Translating a theatre production to the big screen is always a challenge. What you usually find is that the story is solid, the acting is fantastic but what is left is a very self-contained, wordy and overly-dramatic movie which lacks the pace or action the big screen requires. A Streetcar Named Desire is no different.
The story is solid. The film follows Blanche DuBois as she moves in with her sister to get over a trauma back home. In reality, Blanche is slowly losing her mind and this process isn’t helped by her brother-in-law, played by a young, brooding and full of acting potential, Marlon Brando.
Watching this slow descent into madness is interesting at first and because the film is based on a play, it takes its time to sow the seeds. Blanche doesn’t show-up unhinged but her behaviour is erratic and slightly bizarre. This puts her at odds with Brando’s Stanley and its in the scenes where Brando and Blanche, played by Vivien Leigh, are bouncing off each other, sometimes literally, that the film is at its most interesting. Unfortunately, these are too few and too brief.
The film is two hours long and really feels it. The slow pace can be unforgiving at times and you are longing for a moment of drama to unfold amongst the dull, drab exposition and contemplating. These scenes may be forgiven in a theatre, where the performance is raw and feels real but here it makes you shift uncomfortably in your seat and look to your watch waiting for next interesting scene.
When these moments do come, they are over-played. Again, a big performance is needed on stage but here it can sometimes look ridiculous and Leigh is the most guilty of all. Shrieking her way through the scenes of madness, it can take you away from what the story is clearly trying to achieve. Although the best aspect of the movie, Brando can sometimes fall into the same trap as well, barking his lines at the desperate female lead.
Its a shame too because there are some great scenes and very familiar moments. Brando shouting “Stella” from the courtyard is iconic but alongside it is a horrible date, an awkward game of poker and a fairly depressing finale. When the film remembers it is trying to tell a story, it can be very entertaining but too often it feels slow and plodding.
Overall, A Streetcar Named Desire has an interesting story at its core, supported by performances which have fantastic moments. Unfortunately, Leigh and Brando also find themselves over-acting and the movie leans too heavily into its theatre roots, feeling slow and lacking the drama a movie really needs.
Rating – 2.5
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