Get Off at Elysian Fields: Brando & Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire (for Parterre Box)

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Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire


Cameron Kelsall:
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. The twinned beauty and horror of Tennessee Williams’ language, and the play’s meticulous construction, transfer seamlessly to the new medium. Even the censorship necessitated by decency codes of the time manages to still suggest the deep subjects with which the playwright confronted its audience. Watching the film again recently—several years since my last viewing, and in the wake of the three varyingly successful versions we’ve considered this past week—was like glimpsing a genuine Rembrandt amongst a series of counterfeits. How lucky we are to still have it—especially since it preserves not just the majority of the original New York cast, alongside Vivien Leigh, who played Blanche DuBois in the first London production.

David Fox: I concur wholeheartedly—the iconic 1951 film of Streetcar seems greater to me with each successive viewing. Of course, the performances of all four stars have been justly praised to the skies (and we’ll join in shortly). But my biggest takeaway this time was how successful it is as a piece of filmmaking. From the very first shot—a train, seen at a distance, coming into the station in late dusk—director Elia Kazan signals something almost unheard of in film adaptations of stage plays: that opening up Streetcar will enhance, rather than detract from it. So, we experience the life of New Orleans in all its loud, garish, seductive bigness as Blanche does. (And what a brilliant stroke it is to have her deliver the opening lines to a handsome young sailor, which will resonate later in the harrowing, heartbreaking scene with the Young Collector.) Kazan, of course, has also been praised—as has the film score of Alex North. But one person who does not receive as much credit as he deserves is cinematographer Harry Stradling, who composes one magnificent image after another. Watch for the frequent flickering lights, to which Leigh’s Blanche responds as if she’s seeing a ghost….

Click here to read the full post in Parterre Box.

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