Wednesday, March 6, 2013

233. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)


Running Time: 122 minutes
Directed By: Elia Kazan
Written By: Tennessee Williams, Oscar Saul, from play by Tennessee Williams
Main Cast: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden
Click here to view the trailer

"STELL-AHHHH!"

Started watching this late Monday night, but didn't get the chance to finish it off until late Tuesday night and by the time I DID finish it, I was too exhausted to write the review - a review where I knew I'd have a lot to say.

As the film opens, Blanche DuBois (Leigh) is arriving in New Orleans, via a streetcar named "Desire", to her sister Stella's house, where she plans to stay until she gets back on her feet. We learn through conversations that Blanche WAS a school teacher, but something happened that forced her to resign (we find that "something" out later). We also learn that Blanche and her family once owned a plantation house, Belle Reve, but has been lost due to over piling debts. Stella (Hunter) is of course happy to see Blance and likewise Blanche to see Stella, but it's apparent right off the bat that Blanche has changed, that she is much more emotionally and mentally frail than she once was. We learn much more about Blanche through conversations - that she was once married, but that her husband, a young boy, shot himself after a quarrel with Blanche. We learn darker secrets about Blanche as the film continues, but I'll let you find those out for yourself. Not long after her arrival, we meet Stanley Kowalski (Brando), Stella's husband. Stanley is a fiery Pole who takes a dislike to Blanche from the get-go. Stanley is concerned with an inheritance that he's sure Blanche has stashed away and wants to claim Stella's piece of the pie. After a while, Blanche takes to Stanley's best friend, Mitch (Malden), a gentle, decent guy (the opposite of Stanley) who, after a while, begins to see visions of marriage when he looks at Blanche. I'll stop there and let you experience the rest of the movie and the secrets it holds for yourself.


SPOILER ALERT!!

I had see "A Streetcar Named Desire" three times prior to watching it last night. The first time was just a basic curiosity to see a so-called classic, the movie where Marlon Brando screams "Stell-AHHH!". The second and third times were both during failed attempts to watch all of the movies on the IMDB Top 250 list (which, by the way, I'll probably end up doing by watching all of the movies in THE BOOK) and all three times I HATED it. I'm talking, I hated it so much that if I'd been giving ratings out back then, I'd have probably affixed it a '1'. I think my main problem those three times, was that I found Vivien Leigh's Blanche to be too annoying to actually care about. I used to HATE Leigh in this and on the other hand, I used to really love Brando. When I used to watch ASND, I actually (somehow) sympathized with Stanley, because hey, I wouldn't want my wife's sister staying with me either, especially a sister with such issues. I'm sure I had other issues with the film too, probably the fact that back then I didn't watch a whole lot of black & white cinema and when I did, unless it was particularly engrossing, I usually would decide that I hated it.

However...

Mitch sheds some light on the situation in a pretty INTENSE scene, to say the least.
With the watching of 626 of the 1001 "must see" movies before you die, many of them "older" movies, comes a certain appreciation for the classics. Sure, I don't all of a sudden like ALL the classics, but as I've noted many times before, this book will change your tastes and in the case of ASND, it has. Never before, during the watching of a film, have I been forced to think so intently about the greatness of a certain picture and let me tell you it's not easy to suddenly have your opinion do a complete 180. It's like hating peanut butter all your life and then one day popping open a jar of Skippy only to realize that it's so melt in your mouth delicious that you COULD just eat it right out of the jar. It's hard to finally face your own, former opinion and have to so radically change it. So what changed this time, what suddenly captivated me? Let's discuss.

