The Broadway experience transferred to Hollywood, with suggestive adjustments. (The symbolic trolley does materialize early on, and "DESIRE" indeed shows on the destination sign as it curves toward the camera.) Tennessee Williams' Ophelia is diaphanous in middle age, thus Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) out of a cloud of locomotive steam and into the Elysian Fields fleapit for a thorough spiral. The entire faded gentility of the classical era is packed inside her trunk, still the dilapidated Southern belle's poetry finds no favor with brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando), "survivor of the Stone Age." She has a death rattle in her skull and a reputation to outrun, the gentleman caller (Karl Malden) might be "a cleft in the rock of the world I could hide in." Her foe meanwhile enters in sweaty muscle shirt, his boyish truculence smashes china and pretension and yet there he is at the bottom of the staircase, drenched and lost and screaming for his Stella (Kim Hunter). (Pregnant and lustful, Blanche's sister lolls in bed with the memory of Stanley's honeymoon wrecking, "sort of thrilled by it.") The ape and the butterfly, Williams between Cocteau (L'Aigle à Deux Têtes) and Osborne (Look Back in Anger), quite the alchemical stage. Elia Kazan deals this out in claustrophobic movements, a gauzy lyricism surrounded by clammy shadows—lantern filter and radio are just the mise en scène elements for the heroine, "we've made enchantment." Leigh's silent-film frailty cloaks avid carnal hunger, her best moment is a nervous brush with a wet-eyed gelhead ("like a prince out of the Arabian Nights") that trembles with desperate, illicit yearning. Brando by contrast is the sheer incarnation of brutish and tender physicality, an ityphallic torso charging the air with danger and revolutionizing the very concept of screen acting. "Flores para los muertos" and kindness for the living, the shattered mirror and the hosed sidewalk, "fifty percent illusion" and wholly visceral. Fellini (La Strada) and Scorsese (Raging Bull) slam chiefly among its heirs. Cinematography by Harry Stradling. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce