When the movie The Streetcar Named Desire first showed in 1951, Americans must have felt like this was the true story of their nation, the old world, old values, falling apart, all at once. The American society that had risen strong against the Great Depression era and then fell again in the turmoils of the World War, was already dealing with too many social changes. Yet there was the American South that had its own struggle, very different from North America. A known world that remain unchanged for so long that it did not see the future hurtling towards it. Tennessee Williams as a playwright captured the ethos of that South America.
When Tennessee William’s play The Streetcar Named Desire first played on Broadway, 1947, they cast Marlon Brando as the rugged, ruthless, Stanley Kowalski. where as the role of Blanche Dubois was played by a theatre artist, Jessica Tandy. But when the play was made into a movie, and Brando continued to be Kowalski, it is not hard to see why Vivien Leigh was the obvious choice.
Here is a personal bit about the movie, when we were studying the play in college, we had just seen the movie “Gone With The Wind” but not “The Streetcar Named Desire” and yet when reading the play I visualised Vivien Leigh as Blanche Dubois. Although I had no say in the casting choice of the movie (hahaha!!!) it is not hard to see why she would be the best choice for the movie, Leigh as Scarlett O Hara had become the archetype for the South, both of the glory and the downfall. So finally when I did see the movie, it was a sort of resonance to see Leigh as Blanche.
Tennessee Williams may have based the character of Blanche on his mother Edwina, who was aspiring socialite all her life, despite the family’s continued financial trouble. And Vivien embodied that character, but adding shades and depth of her own. Leigh as an aging woman who was previously beautiful and desired is a great portrait of melancholy. It is very hard to see through the tough exteriors of Blanche, the troubles she has gone through, the loss of her palatial house, Belle Reve, death of her husband when she was young, and a miscarriage, all of this is sort of unveiled slowly, and makes the maximum impact on us, the audience.
Elia Kazan, the director of the movie, could exploit these actors’ potentials who had great sense for how the camera worked. Brando as the personification of the working class America, Blanche as the class which fell down, and Stella as a less politically aware masses who accepted things as they were.
Despite capturing the pains and struggles of its time, A Streetcar Named Desire is not merely a period drama. This timeless classic continues to resonate with the newer generations. The world has changed a lot, yet it remains the same too, and we continue to see Blanches and Kowalskis, in our times too.
This post is part of the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon in celebration of National Classic Movie Day (May 16th). Click here to view the schedule listing all the great posts in this blogathon. Thank you Team Classic Film and TV Cafe for hosting the event.