Directed by Elia Kazan
Watching “A Streetcar Named Desire”, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that other southern melodrama, “Gone With The Wind”. Not only do both films take place in the southern United States where plantations were still a somewhat common commodity, but both also star Vivien Leigh, and concern themselves with people who are more or less utterly detestable. This unlikable quality was my main issue with “Gone With The Wind”, how selfish and horrible the main characters were and for how long I was forced to try to relate to them (damn well nearly 4 hours). Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t give credit to the film for trying something new, after all, you can’t always watch the same movie about good-hearted people day in and day out, but the real fault with “Gone With the Wind” was how desirable the film made these selfish people’s lives look. Sure, there was heartache, war, and loss, but at the end of the day, many little girls watching this film want to dress up and play Scarlett O’Hara. No girl in their right mind would want to dress up and play Blanche DuBois after having watched “A Streetcar Named Desire”. And that’s just the first thing that “A Streetcar Named Desire” does right in avoiding the same hangups as “Gone With The Wind”. 1) It makes the life of selfish and horrible people both intriguing and repugnant at the same time. 2) It manages to do all of this in only two hours. And most importantly, 3) it has Marlon Brando.
Watching Marlon Brando in this role for the first time makes you completely aware of how you’ve never really seen acting before. At least. not good acting. This was Brando’s first film role and by the end of the film it’s fully understandable why he exploded overnight into a sensation. It’s probably the single greatest piece of acting ever committed to celluloid bar none, with some critics going as far as saying you not only see Brando, you smell him. There’s not a single false note anywhere in his performance, and the fallback to this is that he makes every other actor or actress appearing onscreen with him seem practically amateurish by comparison. You watch as Vivien Leigh recites dialogue and you can’t help but understand that she’s acting, where as Brando simply is. He lives his role. He is Stanley Kowalski as much as he might hate being so (and he did).
What you have with “A Streetcar Named Desire” sans Brando is an adequate film that fought the good fight in attempting to outsmart the Hays Code and the Legion of Decency. It would have made for a perfectly decent film without its main star. But with Brando, the film is elevated to a height of something much more. A classic.