Top 100 Movie Review: No. 041 – A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Ranked 041 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as at May 2017). Watched movie during May 2020.

Cast: Vivien Leigh (Blanche), Marlon Brando (Stanley), Kim Hunter (Stella), Karl Malden (Mitch), Rudy Bond (Steve)
Director:  Elia Kazan
My rating: 8.5 / 10

Blanche DuBois, a middle-aged high school English teacher arrives in New Orleans from her home town of Auriol, Mississippi. She takes a streetcar named “Desire” to the French Quarter, where her sister, Stella, and her husband, Stanley Kowalski, who live in a dilapidated tenement apartment.  Blanche claims to be on leave from her teaching job due to her nerves and wants to stay with Stella and Stanley. Blanche’s demure, refined manner is a stark contrast to Stanley’s crude, brutish behaviour, making them mutually wary and antagonistic. Stella welcomes having her sister as a guest, but Blanche often criticises Stella.

It is revealed that Blanche and Stella’s family estate, Belle Reve, was lost to creditors; the sisters are the last remnants of an old and once-wealthy Southern clan. Blanche, widowed at a young age after her husband’s suicide, is broke and had nowhere to go except to her sister. When Stanley suspects Blanche may be hiding inheritance money, she shows him paperwork proving the estate was foreclosed on. Stanley, looking for further proof, knocks Blanche’s private papers to the floor. Weeping, she gathers them, saying they are poems from her dead husband. Stanley excuses his behaviour by explaining he was only looking out for his family, then announces Stella is pregnant.

Blanche meets Stanley’s friend, Mitch, whose courteous manner is a contrast to Stanley’s other pals. Stanley and Mitch met in the military.  Mitch is attracted to Blanche’s flirtatious charm, and a romance slowly blossoms. 

During a poker night with his friends, Stanley explodes in a drunken rage over music being played and strikes Stella and throws out the music player.  Blanche and Stella flee upstairs to a neighbour apartment. After his anger subsides, Stanley remorsefully bellows for Stella from the courtyard below. Irresistibly drawn by her physical passion for him, she goes to Stanley, who carries her off to bed. The next morning, Blanche urges Stella to leave Stanley, calling him a sub-human animal. Stella disagrees and wants to stay.

As weeks pass into months, tension mounts between Blanche and Stanley. Blanche is hopeful about Mitch, but anxiety and alcoholism have her teetering on mental collapse while anticipating a marriage proposal. Finally, Mitch says they should be together. 

Unfortunately Stanley uncovers Blanche’s hidden history of mental instability, promiscuity, and being fired for sleeping with an underage student. Stanley then passes this news on to Mitch, in full knowledge this will end Blanche’s marriage prospects and leave her with no future. Stella angrily blames Stanley for the catastrophic revelation, but their fight is interrupted when Stella goes into labour.

Later, Mitch arrives and confronts Blanche about Stanley’s claims. She initially denies everything, then breaks down confessing. She pleads for forgiveness, but Mitch, hurt and humiliated, roughly ends the relationship. 

Later that night, while Stella’s labour continues, Stanley returns from the hospital to get some sleep. Blanche, dressed in a tattered old gown, pretends she is departing on a trip with an old admirer. She disdainfully antagonises Stanley, asserting a sense of superiority, spinning tale after tale about her future plans. He sees she is delusional, but pitilessly seeks to destroy her illusions. They engage in a struggle, after which Blanche is shown in a regressed psychotic state, implying Stanley raped her.

Weeks later Stella and her neighbour are packing Blanche’s belongings. Blanche, who believes she is going on a vacation, has suffered a complete mental breakdown and is being committed to a mental hospital. Blanche told Stella what happened with Stanley, but Stella disbelieves her. 

When a doctor and nurse arrive to remove Blanche, she resists and collapses, seized with total confusion. The doctor gently offers Blanche his arm, and she goes willingly. Mitch, present at the poker game, is visibly upset. As the car drives away with Blanche, Stella takes the baby upstairs to her neighbours ignoring Stanley’s calls and vowing not to return.  

What’s to Like
The actors performance in particular Vivien Leigh’s acting as Blanche struggles with her fallen social status and deteriorating mental health.

What’s not to Like
The sexual assault by Stanley on Blanche even if this is mostly done off screen.

This movie is based on a very successful play and majority of the actors made the jump from the theatre to the movie including a then unknown Marlon Brando.  Until watching this movie my memories of Marlon Brando are of an overweight aging star struggling to remember his lines but here is provides a powerful performance as a very intimidating and abuse character who takes his top of to show off his muscular body whenever he can. The movie pushed a lot of boundaries, hinting that Blanche’s husband killed himself as he was a homosexual, that Blanche had a strong sexual desire (and was why was forced to come to New Orleans), that her sister Stella was turned on by physical and verbal altercations.  They even had to soften the movie from the play so that Stanley suffers consequences for his actions with his wife leaving him.  You don’t even get all of this in the same modern movie.   

Blanche is a very sad character, someone who wishes to live the life of a Southern Belle, who beauty and appearance is everything but who no longer has wealthy or respect or money.  Blanche is fallen when the movie starts and by the end she is totally broken when her last chances for comfort i.e. marrying Mitch, are taken from her and when Stanley assaults her verbally and physically.

A classic play bought to life on the big screen, well worth watching.

Academy Awards

  • Best Actress in a Leading Role (Vivien Leigh) – winner
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Karl Malden) – winner
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Kim Hunter) – winner
  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White – winner
  • Best Picture – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Marlon Brando) – nominee
  • Best Director (Elia Kazan) – nominee
  • Best Writing, Screenplay (Tennessee Williams) – nominee
  • Best Cinematography, Black-and-White – nominee
  • Best Costume Design, Black-and-White – nominee
  • Best Sound, Recording – nominee
  • Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries in this amazing world.
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1 Response to Top 100 Movie Review: No. 041 – A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

  1. Great review! One of the best movies from the 1950s, with Marlon Brando in his signature role.

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