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This review originally appeared in issue 11 of THE CINEMA LASER.

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

The director's version of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE ($40) fills in many of the holes left in the story due to the censorship of Tennessee William's steamy work. In the fifties, the type of sexuality found in William's play was forbidden on the screen. Unfortunately, the characters and situations of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE are overtly sexual, thus some of the pivotal aspects of the story were only alluded to, or omitted from the version of the film released back in 1951. More than a year ago, Warner Bros. re­issued A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE theatrically. The re­issue restored three minutes of the film originally cut due to the censorship caused by the Legion of Decency. The restored footage removes any doubts about the true nature of the tragedy that unfolds.

Vivien Leigh triumphs in the role of Blanche Dubois, a fading southern belle, who walks the precarious line of sanity. When Blanche goes to live with her sister and her sister's brutish husband, the fragile world of Blanche's mind slowly begins to crumble. Watching Blanche's slow disintegration at the hands of her brother­in­law is heartbreaking. Vivien Leigh's performance has lost nothing to the years­ it remains riveting. Marlon Brando gives an early, yet astounding, performance as Blanche's brother­in­law. Brando brings all of his screen charisma and sexual magnetism to the role of Stanley, the unrefined brute who leads Blanche to her ultimate downfall. Kim Hunter's performance as Blanche's sister Stella is enhanced by the restored footage. We found Hunter's Stella to have a truly earthy sexuality­ something that was minimized in the censored version of the film. In the film's most memorable scene, when Stanley calls to Stella after a drunken fight, her submission to him becomes completely wanton in the restored version. Karl Malden's performance as Mitch, Stanley's lonely friend who falls in love with Blanche, is one of unusual sensitivity and feeling. This is quite possibly the finest role of Karl Malden's long career, he is truly outstanding.

Of the four leads, only Marlon Brando was excluded from an acting Oscar, even though his performance certainly deserved one. Vivien Leigh's Best Actress award was the second time for which the British actress won an Oscar for portraying a southerner. Her first Oscar win was for GONE WITH THE WIND. With A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, Leigh makes the role of Blanche Dubois as much her own as she did Scarlet O'Hara. Hunter and Malden's supporting Oscars were for roles that were so indelible, its hard to think of them as only supporting characters in this marvelous film. Director Elia Kazan's brilliant work was also recognized with an Oscar nomination.

Warner Home Video has given A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE an excellent black and white transfer. The image is crisp and has a wonderful range of contrast. Films such as this make one long for the lost art of black and white cinematography. Harry Stradling's black and white cinematography was so good, that it too was amongst the film's numerous Oscar nominations. As for the film element itself, it exhibited only minor defects, which were barely noticeable. The digitally encoded monaural soundtrack is clean, and well worth amplifying for Alex North's Oscar nominated score. The Sony DADC pressing had only minor inclusions. Side three of the film is encoded in CAV. Warner has also added 3 trailers to supplement their release of the director's version of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE is one of the truly great American films; this version belongs in every collector's library.

 
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Laserdisc reviews are Copyright © 1996 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.


 

 

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