I grew up with this cry holding a slightly comedic element. My dad would jokingly yell, “Stella!” from across the house to get my mom’s attention, usually to get him another beer or some other mundane task. I don’t think my dad has ever seen A Streetcar Named Desire or realizes the drunken, bullying, recklessness most people connect with a husband yelling ‘Stella!’ Even if he has, it’s easier to skip the therapy sessions and play ignorant.
In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche (Vivien Leigh) has just arrived in New Orleans looking for her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter). Blanche is a nervous sounding Southern Belle; she talks a mile a minute and seems frail and vulnerable to everything around her. Stella compassionately lets her sister stay in her tiny apartment in the French Quarter. But Stella’s destructive husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando), doesn’t like Blanch from the start and wonders why she’s there. She seems to have nice things, why can’t she sell them and find her own place? As Blanche is trying to move on and forget her past, Stanley finds out her dark secrets and will use them to have her out of his home.
The acting in this film is phenomenal and expertly molds the story. In fact, all four lead actors were nominated at the Academy Awards and only Marlon Brando lost in his category to Humphrey Bogart. Vivien Leigh is simply astounding as Blanche; the way she portrays a need to be protected and escape reality gains sympathy until the very end.
Kim Hunter as Stella shows us exactly what a woman who just puts up with her lot in life is. She’s strong, strong enough to take care of her sister and herself, but not strong enough to leave. Stella is the classic example of asking, “Why is that nice girl with such a prick?”
And that king of pricks is Stanley, played by Brando. Stanley is an animal, a grunting caveman compared to the fine Southern gentlemen Blanche thought she and Stella were expected to marry. He’s unrefined, disrespectful, yells and constantly gets drunk and can explode into a violent rage. Brando builds the rage up wonderfully and at times I was afraid he was just going to toss Blanche and her lamp out the window. I was nearly biting my nails.
In this sticky humid world that is the French Quarter, good men are hard to find. Domestic violence is common here, nearly every night the men get drunk, yell, hit and wives keep coming back for more. So when Blanche finally meets Harold (Karl Malden), who seems to be the only gentleman around, she can hardly help herself. Harold is nearly the opposite of Stanley, yet he hangs out with his band of rough-housers. But how long will Harold stick around once he hears about Blanche’s past?
I’ve picked A Streetcar Named Desire because it is the most intriguing film with the most daring subject matter of 1951. The secrets Blanch harbors are shocking and the violence that explodes from Stanley can still shake you to your inner core after nearly sixty years. Plus, the filming is absolutely beautiful in all it’s black and white glory. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and if domestic abuse really disturbs you, I would not recommend this. Everyone else, this is a must see.
Everyone now, hands in the air: “Stella!”