“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“Deliberate cruelty is unforgivable, and the one thing of which I have never, ever been guilty of.”
Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in front of the camera. Elia Kazan behind it. All working from a story written by Tennessee Williams. Plenty of movies come with good pedigrees, but in the early 50s, this collection of people goes beyond dream team. It’s the kind of thing that means if the results were anything less than phenomenal, it would be considered a failure. It must have been immense pressure for everyone involved when they were making A Streetcar Named Desire, and they all stood up to the challenge, knocking it out of the park.
Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) arrives in New Orleans looking for her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter). When she tracks Stella down, she meets Stella’s husband, Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando). Causing trouble at the local bowling alley, Stanley immediately has Blanche on edge. Suspicious of why Blanche has left her job as a high school teacher, Stanley straight away expects the worst of his sister-in-law and tries to dig up some dirt to justify his suspicions.
Staying in Stanley and Stella’s cramped apartment, Blanche creates tension between the married couple as well. Things don’t improve when Blanche starts seeing Mitch (Karl Malden), a friend of Stanley’s. Soon, the abusive Stanley is even more bent on exposing whatever scandal chased Blanche out of her old life.
Even if you’ve never seen A Streetcar Named Desire, you’ve probably seen Brando tearing his t-shirt, yelling to his wife from the bottom of a staircase. Even if you haven’t seen Brando do it, you’ve probably seen some sort of parody or piss take of it. It’s an iconic scene and it’s pretty amazing. But this movie is so much more than that, that it kind of sucks that it’s legacy comes down to that scene and Leigh’s famous line about trusting in the kindness of strangers.
A Streetcar Named Desire has these amazing, iconic moments, but they’re just a few small moments in a much bigger, much more fully realised story. The sweaty, New Orleans streets. The grimey factory where Stanley works. The hustle and bustle that meets Blanche when she arrives. The people in the adjoining apartments and on Stanley’s bowling team. The focus might be on four people, but the world built around them is so much bigger than that and so complete.
So if you’ve never seen A Streetcar Named Desire but think you ‘get it’ because you’re aware of those famous moments and quotes, you really need to see this movie. Those moments and quotes might have overshadowed the rest of the movie in the years since its release, but when you see them in context, you’ll realise that they’re just a few small moments amidst one hugely impressive movie.
Best Picture (nominated, lost to An American in Paris)
Best Director (Kazan nominated, lost to George Stevens for A Place in the Sun)
Best Actor (Brando nominated, lost to Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen)
Best Actress – Leigh
Best Supporting Actor – Malden
Best Supporting Actress – Hunter
Best Adapted Screenplay (nominated, lost to A Place in the Sun)