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Gaslight (1944)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) - The Hollywood Classics
187    Dibyendu Banerjee    20/06/2024

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), an American drama film adapted from Tennessee Williams’ exciting Broadway stage play of the same name, is an absorbing drama of frustration and stark tragedy, set in the background of the restless years following the Great War in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The film depicts the story of Blanche DuBois, an aging, fragile and alcoholic, but still an alluring Southern belle, played by Vivien Leigh, who scandalously lost her teaching job for seducing a seventeen-year-old boy at the school. After being exiled from her hometown of Laurel, she desperately wanted to find a place in the world to call her own and finally takes refuge with her sister Stella Kowalski and Stanley, her brutish husband, played by Brando, in a dilapidated New Orleans building. The name of the film is also the name of one of the streetcars that Blanche rides to her sister’s home and later, she used the symbolic vehicle all too often in her never-ending attempt to win the love and affection of men. Nevertheless, although the film is thoroughly an adult drama with the nymphomania theme and deals with a sex problem, it followed the basic story with sensitivity, shading and poignancy and never broke the moral code, prevailing in those days.

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It also highlighted the Stanislavsky method acting and helped usher in the era of the antihero through the character of Stanley. Upon release of the film, it proved to be the fifth biggest hit of the year, earned positive reviews and several awards and made Marlon Brando to rise to prominence as a major Hollywood film star.

a street car named desire

A Streetcar Named Desire depicts the story of Blanche DuBois, a faded Mississippi teacher with an aristocratic background from Auriol, Mississippi, who moved to New Orleans to live with her sister Stella and brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski, after creditors took over the family property. However, she explained her unexpected appearance as nervous exhaustion, claiming to be on leave from her teaching job for her frayed nerves due to a series of financial calamities which have recently claimed the family plantation, Belle Reve, that made her broke with nowhere to go. Although Stella welcomes having her sister as a guest, Stanley suspects Blanche may be hiding an inheritance. He was not convinced by the proof of the foreclosure produced by Blanche and believes that she might have sold Belle Reve and is withholding Stella's fair share of the proceeds from them.

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Blanche's demure and refined manner is a stark contrast to Stanley's crude, brutish behaviour, who tells Blanche he does not like to be swindled and wants to have more proof.

a street car named desire
a street car named desire
Vivian Leigh and Marlon Brando, as Blanche and Stanley

Blanche was shocked to find her sister and brother-in-law living in a cramped and run down ground floor of a tenement apartment, as had no idea about their lives, but she began to beautify by putting shades over the open light bulbs to soften the lighting. However, her presence intruded on the conjugal life of her sister, as the husband, a crude brutal young Polish-American, immediately became hostile to her, suspecting that she was lying about her past. While looking for further proof, Stanley knocked some of Blanche's private papers to the floor, which she gathered with tears in her eyes, saying they are poems from her dead husband.

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Although Blanche and Stanley had an antagonistic relationship from the start, gradually she finds that Stanley's hyper-masculinity, which often displays itself in physical outbursts, is common, coarse and vulgar, which in turn attracted Stella to him.

a street car named desire
Stella, Stanley and Blanche

On the other side of the story, during a poker night with his friends, the animal inside Stanley explodes in a drunken rage, striking Stella and ending the game, when Blanche and Stella flee upstairs and took shelter in the apartment of Eunice Hubbell. However, after he cooled down, Stanley remorsefully started to call Stella from the courtyard below and drawn by her love or physical passion for him, she went downstairs, when Stanley promptly carried her off to bed. Nevertheless, despite their mutual reconciliation, Blanche hated his brutality and the next morning, urged her sister to leave Stanley, calling him a sub-human animal, which Stella disagreed.

a street car named desire
Vivian Leigh with Kim Hunter, as Mitch Michell

Meanwhile, Blanche mate and liked Mitch, one of the card-playing buddies and coworkers of Stanley, whose soft and courteous manner is in sharp contrast to Stanley's other pals. As Mitch was also attracted to Blanche's flirtatious charm and did not hide his feelings for her, Blanche began to see a way out of her predicament. But although she was hopeful about Mitch, anxiety and alcoholism got her teetering on mental collapse while anticipating a marriage proposal from Mitch. However, by that time, Stanley already discovered about Blanche's hidden history of mental instability, promiscuity and being fired for sleeping with one of her underage students. He also found out that after losing Belle Reve that was sold for back taxes, she turned to prostitution at the Flamingo Hotel and when she was evicted from the hotel, she was forced to take refuge in New Orleans with them, for food and shelter. Knowing well that her hidden past would end her marriage prospects and leave her with no future, Stanley divulged everything to Mitch. However, although it made Stella mad at her husband and she fiercely blamed Stanley for the disastrous revelation, their fight was interrupted when Stella goes into labour.

a street car named desire

After that, when Mitch confronted Blanche about Stanley's claims and wanted to know the truth, she denied everything initially, but eventually broke down, confessed and pleaded for forgiveness, but Mitch roughly ended the relationship, as he felt hurt and humiliated. The incident destroyed everything that was left of Blanche's already damaged mental state and late that night, dressed in a tattered old gown, Blanche claimed that she is departing on a trip with an old admirer. As she started to spin tale after tale about her fictitious future plans, Stanley ruthlessly destroyed all her illusions and when they became engaged in a struggle, he brutally overpowered her to complete her degradation and raped her to permanently destroy any connection she has with the real world. However, the consequent rape scene was excluded by censors.

a street car named desire

A few days later, when Stella returned home with her baby, Blanche told her everything about the sexual encounter, which forced Stella to take a decision about her life. She realised that to continue her conjugal life with Stanley, she has no choice but to deny the truth of Blanche's story about the rape and to accept Stanley's lie. However, at the same time, to provide emotional support to her sister, she and the upstairs neighbour Eunice started to play along with Blanche's fantasy about going on a trip with the gentleman from Dallas, where Blanche was eager to go. But in reality, instead of the much wanted imaginary vacation, they arranged her to be taken off to a mental hospital with a doctor and a strongly built nurse. In the dramatic scene of departure, Blanche at first resisted when the nurse seizes her and retreats back in panic. But when she was pinned to the floor by the potentially-cruel nurse and the cool, elderly doctor offered her an arm, addressing her as Miss DuBois, she suddenly gave up fighting and followed them, uttering helplessly her last lines in the film about having always depended on the kindness of strangers.

a street car named desire

A Streetcar Named Desire, dramatically reflecting the life Blanche DuBois in the sweltering heat of New Orleans and the steamy, claustrophobic atmosphere in the tenement apartment of her sister, earned Oscar nominations in ten categories and became the first film to win in the three categories of acting. While Vivien Leigh, playing the role of Blanche DuBois, won the Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Kim Hunter won the Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for portraying the character of Stella and Kim Hunter, appearing as Harold Mitch Michell, earned the Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Directed by Elia Kazan, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.

Gaslight (1944)
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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