A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) Review

I never was into plays when it came to literature. I liked watching them if I ever happened to be in the theatre, but script reading wasn’t for me. What didn’t help was that I wasn’t keen on the teacher who taught us A Streetcar Named Desire or the way she taught it. She wasn’t particularly bad or anything, just a teenager thing on my behalf, I think. That said, of the plays we did do, A Streetcar Named Desire was my favourite in part because we watched bits of the film as we studied the scenes in the script, and I quite liked it.

Starring Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire is a slow but satisfying watch. Because of the pace, it’s that type of drama where a lot of it feels like set up but when something does happen it feels big and important, and often justifies what you have to sit through to get there. The story follows Blanche DuBois moving from a perceived life of luxury to the streets of New Orleans to live with her sister Stella, and her brother-in-law Stanley. But it soon becomes hard to tell what is and isn’t true about Stella, as the truth about her pasts unravels just as quickly as her sanity and safety in the present.

Normally when the big pay-offs do happen, it’s when Brando is on screen. Playing Stanley, he is the foil to Blanche from the moment she enters until the moment she leaves. He also plays the foil to his own wife, Stella and to just about every other character in one way or another through his brutish entitlement, abuse and misogyny. I think this is why Brando gets almost all of the attention when it comes to praise for this film. And while it is well deserved, it leaves Leigh and Hunter feeling a bit left out because, while Brando is the big personality, the other two are the heart.

Just as important are all the side characters like Mitch, one of Stanley’s friends who takes a romantic interest in Blanche, and the upstairs neighbours of Stella and Stanley who, throughout the film, we see having their own nightmare set of domestic troubles that always reach their heigh just as Blanche, Stanley and Stella all begin to settle down. It’s good because this film takes place almost entirely on one set (with a couple of cut aways to other locations here and there), but still has an environment that feels as busy and alive as a city street would. You get the sense there’s always more stuff going on, but we only get to see tiny pieces of those things through the eyes of our own characters who are already too far distracted by their own troubles.

Like all the most important plays, A Streetcar Named Desire is yet another tragedy; Blanche once lived a fancy life as an upper class citizen but her family couldn’t move along with the times and lost everything as a result. Stella moved on, but landed in with Stanley rather than a decent man. The result is Blanche being the last of her kind. And while you do feel sorry for her, she’s also really annoying in ways we can understand; she looks down her nose at everyone and everything in New Orleans, believing herself above just about all of it. This leads to initial sympathies with Stanely and why he doesn’t like her, but you never quite fall into bed with him either because of how much of an asshole he is.

This leads me to the one thing I really didn’t like about the film… THE ENDING. In the play, Stanley is the only one who doesn’t get a bad ending despite deserving it the most after raping Blanche while Stella was at the hospital and giving birth to his child. Blanche is led out by doctors to a mental institution, but Stella remains with Stanley where she is condemned to raise her child in that dysfunctional household. I really like that ending, sad and bleak as it is. But the movie’s ending is optimistic. Right as Blanche is taken away, Stella leaves too and decides to exit her relationship with Stanely to raise her child by herself exactly five seconds before the end credits roll. Up until that point I felt the movie’s story and tone had been very consistent, but this ending was jarring. It felt pushed in. Admittedly it is implied Stella knows and believes Blanche’s story about the rape in the film, but it comes in too close to the end for it to be digested and to justify her sudden change of heart after spending the majority of the film reluctantly shackled to her husband.

Other than that, I think the final scene did drag on for too long. If they’d shaved two or three minutes off it I’d have felt much better about it, but that’s hardly a major complaint.

So, would I recommend A Streetcar Named Desire? Yeah, I would. It’s great drama. A great tragedy – although this movie’s ending leans more into bittersweet territory more than I’d like. Overall, I’m just happy I took the time to rewatch this one.

2 thoughts on “A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) Review

Add yours

  1. Quite a change-up from the Transformers!

    Hollywood couldn’t handle Williams at this point. The end of the Newman and Taylor Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was a ridiculous example. I haven’t seen this movie I don’t think since high school but I’d like to check it out again. I do remember parts of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I needed to remind my brain how to function after so many Bay films! I think it’s a good movie in all but the final two lines. Amazing how two lines in a fraction of an otherwise good ending can change things so drastically. Still worth a watch though, I think.


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