A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

a streetcar named desire
Brando and Vivien Leigh

'A Streetcar Named Desire' is a dramatic movie made in 1951, directed by Elia Kazan and starring Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. The movie was adapted from Tennessee Williams' 1947 Broadway play, also directed by Kazan, and was an immediate commercial and critical success and is generally regarded as a cinematic masterpiece.

The movie was nominated for a remarkable twelve Academy Awards and won four Oscars including three in the acting categories: Best Actress for Vivien Leigh (her second Best Actress Oscar), and Best Supporting Awards to Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. In 1999, 'A Streetcar Named Desire' was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It is currently ranked at number 47 in The American Film Institute's '100 Years... 100 Movies' listing.

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"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers"

Although Tennessee Williams's play was meant to be all about the desperate, poetic heroism of Blanche DuBois, Marlon Brando's uncouth, sweaty animal magnetism opposite Vivien Leigh's frail, faded belle commanded the screen, just as it had electrified Broadway theater goers opposite Jessica Tandy's Blanche four years earlier (a production also directed by Elia Kazan). Brando's brooding naturalism, his earthy sexuality, and his howls of "Stell-ahhhh!" remain a nearly impossible act to follow for the actors who have subsequently assayed the brutish Stanley Kowalski.

Ironically,in Kazan's screen version - also scripted by Williams but subjected to censorship of some frank sexual content, Brando was beaten to the Best Actor Oscar by Humphrey Bogart (for 'The African Queen). Nevertheless, his performance in the movie is one of the greatest in cinema history, a magnificent, electrifying portrayal of a brooding, masculine animal. The movie cemented his reputation in Hollywood, and established him firmly as an international icon. He followed it with successes like 'On the Waterfront,' 'The Wild One,' 'The Young Lions,' and 'The Fugitive Kind', and for a time during the 1950s, he was considered to be America's greatest actor.

Having lost the long-in-decline family estate to back taxes and her reputation while seeking oblivion or solace, Blanche arrives in the French Quarter of New Orleans to stay with her pregnant sister Stella and churlish brother-in-law Stanley in their cramped, sweltering apartment. Stanley, convinced that Blanche is holding out on a mythical inheritance, is driven wild by the neurotic, fragile woman, pathetically clinging to her refinement and delusions. Under Stanley's resentful bullying, Blanche's last hopes are brutally destroyed, and she retreats into a psychotic state.

Although it was Kazan's seventh feature film, 'Streetcar' is theatrical rather than cinematic. Its power emantes from the performances, particularly the absorbing duel between the poignant, ethereal, classic (one might say determined), stagey Leigh and the explosive, instinctive Brando, who are as different in their acting approaches as Blanche and Stanley are in personality. Kazan who was a co-founder of the Actors Studio in 1947 and still a force in American theater at the time, was showing little interest in the visual possibilities of the medium, but his way with actors is amply apparent here and the lack of camera tricks enabled him to concentrate wholly on the story and the performances.

Main Cast

Marlon Brando ... Stanley Kowalski
Vivien Leigh ... Blanche DuBois
Kim Hunter ... Stella Kowalski
Karl Malden ... Harold 'Mitch' Mitchell
Rudy Bond ... Steve Hubbel
Nick Dennis ... Pablo Gonzales
Peg Hillias ... Eunice Hubbel
Wright King ... A Collector
Richard Garrick ... A Doctor


Director ... Elia Kazan
Producer ... Charles K. Feldman
Screenplay ... Tennessee Williams
Studio ... Warner Brothers
Music ... Alex North
Format ... B & W Initial Release ... 29 September, 1951 Running time ... 122 minutes

Academy Awards

4 Wins:
Best Actress ... Vivien Leigh
Best Supporting Actor ... Karl Malden
Best Supporting Actress ... Kim Hunter
Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Black-and-White ... Richard Day and George Hopkins

8 Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Charles K. Feldman
Best Director ... Elia Kazan
Best Actor ... Marlon Brando
Best Writing, Screenplay ... Tennessee Williams
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White ... Harry Stradling
Best Costume Design ... Lucinda Ballard
Best Music, Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture ... Alex North
Best Sound Recording ... Col. Nathan Levinson, Sound Director