REVIEW: “A Streetcar Named Desire”


Tennessee Williams first took Broadway by storm in 1947 with his Pulitzer Prize winning stage production “A Streetcar Named Desire”. His dark and dysfunctional story was ripe for a film version and it came in 1951. In order to recapture the success of the play, Warner Brothers brought over several key players from the stage show including Williams to help with the screenplay, the director Elia Kazan, and cast members including Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden. The one big change came in the lead role. Jessica Tandy starred in the Broadway show but the studio didn’t consider her a big enough name. Vivien Leigh, who had been working on the London stage version, was brought in to round out the cast.

Leigh plays a southern belle named Blanche DuBois from Auriol, Mississippi. She arrives in New Orleans’ French Quarter to visit her pregnant sister Stella (Hunter) and brother-in-law Stanley (Brando). Stella is happy to see her sister but begins noticing several peculiar things about her. Blanche clings to fantasies of past luxury and prosperity. She still sees herself as a beautiful woman of prominence and stature. But we quickly see it to be a facade that she mixes with heavy drinking in order to deal with deeper buried secrets.


Stanley doesn’t like Blanche from the start and suspects her of holding out an inheritance from the sisters’ homeplace which was meant for both of them. He is brutish and his hot-temper often shows itself in fits of rage. His relationship with Stella is volatile and his physical and emotional abuse is startling. Stella just takes the treatment and keeps coming back to him which her sister doesn’t like. But Blanche has problems of her own which are seeded in some deep emotional baggage and psychological scars. The personality clashes and conflicts between these people is the driving force of the story.

In almost every way “Streetcar” is more theatrical than cinematic. Its Broadway roots show themselves in nearly every facet of the production. It’s a very talky picture that focuses heavily on the actors and their performances. The vast majority of the film takes place in and around a cramped apartment building – a confinement that also resembles a stage production. But these parts are integral components to a story that doesn’t require lavish production designs or location shoots. The well conceived Hollywood studio sets are perfect for creating claustrophobic living spaces that force these characters to deal with one another. Add to it Kazan’s sweat-soaked depiction of the New Orleans heat and you have a grimy and uncomfortable environment that fits the narrative.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” was an Academy Award magnet earning twelve Oscar nominations and winning four of them. Most notably three of the wins were in the acting categories, a first at the time. Vivien Leigh won for her twisted and tormented depiction of Blanche. She was the only one of the main cast members who had not worked together on Broadway. Kazan urged her to use that lack of connection in her performance. Kim Hunter and Karl Malden also won Oscars for their supporting performances. Malden plays a unassuming fellow who desperately wants to love Blanche.


Marlon Brando was nominated for Best Actor but lost out to Humphrey Bogart who won his one and only Oscar for “The African Queen”. What’s interesting is that Brando’s performance is the one that has had the greater impact. This was his second feature film and it introduced his unique and tenacious method acting to a wider audience. Just look at the differences between the acting styles of Brando and Leigh often in the same scene. His performance as Stanley Kowalski displayed an instinctual prowess that would be present throughout his career. He brings such a vivid range of emotions to every scene he’s in. It’s raw but calculated work. Whenever the question is raised about Marlon Brando’s place among the best actors in cinema history, I point people to this performance.

Often heralded as a classic, “A Streetcar Named Deserve” earns its accolades. The Tennessee Williams story mixed with Elia Kazan’s sharp eye and some unforgettable performances cement “Streetcar” as one of the most focused and well made productions you will find. It’s rough, depressing, and unstarched, but it is so potent because of the characters. They are overflowing with energy and life and it is impossible not to be mesmerized by them despite their dysfunction. “Streetcar” made an indelible mark on cinema and it introduced the world to Marlon Brando. How can it not be considered a genuine classic?



