A Streetcar Named Desire is a finely tuned adaptation of Tennessee Williams Pulitzer Prize winning play (William's also co-wrote the films screenplay), brought to the screen by director Elia Kazan and starring a number of the plays original cast members.
Vivien Leigh (who starred in the London production) plays Blanche Du Bois, a southern belle who puts up an old fashioned smoke screen in an attempt to hide her wild past and the death of her late husband, who was involved in a homosexual affair.
After she is forced to sell her family estate and is subsequently run out of her hometown, she visits her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) who lives in the rowdy streets of New Orleans. There she meets Stella's husband Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando), an abusive, primitive, yet sexually alluring brute whose rough ways clashes with Blanche's sensibilities and frazzled sanity.
A powerful sexual energy and passion is felt throughout the film, which is enhanced by Alex North's sultry, horn driven score. Indeed, its violence and sexual innuendo was scandalous at the time, and still has an impact today. In fact, its elusion to sex and violence is much more powerful than the full on visual impact of today's cinema.
A gloriously hammy Vivian Leigh puts on a resounding, semi-autobiographical performance as Blanche, whose tragic back story of suicide and prostitution - which in turn has created a shattered figure who self medicates her burgeoning schizophrenia with alcohol - is eerily reminiscent of Leigh's own personal health problems, since the actress suffered from frequent bouts manic depression which manifested itself in nymphomania.
Yet it would be a then unknown Marlon Brando that would steal the show, in a powerful turn that is smouldering with sexual energy and rage. A scene where a shirtless Brando makes Leigh quiver at the knees confirms his credentials as a sex symbol, while the infamous scene where Stanley cries out for his beloved Stella features the influential thespian at his impassioned best.
Supporting roles by Karl Malden as the straight laced love lorn Mitch, and Kim Hunter as Stella are excellent, due to the fact that both actors perfected their roles on stage during its initial Broadway run.