Sunday, February 11, 2018

Movie Review: "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951)

Year Nominated: 1952
Director: Elia Kazan
Rating: PG
Oscar Nominations: 12
Oscar Wins: 4
Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes

Blanche DuBois, a woman from a formerly wealthy respected family, goes to live with her sister Stella and her brother-in-law Stanley in the slums of New Orleans. While Blanche tells favorable stories about her past, Stanley tries to do what he can to uncover the history she is trying to hide.

"Stella! Stella! Hey, Stella!" Even if you haven't seen "A Streetcar Named Desire," chances are you are familiar with this quote and probably a few others from the movie well. This is a film that has become ingrained in the popular culture of America and has been the subject of various parodies and homages since its release. The picture is directed by Elia Kazan, who went on to direct other films like "On the Waterfront" and "East of Eden." It is adapted from a stage play of the same name written by Tenessee Williams, whose other film adaptations include "The Glass Menagerie" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." The film stars Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois, a former school teacher from an upper-crust family who has recently fallen on hard times due to a scandal in her past. Joining her is Kim Hunter as Stella, Blanche's sister. Stella takes Blanch into the rundown single room apartment she shares with her husband Stanley Kowalski, played by Marlon Brando, who is a loud, violent, abusive man who doesn't take kindly to Blanche and her hoity-toity mannerisms. Blanche often tells grand accounts of her past. She spins and builds a facade of prim and proper in her look and attitude. She seems to look down on her sister's lifestyle and their living situation. Stanley takes an immediate offense to this and makes it his mission to dig up all the dirt he can on Blanche and her past in order to ruin her once and for all.

At the time of its release, "A Streetcar Named Desire" was considered very provocative. It was called indecent and was threatened with a rating of 'Condemned' by The Catholic League of Decency, which would have killed its box office returns. This is what we would equate to an NC-17 rating today. It came out in the early 50's and was one of the few films to actually acknowledge the fact that people were having sex or were even talking about it. It raised the notion that husbands could be abusive and that some people might have indelicate and salacious relationships. It dealt with many subjects that were looked seen as taboo at the time. Today, it might not be all that edgy, but it is still far from wholesome. The acting is tremendous all around. Marlon Brando plays a loudmouthed asshole wonderfully, even if he mumbles his lines and it's hard to completely understand what he's saying. Vivien Leigh took home an Academy Award for her portrayal of Blache Dubois, and rightfully so. She has the right mix of vulnerability, mystery, self-doubt, sass, confidence, and southern charm to carry a character of this caliber. She loves spinning tall tales and has a penchant for the dramatics. Karl Malden and Kim Hunter also took home Oscars for their performances as supporting characters in the film.

Watching "A Streetcar Named Desire" today, it admittedly doesn't have the same impact it did 67 years ago. It is an interesting slice of life film that explores the human condition, so it still has plenty of moments that remain effective. That being said, we weren't completely taken in by the film. We had a bit of trouble fully connecting with the characters as they all have rather despicable traits and very few redeeming qualities. Such is life. We still found enough to enjoy and appreciate it for the most part.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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