A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Starring Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden
Directed by Elia Kazan
"I don't tell the truth. I tell what ought to be true."
Those are lines uttered by Blanche Dubois in Elia Kazan's telling of Tennessee Williams' "classic" A Streetcar Named Desire. Personally, I think critics have been following Blanche's dictum for decades telling you that this film and the play from which it is derived are American hallmarks of drama. We're supposed to believe that because of the pedigree of the director, screenwriter, and actors that come along with this presentation. Well, let me be the one to counter this belief by saying that A Streetcar Named Desire is an overly melodramatic and overacted disappointment furthering this critic's notion that Tennessee Williams is one of the most overrated playwrights of the twentieth century.
The film stars Vivien Leigh as Blanche Dubois who visits her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and brother-in-law Stanley (Marlon Brando) in New Orleans after she loses everything. As the trio talk, bicker, and flat-out fight, Stella and Stanley begin to realize that Blanche may not be all right in the head and that everything she says to them may be some figment of her imagination.
First, I'm not sold on this being a fantastic piece of writing from Tennessee Williams. To me, Williams is the melodramatic master of American theater. Sure, many say his stuff is full of depth and deep meaning, but I always feel like I'm just watching overly exasperated people throw their hands about and raise their voices without ever speaking in a believable manner. Sometimes these elevated emotional machinations work (here and here) and sometimes they don't (here). To me, this filmed version falls into the latter category.
A huge reason for my disappointment stems from the performance of Vivien Leigh as Blanche. Director Elia Kazan (who also directed the original Broadway incarnation of this work) fails to have Leigh tone anything down for the screen. Everything -- from her line readings to her facial expressions to her body movements -- feels as if she's ACTING to the nth degree for the very last row of the balcony in a theater. There's no ebb and flow to her character...no soft and loud...everything is simply blasted to the limit. It certainly doesn't help that I simply don't get the character of Blanche. I'm unsure if it's Leigh's portrayal that's throwing me off or the role itself, but I never felt the character had her past depicted well enough to explain why she was the way she was in the present. And let's not even get started on how in the heck a well-rounded guy like Karl Malden's Mitch ever fell in love with the crazy Blanche.
Brando's solid for sure, but I just don't get this one at all. Maybe I'd better understand it in a good theatrical production...or maybe it just needs a modern retelling minus the melodramatic moments. Fortunately, as my loyal readers will soon discover, Woody Allen must've heard my plea. Check back tomorrow for a review of a much better film with essentially the same premise.
The RyMickey Rating: C-