27 April 2008
Given the 1939 film Gone With The Wind's impact on American culture, it is almost reflexive to assume Scarlett O'Hara was Vivien Leigh's greatest American film role. But not by me, baby. I'll take Ms. Leigh as Blanche Dubois in the film adaptation, by director Elia Kazan, of Tennessee Williams' masterwork A Streetcar Named Desire any day.
A Pulitzer Prize winning play, a landmark film -- and Ms. Leigh, on the verge of cracking from her bipolar disorder, bringing insights from her illness to her performance. She earned an Oscar for this performance, the hard way. Tennessee Williams himself stated that Ms. Leigh brought to the role "everything that I intended, and much that I had never dreamed of". Ms. Leigh would later say that playing this role, both extensively on the London stage and also in the film, "tipped me over into madness." (See Holden, A., Olivier, 1989, pp. 312-313.)
And I haven't even mentioned this is Marlon Brando's breakout film role, co-starring as Stanley Kowalski.
This film has it all: delicacy, fragility, brutality, cruelty -- honor lost and honor never found, love blinded by passion -- smashing early 1950's conventions, all on stage sets of a working class section of New Orleans' French Quarter. It all adds up to more talent successfully converging than the law should allow.
A Streetcar Named Desire is an essential, must-see film.