Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Killing Them Softly has us thinking of movies set in New Orleans.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Director Elia Kazan’s big-screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire tones down some of the original’s sexuality, but still seethes with lust, Big Easy-style. Vivien Leigh stars as Blanche DuBois, a delusional advocate for the courtliness of the Old South, who comes to visit her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) in New Orleans, where she takes up with the reasonably good-natured Mitch (Karl Malden). Meanwhile, Blanche is dismayed by the animalistic lust and temper of Stella’s husband Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando). Mitch is frustrated by the clearly “damaged” Blanche’s pretensions of purity, and Stanley, who knows the truth about Blanche’s past, won’t stand for her snobbery amid the worldly swelter of the French Quarter.
Leigh, Hunter, and Malden all won Academy Awards for their Streetcar roles, but it was Brando who was the revelation, as he tripped over words and mumbled in ways that made it seem like a human being had accidentally wandered onto the set. While the movie’s New Orleans locations do look fake, that’s part of the overall design of Kazan and Williams. The latter’s plays dealt with mature subject matter but embraced theatrical-sounding, often obfuscating language, and Kazan’s early films balanced his interests in documentary and cinematic expressionism. That’s how a movie that never ventures beyond women in slips and men in torn T-shirts can seem so explicit, and how it can be at once exaggerated and true.
Availability: A Streetcar Named Desire is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Bros., and available to download from various sources.