Looking for a benchmark in movie acting? Breakthrough performances don't come much more electrifying than Marlon Brando's animalistic turn as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Sweaty, brutish, mumbling, yet with the balanced grace of a prizefighter, Brando storms through the role--a role he had originated in the Broadway production of Tennessee Williams's celebrated play. Stanley and his wife, Stella (as in Brando's oft-mimicked line, "Hey, Stellaaaaaa!"), are the earthy couple in New Orleans's French Quarter whose lives are upended by the arrival of Stella's sister, Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh). Blanche, a disturbed, lyrical, faded Southern belle, is immediately drawn into a battle of wills with Stanley, beautifully captured in the differing styles of the two actors. This extraordinarily fine adaptation won acting Oscars for Leigh, Kim Hunter (as Stella), and Karl Malden (as Blanche's clueless suitor), but not for Brando. Although it had already been considerably cleaned up from the daringly adult stage play, director Elia Kazan was forced to trim a few of the franker scenes he had shot. In 1993, Streetcar
was rereleased in a "director's cut" that restored these moments, deepening a film that had already secured its place as an essential American work. --Robert Horton