Three is Glorious Company

It was immediately dubbed The Brando Show,even if A Streetcar Named Desire was much more than the sum of its...

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: October 31, 2009 11:10:15 pm

It was immediately dubbed The Brando Show,even if A Streetcar Named Desire was much more than the sum of its male lead’s charismatic parts. Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski is a raw,unbridled force of nature that overwhelms both the women in his life — his wife Stella (Kim Hunter) and her shrinking-violet sister Blanche (Vivien Leigh).

In the Two-Disc Special Edition of the much-awarded (nominated for 12 Academy Awards; winner of four),much-loved film,director Elia Kazan talks of his relationship with Brando,and how he got the best out of the legendary actor. Kazan’s grounding in theatre led him to acting parts and that taught him “not to be afraid of actors. They were not alien to me,I could be confident around them”. Brando could be “child-like,or a bull of a guy”,Kazan brought both qualities to the fore,and he did it better than any other director that Brando worked with,then and after.

Kazan remembers warning playwright Tennessee Williams (who was also involved creatively in the film) that Brando was running away with the movie. That was all right with Tennessee because “he had a crush on Brando,not a sex thing,just person to person”.

You can see why anyone,even a grown straight man,could have a crush on Brando. The opening credits of A Streetcar Named Desire has Leigh’s name billed ahead of Brando’s,and her Blanche Dubois is better than anything else that she did as a leading lady (after this,her iconic part in G one With The Wind seems like costume drama),but the film acquires its unique frisson only when Brando strolls in,adorned in a sweat-stained vest (he’s been engaged in a bar-room brawl just before),and a mocking smile that dared all comers.

No amount of brown-nosing by the US censors at the time of the film’s release (1951) could douse the desire that’s evident between Stanley and Stella and Blanche: it’s one of American literature’s classic tragic ménage-a-trois. Even today,its erotic charge remains gloriously undimmed.

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