63 years ago today, Elia Kazan’s celebrated film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Pultizer Prize-winning play, A Streetcar Named Desire, aired for the first time in US movie theatres.
Arriving four years after its debut on Broadway, it featured an explosive Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden, in their original roles from the stage show, playing Stanley and Stella Kowalski and ‘Mitch’ respectively. Vivian Leigh led the all-star cast as the fragile, fading Southern belle, Blanche DuBois, having appeared herself in the London theatre production.
Legendary performances from this ensemble (Leigh, Malden and Hunter were all awarded Oscars) energised Williams’ masterful dialogue. Streetcar‘s pioneering portrayal of sexual repression and domestic violence shocked its audiences on the big screen just as it had at the theatre. While the young Brando (then relatively unknown at 27 years-old) lost out on Best Actor to Humphrey Bogart that year, his toweringly influential career had been launched.
Over six decades later, Streetcar remains celebrated as a masterpiece of American cinema with its iconically tragic final scene unforgettable. Popular culture has also paid Williams homage with The Simpsons casting Marge as Blanche in their own episode adaptation, and Panic! at the Disco singing its praises with a reference to its “beautifully depressing” plot in their song ‘Memories’.