
While in production, Streetcar began to encounter resistance from the film industry's self-regulating production code office. References to the homosexuality of Blanche's deceased husband were removed and the harsh original ending was altered, with Stella rejecting her husband rather than remaining by his side. Still, the film encountered controversy during its release and Warner Brothers deleted an additional five minutes of material (it was later added back in a 1993 restoration) which included dialogue references to Blanche's past promiscuity and visual evidence of the lustful relationship between Stanley and Stella.
All the trouble was worth it in the end because A Streetcar Named Desire is now considered a landmark film in terms of the ensemble performances, Kazan's direction and the evocative art direction by Richard Day. The derelict New Orleans tenement is given a convincing presence through the accumulation of details such as crumbling stucco and bricks, peeling wallpaper, streaks of dirt on the walls and the dramatic courtyard staircase with wrought iron railings. In collaboration with Harry Stradling's evocative textures of light and shadow, the sets provide crucial atmospheric support for the actors' naturalistic performances. Academy Awards for the film included Best Actress (Leigh), Best Art Direction (Richard Day and George James Hopkins), Best Supporting Actor and Actress; the other Oscar® nominations included Best Actor (Brando), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Score.
Director: Elia Kazan
Producer: Charles K. Feldman
Screenplay: Tennessee Williams, Oscar Saul
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Art Direction: Richard Day (Oscar winner)
Set Decoration: George James Hopkins (Oscar winner)
Music: Alex North
Principal Cast: Vivian Leigh (Blanche DuBois), Marlon Brando (Stanley Kowalski), Kim Hunter (Stella), Karl Malden (Mitch), Rudy Bond (Steve Hubbell), Nick Dennis (Pablo Gonzales).
by James Steffen & Jeff Stafford