Book Vs Movie: “A Streetcar Named Desire”
The Tennessee Williams Play Song Vs the Elia Kazan Movie
The Margos are feeling very fragile and need to take long, hot baths when discussing one of the greatest dramas of the 20th Century–A Streetcar Named Desire. The play by Tennessee Williams thrilled the Broadway stage in 1947 starring young buck Marlon Brandon who went full method with Kim Hunter, Jessica Tandy, and Karl Malden.
The play is Williams’s follow up to the incredible success of The Glass Menagerie in 1944 which was greatly based on his own life story. Williams grew up in an unhappy home and had family members with mental health issues. The writing was his escape and many of his characters tend to be lost souls who are searching for meaning and/or companionship.
In post-World War 2 America, musicals were making the most money in New York theater but when A Streetcar Named Desire–audiences stood in lines for hours to watch Brando and his masculinity on full display. He was a fan of Stella Adler and her acting technique which as first scared Jessica Tandy (playing Blanche Dubois–an “aging” southern belle who is looking for help in a time of crisis.”) Her husband, fellow thespian Hume Cronyn convinced this type of drama will change theater forever.
Taking place in New Orleans in 1947, Blanche Dubois is a woman who has just lost her family home in Laurel, Mississippi, and moves in with her younger sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and her brutish husband Stanley Kowalski. Brando plays Stanley as a cross between man & animal who resents his sister-in-law moving into their tiny home.
The tension between Blanche & Stanley fuels most of the scenes and has consequences for everyone in their lives culminating in violence.
The film was directed by Elia Kazan based mostly on his Broadway production though because of the Hays Code, many changes had to be made to make it “appropriate” for a 1950s movie audience. (There were no rating systems back then and movies were meant for a more general audience.) Most of the hyper-sexuality was toned down and were under the guise of symbolism to get their point across.
It’s one of the top dramas of all time and we really enjoyed digging into the changes with the film (which started with the casting of Vivien Leigh as Blanche who was thought to be more commercial than Jessica Tandy.)
So between the play and the movie–which did we prefer? Have a listen and find out!
In this ep the Margos discuss:
- The life of Tennessee Williams
- New York theater in the 1940s & 1950s and how it changed acting forever
- The backstory and controversial life of Elia Kazan
- The cast: Marlon Brando (Stanely Kowalski,) Vivien Leigh (Blanche DuBois,) Stella Kawalsky (Kim Hunter,) and Karl Malden as Mitch Mitchell.
- Blanche meets Stanley
- A Streetcar Named Desire trailer
- “Napoleonic Law”
- Mitch confronts Blanche
- Music by Alex North
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