47 – A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Blanche DuBois: But some things are not forgivable. Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable! It is the one unforgivable thing, in my opinion, and the one thing of which I have never, never been guilty.

 

Seen before?

R: No, my main exposure to the story previously was in that episode of The Simpsons with Marge and Ned Flanders in the lead roles.

F: I know bits of the play from my school days but have never seen the film.

 

Thoughts?

R: Another film I’m glad to cross off my “probably should have watched before now” list. It’s thanks to a fantastic script and two actors giving truly outstanding performances thats it’s so well thought of, isn’t it?

F: The play is an American classic! I read that apart from Vivian Leigh as Blanche, this is the same cast as the Broadway production (she was in the London show) and it shows that these are actors playing characters they know so well. It feels perfectly cast.

R: That does explain why everyone seems so at ease in their roles. That said, we’ve been critical in the past of movies like West Side Story for being too similar to their stage versions. Do you think this does a good job of embracing the opportunities that come with making the leap to film?

F: Actually yes! It didn’t feel stagey at all to me. Clearly there are some monologues that feel very drama but they are contained to Blanche who is slowly descending into a fantasy world anyway. But it felt like a film and not a play and that’s probably the biggest compliment I can give it.

R: I think you’re right, the way a lot of the shots are framed feels smart – they’re making full use of contrasts between foreground and background, and the angles somehow add to the claustrophobia and sexual tension of the apartment. The only thing that lets it down are some of the echoey sound effects for flashbacks – which have obviously become parodied beyond cliché since 1951. But it’s probably unfair to hold that against the film!

F: Yes that’s also used to show Blanche’s descent into madness but I think it’s clear, from her actions and the wonderful performance, that’s what is going on. The one thing I didn’t really get from this is the sexual tension between Blanche and Stanley. At the beginning I think you can see there’s an element of lust from Blanche (though not surprising – have you seen Marlon Brando in this!) but it seems like Stanley just sees her as an inconvenience and later as a liar and manipulative. But they clearly clash and it’s still the scenes with the two of them that are my favourites.

R: I think those early scenes are all about Blanche realising her sexual magnetism is amateur league compared to Stanley. He sees straight through her – probably because he’s played similar games himself – and as a result their scenes together have real power. It feels like perhaps for the first time she’s met her comeuppance.

F: And they both feel they know what’s best for Stella who ends up caught in the middle. Did you know they changed part of the play here? In the source material we discover Blanche’s husband killed himself because he was secretly gay but the studio didn’t want that in the film. I think that part is not explained clearly enough in the film.

R: I did not know that. But I think the film works perfectly well keeping Blanche’s history a bit of a mystery. The thing I wanted to see [spoiler] was how we get from the last big argument between Blanche and Stanley to the final scene of the film. Maybe I need to watch it again but it felt a bit abrupt: “oh, btw, now she’s being sent to a mental hospital”. How did Stanley engineer that? To what extent was Stella complicit? Did the film ever tell us these things?

F: It’s all implied isn’t it? Stanley pushes her over the edge.  It’s interesting though and I’d definitely be up for seeing another version, possibly on the stage, at some point!

 

Is it worthy?

F: I feel like I might be giving away too many yes’ now we’re in the top half but this is very interesting and deserves it.

R: It’s borderline for me, but I think I have to say no pending a second viewing. Just didn’t totally excite me.

 

Up next:
46 – It Happened One Night (1934)
Previously:
48 – Rear Window (1954)

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