Evasions and ambiguities in a streetcar named desire: Jackie Shead argues that changes made for the play's 1951 screen version not only highlight the controversial nature of A Streetcar Named Desire at the time, but still illuminate the text for us today

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Author: Jackie Shead
Date: Feb. 2005
From: The English Review(Vol. 15, Issue 3)
Publisher: Philip Allan Updates
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,958 words

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It's over 50 years since Elia Kazan's film of A Streetcar Named Desire was first screened. The Brando and Leigh performances make it still well worth viewing, but is there any point in exploring alterations made half a century ago, especially when the 1984 film version has restored the original script to the big screen? Though this subject is not new to THE ENGLISH REVIEW, I think there is more to say about the screenplay changes. They not only illuminate the controversial nature of the play in its time, but also highlight Williams's original intentions.

Condemned

Two censoring forces influenced the 1951 film. Both had sufficient clout to make a significant difference to box office takings, and no film studio would ignore either. Warner Brothers panicked when it heard the Catholic Legion of Decency (CLD) was about to award the film a 'C' rating (that's C for condemned, not caution). This meant Catholics would be instructed not to view it and, as a result of the number of immigrants to the USA from Eastern Europe and Ireland, Catholics comprised a hefty slice of the cinema-going public. Besides this, it was thought the rating would have a wider influence.

Once the CLD's precise objections were ascertained, Kazan was ordered to make strategic cuts. These included footage making explicit both Blanche's sexual attraction to the Young Man and the sexual bond between the Kowalskis. Warner Brothers asked the CLD to review the film again after these cuts had been made, and the film avoided a C rating. Later, those cuts were reinstated. If you have seen Kazan's movie, it is almost certainly the uncut version. The matter, therefore, is now of historical interest only, revealing certain contemporary responses to Tennessee Williams's theme. Apparently, the depiction of desire as an amoral force was disturbing not only when presented in a single woman's attraction to a younger man, but even between a married couple.

The other source of pressure, whose imprints remain, came to bear as the movie was being shot. The film encountered resistance from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and its code of practice. The producers were advised to make changes to two areas: Allan's homosexuality and the rape. In the first instance, concessions were prompt, and all traces of the topic were obscured. The wording 'effeminate' and 'not like a man', was replaced with 'uncertainty' and 'couldn't hold down a job'. Blanche's discovery of Allan with another man was omitted, and her final words on the dance floor were no longer about her disgust, instead she said: 'You're weak. I've lost respect for you. I despise you.' Likewise, Stella's description of Blanche's marriage in Scene 7 was deleted, along with the word 'degenerate'. This explains why the CLD, which had objected to the play's heterosexual lust, did not worry about the homosexuality; the subject simply wasn't there by the time the CLD viewed the film. Had it been,...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Shead, Jackie. "Evasions and ambiguities in a streetcar named desire: Jackie Shead argues that changes made for the play's 1951 screen version not only highlight the controversial nature of A Streetcar Named Desire at the time, but still illuminate the text for us today." The English Review, vol. 15, no. 3, Feb. 2005, pp. 28+. Accessed 22 Oct. 2021.
  

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