Tennessee Brilliance

There isn’t a lot I can say about this picture that hasn’t already been said.

It’d been in my collection for a while so, as part of operation “plug in”, it got a play and I couldn’t have been more impressed. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951) directed by Elia Kazan (One of my favourite directors) is one of those pictures where cast, director and story come together in perfect harmony to create something so natural and powerful, it completely takes your breath away.

Adapted from the Tennassee Williams play of the same name, Streetcar had been a hit on both Broadway and in London before it’s eventual adaptation for the screen, which Williams himself assisted with. In both respective productions the stars of the film had also played the same role on stage, Marlon Brando playing Stanley Kowalski in New York while Vivien Leigh played Blanche DuBois in the West End.

The picture follows the story of Banche DuBois, a southern belle and self proclaimed lady of higher standing who comes to stay with her sister Stella due to their family house being lost, the reasons for which Blanche is extremely vague about. Stanley becomes increasingly suspicious of Blanch and as he attempts to reveal who she really is, Blanche herself slips into a mental descent she’ll never return from.

These lead performances, are by no means the only examples of incredible acting in this picture. In fact, all 4 principle actors were nominated for Oscars in 1951 with Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden (Mitch) and Kim Hunter (Stella) all winning the prize. It seems incredible that Brando didn’t provide the clean sweep as his performance, for me, is more worthy of recognition than the actual winner that year, Humphrey Bogart in the John Huston film THE AFRICAN QUEEN (which I also love).

Viven Leigh: Best Actress Oscar 1951

Kim Hunter: Best Supporting Actress Oscar 1951

Karl Malden: Best Supporting Actor Oscar 1951

Marlon Brando: Shunned

It should also be noted that Harry Stradling Sr. missed out on the cinematography award which, judging by the images above and the clip you’ll see at the end, seems a bit harsh.

An Oscar award, as so often proven in the past, doesn’t mean the picture or actor was better than its competitors, ORDINARY PEOPLE getting the nod over RAGING BULL in 1980 for instance, I mean really. I’ve seen AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, which beat the film in the Best Picture category and, as mentioned earlier, Bogart in THE AFRICAN QUEEN. They’re both great but fall way short of STREETCAR for me.

I reserve judgement on A PLACE IN THE SUN for which George Stevens won Best Director…. It’s on my Lovefilm list.

The scene I’ve posted is probably the best for showing all 4 principles at work and in explosive form. Note the direction, blocking and pace. From Brando losing the plot to becoming the helpless little boy that Stella can’t help but love. This despite him giving her a (wonderfully shot off camera) smack for… Well, nothing really. Listen out for the line “Oh look, we’ve made enchantment” at the start which is wonderful. The scene is one of the most kinetic, powerful and passionate in cinema history.

Here at Journeys in Cinema I post about the films as I see them, so they’re fresh in my mind from the initial viewing (Except the Great Openings section) in the hope that I spark a desire in the reader to either seek these films out (they’re all available to rent at Lovefilm) or for the person who’s already seen it to revisit the picture. This particular picture I can’t recommend enough, it’s now in my top 3 of all time.


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