movie_theatre - Phenom 5

Well this is the week where millions and millions of dollars will be spent on fresh roses, boxes of rich chocolates, sparkling diamond jewelry, and expensive fancy dinners all in the name of undying love. Ok, let me reword that. This Thursday is Valentines Day – a day where we guys had better have our wives or girlfriends something nice or the following few weeks will not be very pleasant! In the spirit of this wallet-crushing holiday I thought it would be good to focus this week’s Phenomenal 5 on love. So today I’m listing 5 Phenomenal Movie Romances. These are classic onscreen romances that are equally memorable and romantic. Now with so many big screen romances gracing cinema for all these years I would be a real goof to call this the definitive list. But I have no problems calling these five movie romances absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – Jack and Rose (“Titanic”)


While the first half of James Cameron’s epic sized blockbuster “Titanic” wasn’t nearly as good as the second half, it did set in motion a romance that gave the tearjerker finale some huge emotional pop. Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a poor drifter and Rose (Kate Winslet) is a member of the high society upper class. The two cross paths on the maiden voyage of the British luxury liner Titanic. Obviously they come from opposite ends of the social order but you know the old saying – “opposites attract” yadda yadda yadda. A deep and forbidden love develops between them and Rose’s family are none too happy about it. But all of that takes a back seat when the Titanic strikes an iceberg and begins to sink. At no time does their love shine brighter than in their struggle to survive and you can’t help but be moved by it.

#4 – Jesse and Celine (“Before Sunrise” & “Before Sunset”)


No list like this would be complete without including Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). These two young lovers first met on a train from Budapest to Vienna in “Before Sunrise”. Jesse convinces Celine to skip her connecting train to Paris and spend the night walking around Vienna with him. A romantic spark is lit and the two seem like true soul mates but at the end of the film they head their separate ways. They cross paths 10 years later in Paris in “Before Sunset” and their lives have taken on many new changes. But as they spend the day walking and talking we quickly learn that spark never went out. It’s such a wonderful but complicated romance and we’ll get to see them 10 years later in this year’s “Before Midnight”. I can’t wait.

#3 – Nathaniel and Cora (“The Last of the Mohicans”)


Underneath the surface of frontier violence and costly war lies an incredible romance that plays a big part in “The Last of the Mohicans”. Cora (Madelenie Stowe) is an English woman who has arrived in the States during The French and Indian War. She’s rescued by Nathaniel (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his adopted father and brother after a Huron war party tries to kill her. Through Nathaniel she learns a different perspective of the war and how it effects the locals. Even more important to the story, the two develop a love for one another that carries them through blood, battlefields, and tragedy. The way this love story is told through this dangerous and violent environment is beautiful and “The Last of the Mohicans” remains one of my all time favorite films.

#2 – Scarlett and Rhett (“Gone with the Wind”)


There may not be a more difficult and sometimes volatile relationship in film than the one shared between Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Their fascinating romance takes place during the outbreak of the Civil War. Scarlett is a fiery but spoiled daughter of a plantation owner and Rhett is just the one to tame her…or is he? Rhett is a confident and brash fellow who makes a play for Scarlett. But he’s not her puppet which often times infuriates her. But through their on again/off again relationship there is evidence of a truly passionate love between them. These two take us on a roller coaster ride that’s anything but a soft and tender love story. But it’s without a doubt one of the most mesmerizing romances to ever grace the movies.

#1 – Rick and Ilsa (“Casablanca”)


My favorite movie of all time also happens to feature what I think is the greatest romance in movie history. Humphrey Bogart plays Rick, a club owner in Casablanca during World War 2. His world is turned upside down when Ilsa (played by the stunningly beautiful Ingrid Bergman) reenters his life. We learn the two fell madly in love after first meeting in Paris but circumstances tore them apart. From the first moment their eyes meet again, we know that neither’s feelings have changed. But there are several obstacles keeping them from being together and watching what seems to be an ill-fated romance is simply great cinema. Bogart and Bergman have incredible chemistry and you never doubt their character’s love for each other. This is the quintessential romance in what’s a truly flawless movie.

So those are my five phenomenal movie romances. Now I want to hear your thoughts. What did I miss or where did I go wrong. Take time to comment and share you favorite movie romance.