brando in the iconic streetcar named desire -- 6/21/19

Today's selection -- from Larger Than Life: Movie Stars of the 1950s by R. Barton Palmer. Marlon Brando's performance as Stanley Kowalski in the 1951 screen adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire was a breakthrough on numerous levels. It was one of that year's box office hits, made Brando's career, and is now a revered classic:

"Sexual aggression is anything but latent in [Brando's] next role [after The Men], possibly to this day the most celebrated work of his career. In the breakthrough screen per­formance as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, Brando was said to bring unusual sensuality, hints of barely concealed violence, and a sur­prising sense of play to the role. A close reading of some of Brando's facial expressions and bodily postures captured by the film may give us a sense of what was perceived as subtle and realistic acting during the early 1950s.

Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire

"In a scene early in the film, Stanley appears in the apartment doorway and looks at his wife Stella (Kim Hunter) and sister-in-law Blanche (Vivien Leigh), undercutting the physical tension he brings into the room with a broad, even goofy, smile that wrinkles his cheeks and forehead. But then his expression suddenly changes in a manner that is not revealed to the other characters. This downcast look, emphasizing the hooded eyes and parted lips. suggests the character's 'inner life' (for it is not the face he has prepared for the faces he meets), and it evokes the aura of a private realm into which the unacknowledged spectator alone is invited. Back lighting emphasizes the contrast between Brando's muscular body (which is not bent forward or stooped) and his melancholy, abstracted facial expression.

"The implication is clear. Kowalski will be .. 'misunderstood' by all those who do not have a chance to gaze upon every facet of his expressiveness. Later in the film, he commits what should be an unforgivable act of violence and family betrayal -- raping his wife's sister as the wife lies in the hospital after giving birth to their first child -- but the finale leaves open the question of whether his wife Stella will forgive and forget, even though the rape has pushed Blanche over the edge into a full mental breakdown. Our horror at Stella's likely connivance at her husband's transgression is mitigated by both his intoxicating sexuality and the glimpses we have had (and that we assume Stella has had as well) into the soul of a confused man-child. As she does earlier in the film after Stanley beats her, it seems that Stella will always answer the anguished, bewildered crying out of her name (probably Brando's most memorable cinematic moment). Stella is interpolated as a sexual subject by her husband's desperate sexual neediness, whose reflex is an intensely flattering worshipping of her as an erotic object."


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author:

R. Barton Palmer

title:

Larger Than Life: Movie Stars of the 1950s

publisher:

Rutgers University Press

date:

Copyright 2010 by Rutgers, The State University

pages:

170-172
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