Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Blanche swears that she never cheated her sister, or Stanley, or anyone else on earth. Tearing into her, he insists on knowing where her papers are - completely insensitive to her frail emotional condition. In a tin box that contains most of her papers, he first finds her love letters, snatches them from her and tosses them around the room. With sexual innuendo, she attempts to reclaim them from being dirtied:

These are love letters, yellowing with antiquity, all from one boy. Give them back to me!...The touch of your hand insults them!...Now that you've touched them I'll burn them...Poems a dead boy wrote. I hurt him the way that you would like to hurt me, but you can't! I'm not young and vulnerable any more. But my young husband was...Everyone has something they won't let others touch because of their intimate nature.

Then, Blanche locates the many Belle Reve papers ("there are thousands of papers, stretching back over hundreds of years affecting Belle Reve") - she explains its loss and how her family had squandered the fortune on 'epic debaucheries.' Her ancestors had lived animalistically [similar to Stanley's uncontrolled physical nature and libidinous way of life]:

Piece by piece, our improvident grandfathers exchanged the land for their epic debauches, to put it mildly, 'til finally all that was left - and Stella can verify that! - was the house itself and about 20 acres of ground, including a graveyard, to which now all but Stella and I have retreated.

She defiantly thrusts the papers of her family estate at Stanley:

Here they are. All of them! All papers! I hereby endow you with them! Take them. Peruse them. Commit them to memory, even! I think it's wonderfully fitting that Belle Reve should finally be this bunch of old papers in your big capable hands.

And then Stanley announces the underlying reason for his interest in her papers: "Under the Napoleonic code, a man has got to take an interest in his wife's affairs. I mean, especially now that she's gonna have a baby." The news that Stella is pregnant by Stanley is a shocking revelation to Blanche.

That evening, as Stanley's friends (including Pablo Gonzales (Nick Dennis) and Steve Hubbell (Rudy Bond)) gather to play poker in the cramped apartment late into the night, the sisters are restored to each other after the confrontation between Blanche and her brother-in-law over the lost home:

I guess he's just not the type that goes for jasmine perfume. Maybe he's what we need to mix with our blood now that we've lost Belle Reve. We'll have to go on without Belle Reve to protect us. (She looks into the sky) Oh, how pretty the sky is! I oughta go there on a rocket that never comes down.

Outside, Stella leads Blanche to a show, away from the rough masculine crowd, as Blanche remarks: "The blind are leading the blind!" One of Stanley's poker game buddies in the sweaty, boozy game is shy, middle-aged Harold "Mitch" Mitchell (Karl Malden) who often mentions his attachment to his sick mother that he must attend to: "I've gotta sick mother and she don't go to sleep until I get home at night."

The two sisters appear back at home after the show, but before she enters, Blanche hesitates: "Wait till I powder. I feel so hot and frazzled." When they appear in the midst of the foursome playing their smoky card game, Stanley shows his characteristic disrespect for his sister-in-law:

Blanche: Please don't get up.
Stanley: Nobody's gettin' up here, so don't get worried.

Blanche meets Mitch as he comes out of the bathroom - and she is slightly attracted to Mitch's sensitive nature. Stanley is in a foul mood, half-drunk, domineering toward his wife, and angry that Blanche has turned on loud rhumba music on the radio.

Before leaving, Mitch strikes up a conversation with Blanche in the back room, naively admiring her genteel ways and impressed that she knows a quote from a "favorite sonnet" by Mrs. Browning inscribed in his silver cigarette case given to him by a dying girl: "And if God choose, I shall but love thee better - after - death." A coquettish Blanche explains her name for him:

It's a French name. It means woods, and Blanche means white, so the two together mean white woods. Like an orchard in spring. You can remember it by that, if you care to.

Mitch is most impressed by Blanche and behaves like a gallant gentleman. He even puts a protective "adorable little paper lantern" on one of the bare light bulbs at her request to soften the glare:

Blanche: I can't stand a naked light bulb any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action.
Mitch: Well, I guess we strike you as being a pretty rough bunch.
Blanche: I'm very adaptable to circumstances.

With the paper lampshade and the proper atmosphere of subdued lighting, Blanche creates a soft, exotic, romantic dream-like world in the shabby room: "We've made enchantment." Symbolically, she is physically, psychologically, and emotionally fragile - and hypersensitive to glaring bright lights that would reveal her declining beauty. With the radio playing waltz music, Blanche dances while gesturing romantically in the air - Mitch moves next to her like a dancing bear.

Suddenly, after losing a poker hand, a drunken Stanley bursts into the room, and throws the music-playing radio crashing out the window. Stella thinks he has gone completely beserk: "Drunk, Drunk, animal thing you!" Stanley charges after his wife and assaults her with a few blows, causing a fight to break out to control his "lunacy." His poker buddies hold him under a cold shower to sober him up.

Dripping wet with water, Stanley realizes he has struck and abused Stella, and feeling repentant for lashing out at her, he searches for her. Stella and Blanche have sought protective refuge in the upstairs apartment up a flight of stairs with wrought-iron railings. Sensually-macho and virile in his wet, torn T-shirt, he bellows repeatedly for Stella from the street in front of their building and sorrowfully begs for her return. It is a powerful, primal cry for her - almost an animalistic mating call:

Hey, Stell - Laaahhhhh!

