Ever since the show’s first opening in 1947, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire has had an everlasting legacy. The play has been revived multiple times on stage, been parodied on TV shows like The Simpsons and seen a movie adaptation, of which was made in 1951. Directing the 1951 film was Elia Kazan, who also directed the stage adaptation that made the story famous. With him he brought Kim Hunter, Karl Madden and Marlon Brando. Jessica Tandy was replaced by Vivien Leigh as Kazan felt Tandy wasn’t quite right for the role.
To fit in with the decency codes imposed on cinema numerous changes had to be made, themes of homosexuality and rape were removed completely or toned down greatly, and violence towards women was also toned down but not removed entirely, yet, Stanley’s character still shows. Stanley (played by Marlon Brando) is a violent, animistic man whose violent temper tantrums are not enough to drive Stella away who, in contrast, is drawn to his powerful sexual magnetism and, for that reason, is deeply attracted to him. Marlon Brando is superb in the film giving Stanley that animalistic sexual magnetism that makes him such a powerful screen presence. It’s surprising, out of all the major players, Brando was the only one not to receive an Oscar (he lost out of Bogart’s performance in The African Queen). Other performances are also worthy of praise, particularly Vivien Leigh who captures Blanche’s deteriorating mental stage brilliantly as the film goes on.
Making use of close ups and dark shadows Harry Stradling’s cinematography captures Blanche’s feeling of claustrophobia in her sister’s cramped apartment (it’s very much a culture shock for the formally wealthy Blanche) as well as her ever increasing fragmented mental state. It’s a powerful film, brilliantly directed by Elia Kazan who tried to get the most out transferring the play to screen despite the restrictions placed upon it
Billy Wilder is up there with the very best of filmmakers, and with a catalogue featuring films like Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole, Some Like it Hot and The Apartment you realise how many great films he made (two of which were Oscar winners). The Apartment, his second film to win Best Picture, is perhaps his mostly highly regarded film.
The Apartment is about an office worker, Calvin Baxter (Jack Lemmon), who sells out his apartment as a place for his superiors to sleep with the receptionists, elevators girls, and any other girl they’ve met out on the town. Calvin has a small crush on elevator girl Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) but it turns out she’s someone’s little bit on the side also.
For some reason I got the idea that The Apartment was this light-hearted romantic comedy, but contrary to my expectations there is something darker about the film. It certainly has a strong, almost sweet romantic element, and moments of comedy but the theme of loneliness plays a major role in the film. Both Calvin and Fran are lonely, but in different ways. Calvin is lonely because he feels used by his co-workers, he constantly climbs into an already warm bed, previously shared by other lovers, with no lover of his own (the object of his affections doesn’t return them), and he spends every night or so wandering around the crispy photographed New York City streets waiting for the extramarital lovers to vacate his apartment.
Fran on the other hand has plenty of lovers, but still feels lonely because loneliness isn’t quite as simple as not having any relationships but it’s the quality of the relationships that is important. Being with people who make you feel alone is perhaps worse than being alone and Fran’s relationships with men are plenty but very unfulfilling emotionally. She desperately wants more, she wants to feel loved and getting $100 dollars as a Christmas present shows she is as meaningless to her lovers as the $100 dollar Christmas present is to her. If her lover doesn’t put in the effort to buy a meaningful Christmas present than it’s clear what she means to them.
Perhaps the lonely lives the pair lead is what makes the ending is so perfect, the loving smile they share and the absolute incredible chemistry that Jack Lemon and Shirley MacLaine have gives this bittersweet film a sweet ending. Perhaps, Fran’s ‘shut up and deal’ response to Baxter’s proclamations of affection may signify slightly less affectionate feelings towards him, but the loving smile begs to differ, suggesting a feeling of relief to be sharing New Year’s with someone who absolutely adores her.