A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) with Marlon Brando

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…When she got there she met the brute Stan, and the side of New Orleans she hardly knew existed.

Well, here we sit again with another fine classic blu-ray release from Warner Brothers.  They have again released on of their classic, with this release being of 1951’s iconic film A Streetcar Named Desire.  It is a film probably best known for Marlon Brando’s torn t-shirt and his line of “Hey- Stella.”

That being said, Marlon Brando gets second billing after Vivien Leigh.  Leigh was the only leading player who was not reprising her role on Broadway.  Her portrayal of Blanche was originally an attempt to give the film a bit more star power, as Jessica Tandy had played Blanche on stage.  Most feel Leigh’s performance more closely mirrors playwright Tennessee Williams’ idea for the character as well.

Streetcar is an intense and complex story, but makes for a fantastic film.  At least this version is wonderful, though other attempts have failed miserably.  Three actors won Academy Awards for their work on the film- Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden, and Kim Hunter.  Brando, it could be said, was a snub of sorts in not getting the statuette as his performance as well is outstanding.

Perhaps the best reason to add this one to your collection is the wonderful acting and the way the entire cast works with the at some times complex dialogue.  A great, if unintentional subplot is watching Leigh’s onscreen descent into insanity and wondering how much this mirrored her own battles with bipolar disorder.  Later in life Leigh admitted difficulty in determining where Blanche’s life ended and hers began.

Warners released a fine standard DVD version some time ago, but as usual this release improves on an already fine release.  The dynamic atmosphere that director Elia Kazan and legendary cinematographer Harry Stradling were going for is revealed in perhaps never before seen detail.

The image is sharp but still has depth.  I thought the image not quite as good as other similar releases from WB, but it is still a very significant upgrade in quality.  Also there is a slight grain present, which still preserves that wonderful film-like quality.

The audio seems to have been boosted somewhat, but dialogue is still crisp and centered in the front.  WB has preserved this as a lossless mono track, which is much appreciated.  The supplements are quite nice, although my nemesis Rudy Behlmer is back for another round.  (Sorry, just a pet peeve of mine.)

While mentioning the supplements, there are two nice, if short ones.  Behlmer (argh!) hosts “Censorship and Desire,” which looks at the impact of censorship on the film’s release (note that this version includes several minutes of footage which had to be cut for release).  It’s rather good and interesting to weigh the powers of the Church, etc. then versus now.

Also is “North and the Music of the South.”  For those fans of film music you’ll know that Alex North wrote the score for Streetcar, which is alternatingly bluesy, brassy, and emotive.  It is always nice when a release includes something highlighting the scores from some of these wonderful and often overlooked contributors.

It is a release that is recommended highly and thanks to WB for their review copy.

As much as the release is recommended, the film isn’t a personal favorite, primarily for Vivien Leigh’s role in it.  Much preferred is the Leigh of her early pictures, notably Gone with the Wind.  Although there are parallels between Scarlet and Blanche (which others have made and don’t need repeating here), there is still an inherent optimism in Scarlet that simply isn’t part of Blanche’s persona.

Blanche is a broken woman and in truth probably more of a simple tortured soul as opposed to the nymphomaniac others would characterize her as.  Sadly, perhaps Blanche is a bit to close to Leigh’s reality for me.  That takes nothing away from Leigh’s performance, which is spectacularly riveting.

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