Based on the Tennessee Williams play of the same name, “A Streetcar Named Desire” is a movie that broke film barriers in 1951 but never caught my interest today. The film features Vivian Leigh (of Gone With the Wind) playing Blanche Dubois (another southern belle who came from affluence and lost everything). Down on her luck, she moves in with her sister Stella (Kim Hunter), who lives in a dingy 2-room flat in New Orleans. Blanche immediately clashes with her brother-in-law Stanley (Marlin Brando), who digs to uncover Blanche’s murky past with all the sensitivity of a raging alcoholic.
Though an ok premise, I personally found the film boring from the start. There’s something about stage-play adaptations that tends to feel one dimensional and fake to me. I recognize the literary source material is revered, but when on screen, the dialogue is unconvincing and the stakes feel lowered. The depiction of sexuality, groundbreaking at the time, had all the modern-titillation of an exposed ankle and the ‘shocking climax’ seemed to come out of left field. And not to be a Snowflake, but even with his gradual framing as the antagonist, I can’t help but feel the film somehow glorifies Stanley’s toxic masculinity by focusing on how attractive Brando was as he raged in his sweaty, tight, sometimes torn off shirts.
Recognizing this, I gotta admit that Marlin Brando’s performance was the breakout of the film (apparently one of the film’s claim-to-fame is it’s the first film to feature a modern “method” acting style). And he does act his ass off in circles around his co-stars. The fact that Brando played so modern and real against Leigh’s classical-largeness actually aided the depiction of Blanche and Stanley as diametric opposites. Finally, in a film about secrets, I loved the use of light and shadows as physical symbols of the story.
Though still somehow mustering a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, this film has landed near the bottom of my list, likely the result of an aging story mismatching my preferences. But if this is was the film I have to suffer through to get “On The Waterfront” (made by the same director, lead, and supporting), then it was worth it.