Impeccable acting is squarely at the forefront of Elia Kazan’s raw and emotional 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire. The film, which was adapted from Tennessee William’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, tells the story of the dysfunctional relationship between a ferociously violent man, his pregnant wife and her unbalanced sister in a seedy section of New Orleans. This is a story about a group of flawed, complicated characters who are played with amazing intensity. Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) is the lonely tortured woman with no place to go. After running into financial difficulties back home, Blanche heads to New Orleans with nothing but her past demons and her fading beauty to accompany her. Blanche moves in with her kind sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and Stella’s brutish, working class husband, Stanley Kowalski. Stanley immediately mistrusts Blanche and the two square off in a series of heated, sexually-tense battles that puts Stella in the middle of the fray. As Stanley chases down all of Blanche’s lies about her past and uncovers the truth, one of Stanley’s friends, Mitch (Karl Malden) falls for her, thinking she is a refined Southern woman. Once Stanley reveals Blanche’s lies to Mitch, he discards her, thus sending her into the throes of complete insanity.
A Streetcar Named Desire is a wrenching character study that intelligently and emotionally describes the needs of each of it’s four main players. The screenplay’s greatness relies not on action, but what is said between the characters. Brando (who is absolutely scintilating as Stanley), Malden (as the sad and lonely Mitch), and Leigh (as the cuckoo Blanche) all scored acting Oscar nominations for their work. Malden and Leigh eventually went on to take the Oscars for Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress, respectively. Brando, however, lost the Best Actor Oscar to the long-deserving Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen.
The film was nominated for a total of 12 Academy Awards and it won four of them including Best Actress, Supporting Actor, and Art Direction. The film’s fourth Oscar went to Kim Hunter, winner, (163), for her supporting work as Stella Kowalski, Stanley’s tossed-around, pregnant wife who can’t help but forgive her brooding and emotionally-needy husband. Hunter, who was reprising her role from the Broadway stage, is a marvel to behold as a woman caught between conflicting loyalties and the unabashed lust she has for her husband. The scene in which Stella descends the stairs into the arms of the wailing, animalistic Stanley is absolutely gut-wrenching. Hunter’s portrayal of Stella Kowalski puts her into an elite company as one of the Best Supporting Actresses of all time.