Streetcar Named Desire, A (1951): Critical Status

Research in Progress (April 16, 2021)

The late great critic Andrew Sarris claimed that the movie featured the tempestuous Method Acting at its roots, with Marlon Brando as the very axiom of the Method.

In Kazan’s dynamic, ultra-stylized interpretation, Brando became the tale’s focal figure, sort of a characterization of Orpheus; in the original play, Blanche was the real and central heroine.

Vivien Leigh’s guarded personality fitted the role of the outsider, who invades the home of her sister and shakes it up.

Leigh was also an outsider in terms of the cast; all the other roles were reprised by the play’s original cast.

The ever-evocative poetry of Tennessee Williams  supplied an elegant text, and his vivid dialogue carried the “action” forward, without relying on “external” plot events.

Kazan relied on  close-ups to accentuate the intensity of the situations, taking full advantage of the claustrophobic set. Kazan’s masterful mise-en-scene contributed to explosive imagery that was compatible with the repression of the early 1950s, when the movie was released.

Audiences remembered the physical tension between a hunk in a tight T-shirt confronting (and standing really close to) a fragile Southern belled, dressed up or in lingerie.

The movie’s clinical subtext underlined the lyrical surface of the well-written play.

Pauline Kael also opined that the movie version implied that Blanche  almost invited her rape.  She thought that Williams erred  in having his heroine descend into sanity–it was plenty enough that she was broken, mentally and emotionally.

Reports at the time indicated that viewers actually delighted at Brando’s mistreatment of Blanche, jeering, humiliating, and ultimately raping her.  Many spectators sided with Brando’s Kowalski’s brutish personality, his view of Blanche as embodying an intolerably fake sense of gentility and coquetry.