Getting down to business, I figured there would be no better director to properly reignite “Catching Up On…” with than Elia Kazan. Some of Kazan's films are among the most highly regarded in film history and I've never seen a single one of them. I'm honestly a little ashamed to admit that.
Nevertheless, I'm excited to dig into films like “East of Eden” and “On the Waterfront.” We begin, though, with a look at “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
This is one of those movies whose reputation has preceded it, thanks in large part to it being based on a Tennessee Williams play as well as a purveyor of Marlon Brando in tight shirts, but all I really knew was that this was the film that both ignited Brando's screen career and gave us countless imitators of the immortal line, “HEYY STELLAAAAA!”
What's immediately striking is how quickly Kazan establishes a sense of place. There's still no location in the world that feels like New Orleans' French Quarter and Kazan perfectly distills the essence of that place in an astonishingly short amount of time. It helps that the production design on the apartment in which most of the action takes place is phenomenal. You can practically feel the sticky, suffocating humidity of Southeastern Louisiana in every shot.
It's no wonder why everyone goes nuts for the performances here. Leigh is engrossing and tragic while Brando is a force of nature.
Stanley is a smoldering, arrogant, volatile mass of a man who has tenderness inside him though most of it is buried under a pile of rage that bursts forth with little to no warning.
And Kazan's direction, of course, is superb. It's more or less the blueprint for how you retain the essence of a story written for the stage and translate it to the screen. It maintains the necessary sense of creeping claustrophobia while also never feeling like we're simply watching a filmed play.
“Streetcar” is very much deserving of the hype and praise heaped upon it for so long, so it is with great anticipation as I watch the second pairing of Kazan and Brando, “On the Waterfront” for my next entry.