Film Review: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Release Date: September 9th, 1951 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Tennessee Williams, Oscar Saul
Based on: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Music by: Alex North
Cast: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden

Charles K. Feldman Group, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don’t tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth.” – Blanche

I’m a fan of Elia Kazan’s noir movies but I had never seen this picture, which really isn’t noir, but it employs a similar visual style and pacing.

This is considered one of Kazan’s best films, alongside On the Waterfront, which also stars Marlon Brando and is also a movie I haven’t seen.

This motion picture is about a woman, who had fallen on really hard and tragic times, moving in with her sister and her sister’s husband in New Orleans. This woman, Blanche, lost her husband to suicide and it’s alluded to that he was gay. However, she tells her sister that she is on leave from her teaching job due to anxiety.

As the story rolls on, we learn that Blanche is full of shit and she often times embellishes and flat out lies about things because she is hiding how screwed up she and her life is. Granted, she does this more to convince herself and live in a fantasy world. But this does draw the ire of the husband, Stanley.

Stanley is a gruff asshole most of the time but he does love his wife and doesn’t like this interloper, who has her claws too deeply into his romantic and social life since she moved in on a lie.

Their dislike of each other grows with each passing scene and it culminates in a physical fight where it’s alluded to that Stanley probably raped her. In the Broadway play, he did rape her but in the film, due to the morality code, such things couldn’t happen onscreen.

The ending is really tragic and hard to watch but everything falls apart for everyone but for each person, it’s also probably for the best, looking at the bigger picture.

One thing that stands out in this picture, above all else, is how stupendous the acting is between Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. There are some powerful scenes throughout this movie and honestly, there aren’t any weak or wasted ones. Everything in this has purpose and thanks to Kazan’s direction, he really got the absolute best out of his core cast.

The film also looks amazing, even if it mostly takes place in a very dilapidated apartment in the French Quarter. The New Orleans architecture really gives the movie a very specific and very lived in world that probably felt somewhat exotic to those in the 1950s that had never been down to Cajun country.

In the end, this isn’t my favorite Elia Kazan picture but it is still really damn good and you become pretty immersed in this world he crafted for the big screen.

It’s also hard to believe that this was just Brando’s second film. The guy had “it” from the get go.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Boomerang! (1947)

Also known as: The Perfect Case (working title)
Release Date: January 26th, 1947 (London premiere)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy
Based on: The Perfect Case 1945 article in The Reader’s Digest by Anthony Abbot
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Dana Andrews, Jane Wyatt, Lee J. Cobb, Cara Williams, Arthur Kennedy, Sam Levene, Ed Begley Sr.

Twentieth Century Fox, 88 Minutes

Review:

“McDonald, I just made one mistake. I should have known by now that there’s one thing you can’t beat in politics, and that’s a completely honest man.” – T.M. Wade

Out of all the film-noir directors of the ’40s and ’50s, I’ve always held Elia Kazan’s visual style in pretty high regard. His movies, especially in the noir genre, always have this pristine visual look. They’re crisp, utilize great set and costume design with damn near perfect lighting and a mastery of that high contrast noir aesthetic. Granted, he also does all this more subtly than some of the directors that went more extreme with it.

Kazan’s pictures just seem to have a really good balance, boasting a certain style without overdoing it. In fact, you almost don’t notice it at first but as his pictures roll on, you find yourself a bit mesmerized by them.

Boomerang! is one that I haven’t seen in a really long time but it was one of my granmum’s favorites, as she had it on multiple times when I’d go to her house after school as a kid. Well, at least in the non-summer months when the Cubs weren’t on WGN.

The film is based on a true story where an innocent man was accused of murder by an incompetent police force and had to rely on a smart prosecutor to clear his name and save him from a fate he didn’t deserve.

Now this isn’t in my upper echelon of noir classics but it’s still a good movie with very good acting, especially on the part of Dana Andrews, who plays the prosecutor, as well as Lee J. Cobb, who plays the police chief. I also really enjoyed Jane Wyatt in this for obvious reasons but she definitely holds her own in the acting department, as well, and this made me wish that she had become a bigger star, especially in pictures of the noir style. I also didn’t realize, until today, that she played Spock’s mother in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

For the most part, the story is compelling but if I’m being honest, it is a bit paint-by-numbers and it’s fairly predictable and doesn’t throw any shocking patented noir curveballs at you.

Still, this is a good example of a standard film-noir. Especially in regards to those that deal with the legal system, as opposed to just schemers doing something dirty and paying the price for it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s, especially those by Elia Kazan.

Film Review: Panic In the Streets (1950)

Also known as: Outbreak, Port of Entry (working titles), Quarantine (script title)
Release Date: July 1st, 1950 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy, Daniel Fuchs, Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance, Zero Mostel

Twentieth Century Fox, 96 Minutes

Review:

“You know, my mother always told me if you looked deep enough in anybody… you’d always find some good, but I don’t know.” – Lt. Cmdr. Clinton ‘Clint’ Reed M.D., “With apologies to your mother, that’s the second mistake she made.” – Capt. Tom Warren

While most urban film-noir pictures take place in big cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Chicago, it’s always cool to see one set in another city. In the case of this film, we’re taken to one of the most interesting and entertaining cities in the world: New Orleans.

I love New Orleans and it’s really neat seeing a film that was shot in that city’s streets circa 1950. It’s a very different place from what it would become but at the same time, it has such a rich history and really it’s own style that all of that comes through and gives you one of the most unique looking urban noir pictures ever made.

The film also gave us the debut of Jack Palance, who would go on to be one of the greatest character actors of all-time, as well as a multiple Academy Award nominee.

On top of that, we get such incredible performances from Richard Widmark and Paul Douglas that just on acting alone, this eclipses most of the other noir pictures of its day. Add in superb direction from a true maestro, Elia Kazan, and you’ve got a true classic.

While it’s not a masterpiece, it was a gritty, energetic and engaging motion picture from the first frame to the last.

The City of New Orleans really becomes a character in the film and apart from Kazan’s visual style, I think a lot of the credit also has to go to cinematographer Joseph MacDonald, who has a pretty impressive filmography, himself.

The story is about stopping a potential outbreak, as a small crew of criminals murders a man and it’s discovered that the victim had pneumonic plague. This forces a police captain and a military doctor to have to begrudgingly work together in an effort to solve the mystery of the man’s execution, find his killers and stop a pandemic from happening in New Orleans.

This is a movie that packs a real narrative punch that is punctuated by an incredible finale in a banana factory. In fact, there’s so much squeezed into this energetic and very layered film that I’m surprised they were able to get it all in the movie at just 96 minutes.

It is well-paced and even if it moves by fairly rapidly, Kazan did a masterful job in executing his vision on the screen and with real energy.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other noir pictures of the era, as well as Elia Kazan’s other films.