The Greatest films of all time: 41.A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)(USA)

Introduction:

“A Streetcar Named Desire” film directed by Elia Kazan, was based on the play of the same name by the great American playwright, Tennessee Williams, written in 1947 and awarded the prestigious Pulitzer prize in 1948. This great American play adapted for the screen was the first play to be casted and directed by the same actors and director both on the stage and on the screen. The Broadway production of the play was also directed by Elia Kazan and starred Marlon Brando, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter. The only difference was Vivien Leigh who did not appear on the Broadway stage, but in London production in 1949, directed by Laurence Olivier. Tennessee Williams also collaborated with Elia Kazan and Oscar Saul to write the screenplay.

 

There is no need to comment on Tennessee Williams who along with Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neil are considered the three foremost of American playwrights. He has written many other classics for the stage that many of them such as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Sweet Bird of Youth” have also been adapted for the screen. His “A Streetcar Named Desire” is widely considered as one of the three major American plays along “Long Day’s Journey into Night” of Eugene O’Neil and “Death of a Salesman” of Arthur Miller.

Elia Kazan who directed both the stage play and the film was a rarity in American cinema, in many aspects including working on these two performing art media. He was a Greek-American, born in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) to his Greek parents, moved to America at age four with his parents, that his story of immigration could be read and seen in his book and film, “America, America”. He studied drama art at Williams College and Yale School of drama, and acted professionally for eight years, before joining the “Group Theatre” in 1932 and later on co-founded the “Actors studio” in 1947 with Robert Lewis and Cheryl Crawford. 

 

In the Actors Studio, Kazan along Lee Strasberg introduced the popular “Method Acting” that dominated the Broadway and from there was taken to the Hollywood and in the films with such classic performances of great actors such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Jane Fonda and Jack Nicholson among others. Kazan was the principal factor behind rearing quite several great American actors such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, Warren Beatty, Gregory Peck, Montgomery Clift, Kirk Douglas, Faye Dunaway, Patricia Neal, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro.

Kazan brought the theatrical acting method on to the screen, and for the first time, gave such importance to acting in cinema, so this element became very essential in films since. He was an actor-director and according to many actors working with him, the best, as Marlon Brando hails him humbly in his autobiography:

I have worked with many movie directors—some good, some fair, some terrible. Kazan was the best actors’ director by far of any I’ve worked for… the only one who ever really stimulated me, got into a part with me and virtually acted it with me… he chose good actors, encouraged them to improvise, and then improvised on the improvisation… He gave his cast freedom and … was always emotionally involved in the process and his instincts were perfect… I’ve never seen a director who became as deeply and emotionally involved in a scene… he got so wrought up that he started chewing on his hat. He was an arch-manipulator of actors’ feelings, and he was extraordinarily talented; perhaps we will never see his like again.”

An all Emotional Acting Classic:

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