A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire

*****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Down on her luck, mentally vulnerable and emotionally exhausted, Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) is a sometime Southern belle who comes face to face with a different world when she goes to stay with her sister (Kim Hunter) in New Orleans. In the swampy, sleazy, fetid atmosphere of the Big Easy, she meets Stanley (Marlon Brando), her sister's handsome but brutal husband, and the stage is set for a conflict that could destroy them all.

With Leigh and Brando both at the height of their powers, Streetcar is a showdown of epic proportions, and much more besides. Far from crumbling before the assault upon her sensibilities that Stanley makes just by existing, Blanche reveals a depth of character that goes beyond the civilised graces she has been taught and reveals a sexuality, all the more intense for being repressed, that is potentially as dangerous as Stanley's own. Her artificial femininity is something he can't understand and more than she can tolerate his brash, unsophisticated masculinity, so he attacks her over the way she's survived in desperate times, whilst she undermines him in her sister's affections.

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To add to this, her sister is pregnant, and will soon have to go into hospital, leaving the two of them alone. What's truly impressive is just how long Tennessee Williams' torrid tale manages to teeter on the brink of violence before letting go. Between his writing and the superb acting on display, we encounter two complex people each of whom is both ugly and sympathetic, like the city itself, which gradually closes in around them. Director Kazan had the set gradually made smaller to emphasise the increasing tension.

With a lush jazz score and gorgeous photography, Streetcar is a tale of conflict between two worlds, between extremes of civilisation and human nature. It's bold and ambitious but it never gets out of its depth. It's one of the finest pieces of cinema yet made and you'd be a fool to miss it.

Reviewed on: 13 Nov 2008
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A fragile, delusional sometime Southern belle comes into unexpected conflict with a self-assured, domineering, brutally realist man.
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Director: Elia Kazan

Writer: Oscar Saul, based on the stage play by Tennessee Williams.

Starring: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden, Rudy Bond

Year: 1951

Runtime: 122 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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