‘I don’t want realism. I want magic…’
Old films. Classics. You know you should watch them. You know that when you finally commit to them, it will be a worthwhile experience. People are always asking you if you have seen them. However. There is always that nagging feeling. That little drip, drip, drip in your head. What if it’s boring? During the first few moments of A Streetcar Named Desire, the Oscar winning classic based on Tennessee Williams’ play of the same name, I was concerned that this film wasn’t going to be for me. When Vivien Leigh was swooning around the place and making eyes at every passing gentleman, I thought I’d stumbled into the weird vortex of hell that is Gone With The Wind. Luckily, things soon improved, especially when Marlon Brando turned up…
When the spectacularly named Blanche Dubois (Vivien Leigh) shows up at her sisters crumbling New Orleans apartment, she soon draws the ire of her brother-in-law and all round piece of work Stanley (Marlon Brando).
This is a tough one because most people reading this (hello to all five of you) will have presumably already seen A Streetcar Named Desire. I must tread carefully however, because any spoilers for somebody who hadn’t seen it would be particularly harmful for this movie. Look away now if you don’t want to know the score.
What starts out as a typical ’50s boiling pot of romance and fast talking soon becomes something else entirely. Vivien Lee’s performance is so masterful because she genuinely tricks the audience. She pulls off the old switcheroo. Whilst it is clear that Blanche is a little off, it isn’t until her big breakdown scene after being confronted with the ghastly truth that we see the real Blanche Dubois. This casts everything before it in a different light and reveals that the sickly sweet southern belle that we meet at the start of the film is a grotesque pastiche of what Blanche thinks a ‘lady’ should be. Lee plays both sides of the coin to perfection and her scenes with Brando crackle and simmer with sexual tension and mutual hatred. Brando is a whirlwind of naked aggression and explosive masculinity in a role that confirms that when he was at his best, nobody could touch him.
The issue comes when both characters aren’t on screen together. It is in these moments that Elia Kazan’s classic movie drags a little. That being said, there is a reason why this film is so acclaimed and there is a reason why it is still relevant today. A Streetcar Named Desire is a classic, and while I wouldn’t quite label it as essential cinema, it is still exhilarating to see two heavyweights like Vivien Lee and Marlon Brando go at it. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.