For starters, just look at some of the issues that are being tackled, at a time when tackling issues wasn't Hollywood's strong suit. You've got a woman with a clear mental disorder, driven over the edge after many of life's disappointments. There's also talk of suicide, rape, statutory rape (the reason that Blanche was forced to resign from teaching, was because she got caught "messing around" with a 17-year-old student), prostitution and domestic violence. I mean, I don't know about you, but when I used to think of old movies, squeaky clean families would come to mind. Father's who went to work in the morning, dressed in suit & tie, milk men who would deliver glass bottles to your doorstep and wave delightfully toward the housewife, who stayed home with baby and made sure the kids got off to school with sack lunches, full of nutritious snacks. Kind of a "Leave it to Beaver" image. However, when you really start to dig (and really, who's digging, we're talking about "A Streetcar Named Desire" - a very popular flick), you realize that once in a while, Hollywood would actually get a little gritty and there's not much grittier than ASND. After this latest viewing, no more was ASND a dull movie, virtually plot-less, with an annoying lead actress. No, not at all. Now it was a poignant piece of writing, with marvelous dialogue, the highest caliber acting on display and a deep story that you can debate about and research and that will leave you feeling a little uneasy...in a good way.


Oh and for God's sake, do I even have to mention the acting? No more did Vivien Leigh come off as an annoyance. This time around I was really able to appreciate her abilities and the way she must have really had to reach deep into her repertoire to pull off Blanche. And Brando - what can you say about Brando that hasn't already been said? And if we're handing out report cards, who gets the better grade, Leigh or Brando? I really don't know. I do know that they both put on performances that have been marveled over for the past sixty years and I can only hope that in another sixty, people are still watching in amazement as two masters hone their craft. Brando has a way about him here that makes you love him as an actor, but not want to see him onscreen, because you know his character is only going to bring a sense of unease to the scene, an unease you can almost feel in your throat. And God bless Kim Hunter for not only trying, but succeeding in holding her own on a stage with Marlon and Vivien. Oh yes, Karl Malden is great too! Oh and speaking of Malden, am I the only one who thinks that HE should've been the one to "take liberties" with Blanche? Kind of like a Noodles/Deborah thing from "Once Upon a Time in America", where he wants something so bad and when he realizes he's not going to get it, he takes it. I couldn't exactly recall, but while I was watching, I thought that was going to happen - right about the time he pulls off the lamp shade to reveal Blanche's face and get a closer look at her.

RATING: 8/10  I've blathered on long enough, but let me just say that not since "Requiem for a Dream" has my opinion of a movie so radically changed. ASND is actually probably a '10', but I need some time to get used to the idea of such a radical change of opinion.

MOVIES WATCHED: 627
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 374

March 6, 2013  6:14pm

2 comments:

  1. Oh wow..
    I have to say, I think this is one of your best reviews (no offence to any others), because you raise so many good points. Yes, not one to dash off when tired, and no you didn't blather on.
    ".. will leave you a little uneasy.." That's it isn't it? (except I'd say very uneasy, but I quibble).

    As much as I have always liked this one, I have felt .. uneasy IS the best way to say it -about it all. Stanley is a representation of masculinty I strongly dislike - Brutish, sexist, lound, shouty, disrespectful, bullying, resorts to drink and violence as first resort.. you name it as a negative male characteristic - he is it.
    Yet... he is the one, the only one who sees through Blanche as a manipulator, lying, self pitying, self serving.. I could go on.

    Now don't misunderstand me.. Blanche is deeply troubled, she needs help and some sympaththy and understanding. She has hit very hard times, and , as last resort, has had to seek help from her sister. How humiliating this must be for her.. not only to need that, but, for a woman used to 'the finer things' to have to live in such a neighbourhood.
    And above all, what ever she is, however phoney she behaves, no one, no one on this earth, deserves to be treated in the way Stanley will.
    But... Stella has the same background.. all the hard times blanche has had to suffer have happened to her, but is Stella has coped without resort to maniplulating and demanding 'the kindness of strangers'
    This is probably what Stanley sees and makes hom angry.. but because he can see no other way of expressing his anger, he resorts to the only way he knows.. inarticulate brutality.
    What a depressing view of men.
    Sorry, now I have gone on far too long. This is your post, not mine.
    So just space for yet another congratulation for imposing on yourself, for the 4th time, a movie you hated, yet resolutly watch again.. and saw the light in it. (perhaps wrong metaphore.. very little light in this movie)
    Ray

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Ray! Don't ever worry about writing too much, as I always enjoy a good comment.

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