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Vivien Leigh takes a mad turn in "A Streetcar Named Desire"

By Alicia Dietrich

Film still of Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in 'A Streetcar Named Desire.'
Film still of Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in 'A Streetcar Named Desire.'

The Harry Ransom Center kicks off the Tennessee Williams Film Series tonight with Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. The series runs on some Thursdays through July 21 and features films highlighted in the current exhibition, Becoming Tennessee Williams, which runs through July 31.

Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1951 film adaptation of Williams’s 1947 play, which received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948. No other play of Williams’s rivaled A Streetcar Named Desire for its intensity, insight, or impact, and it was Williams’s favorite because it embodied “everything I had to say.”

In the story, Blanche DuBois (Leigh) moves in with her sister in New Orleans and is tormented by her brutish brother-in-law (Brando) while her reality crumbles around her.

British actress Vivien Leigh was the only leading member of the screen cast not originally in the 1947 Broadway production of the play. Leigh was given the movie role because the film’s producers felt Leigh had more box office appeal than Jessica Tandy, largely for her Oscar-winning performance as Scarlett O’Hara in 1939’s Gone With the Wind.

Leigh’s performance earned positive reviews from critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it “haunting,” adding that “Miss Leigh accomplishes more than a worthy repeat of the performance which Jessica Tandy gave on the stage…Blessed with a beautifully molded and fluently expressive face, a pair of eyes that can flood with emotion, and a body that moves with spirit and style, Miss Leigh has, indeed, created a new Blanche Du Bois on the screen—a woman of even greater fullness, torment, and tragedy.”

Later, Leigh, who suffered from bipolar disorder for much of her life, would claim that the part was responsible for her illness following the film’s production. She was hospitalized multiple times and treated with electroshock therapy.

Visit the galleries, open until 7 p.m. on Thursdays, before attending the screenings. Please be aware that the Ransom Center’s Charles Nelson Prothro Theater has limited seating. Line forms upon arrival of the first person, and doors open 30 minutes in advance.

This post was written by Ransom Center volunteer Emily Butts.

Comments

valerie
Reply

There are people who are fated to specific destinies, no one but Vivien Leigh could have played Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With The Wind and Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire. She is the most exquisite porcelain powerhouse to ever grace the screen. As Blanche, we suffer the pain of an aging Scarlet who still braves in her most tortured state the brutish force of a Stanley Kowalsky changing world. Vivien Leigh’s artistic performance reaches Shakespearean proportions dwarfing all other film actors to mere movie stars by comparison.

Carole Heath
Reply

I completely agree with Valerie’s comment about Vivien Leigh’s performance in Streetcar. I am a fan of Vivien Leigh’s myself. She was a much better actress than she was ever given credit for. She was also a good stage actress Alan Bates once said in an interview her Lady Macbeth was the best he had ever seen opposite her then husband Laurence Olivier. I think the problem was as Laurence Olivier once said in a TV interview the critics didn’t think an actress could have beauty and be a good classical actress in his book Vivien Leigh had both. I also liked her in the roman spring od Mrs stone also by Tennessee Williams. Vivien Leigh had such a posh English accent but she could really play a southern belle like Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche Du Bois.

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