This scene is one of the most regularly-chosen clips played in film excerpts from cinematic history. With the low moan of a clarinet, Stella finally responds to her contradictory impulses - her anger melts into forgiveness, her fear into desire, and her distaste into sexual dependence and desire. [She demonstrates her own addiction to sex, similar to her sister's desires - their common ancestral heritage.] She leaves the shelter of the upstairs apartment and stands staring down at him from the upper landing. Then, she surrenders herself to him - she slowly descends the spiraling stairs to him and comes down to his level. He drops to his knees, crying. She sympathizes with him as he presses his face up to her pregnant belly and listens to the heartbeat of their unborn child. She kneads his muscle-bound back as they embrace and kiss. Stanley begs: "Don't ever leave me, baby," and then literally sweeps her off her feet. Like a caveman, he carries her into his cave - into the dark apartment. [The film hints at the consummation of their lustful relationship, but provides no direct evidence.]

Blanche comes looking for them, and finds them inside - she stops and catches herself before entering into the flat. Outside the building, she finds Mitch, who asks if everything is "all quiet along the Potomac now?" He assures Blanche that the feuding couple are "crazy about each other," and things will be fine between them. Blanche thanks Mitch for his concern: " much confusion in the world. Thank you for being so kind. I need kindness now." Blanche has found that Mitch offers her one final chance to realize her self-preserving fantasy.

The following morning, Blanche (who has spent a sleepless night upstairs) is surprised to find that Stella has forgiven Stanley so quickly: "He was as good as a lamb when I came back. He's really very, very ashamed of himself." [Some of the dialogue in this scene was excised by the censors.] Still lying in her bed under a sheet, lounging there following blissful sexual submission to Stanley the night before, Stella winsomely reminisces about Stanley as a destructive smasher. He had smashed things before, like on their wedding night when he triumphantly broke all the light bulbs in their place with one of Stella's slippers. She reflectively concludes - happily: "I was sort of thrilled by it."

Blanche suggests a plan to get them away from the mad, crazy man ("You're married to a madman") that Stella sexually desires, but Stella defends Stanley and their love - not willing to sacrifice the stability she has found in her life with him: "I wish you'd stop taking it for granted that I'm in something I want to get out of."

Blanche: What you are talking about is desire - just brutal Desire! The name of that rattle-trap streetcar that bangs through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another.
Stella: Haven't you ever ridden on that streetcar?
Blanche: It brought me here. Where I'm not wanted and where I'm ashamed to be.
Stella: Don't you think your superior attitude is a little out of place?

Furtively, Blanche betrays an envy of her sister's sexual involvement with her earthy husband. (Stanley, wearing a grease-stained undershirt, has returned from outside and overhears their conversation - in which he is condemned.) Then, Blanche describes him as animalistic, obscene, bestial and common:

May I speak plainly?...If you'll forgive me, he's common!...He's like an animal. He has an animal's habits. There's even something subhuman about him. Thousands of years have passed him right by, and there he is! Stanley Kowalski, survivor of the Stone Age, bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle! And you - you here waiting for him. Maybe he'll strike you or maybe grunt and kiss you, that's if kisses have been discovered yet. His poker night you call it. His party of apes!

Blanche contends that there has been progress in the human race with the development of the arts, poetry, and music - cultural elements that bring light to the darkness. She admonishes her sister: "Don't - don't hang back with the brutes!"

Antagonized by Blanche's attempts to destroy his home, Stanley is increasingly hostile and unfriendly to his sister-in-law. Determined to unmask Blanche's dishonest masquerade and illusory world, Stanley begins to learn of Blanche's tawdry past (and various skeletons in the closet) through information from a friend named Shaw. Shaw, who regularly traveled to Mississippi, reported that Blanche had been seen at the squalid Flamingo Hotel selling her less than lady-like wares. When confronted, Blanche denies any association with the place, asserting:

The Hotel Flamingo is not a place that I would dare to be seen in...I've seen it and, uh, smelled it...The odor of cheap perfume is penetrating.

Stanley threatens to have his friend check again in the town of Laurel to verify whether or not it was her.

Nervous and on edge, Blanche is paranoid of "unkind gossip" from her past, so she confesses to her sister: "I haven't been so awfully good the last year or so, since Belle Reve started to slip through my fingers." She is morbid about the unpleasant realities of life and the impediments that face her in forming a permanent bond - her declining fortunes, her decreasing allure and beauty, and her advancing age:

I never was hard or self-sufficient enough. Soft people, soft people have got to court the favor of hard ones, Stella. You got to shimmer and glow. I don't know how much longer I can turn the trick. It isn't enough to be soft. You've got to be soft and attractive. And I-I'm fading now.

When Stella pours Blanche a drink - a coke with a shot of whiskey - it overflows and spills foam on Blanche's dress. Upset by being sullied and violated [a symbolic suggestion to foreshadow the climactic rape scene], Blanche screams with a piercing cry about stains on her pastel-colored dress: "Right on my pretty pink skirt." She is reassured and recovers when the skirt is gently blotted and the stain comes out:

Stella: Did it stain?
Blanche: No. No, not a bit. Ha-ha (hysterically) Isn't that lucky?
Stella: Why did you scream like that?
Blanche: I don't know why I screamed.

Blanche confides in her sister of her affection for Mitch, believing that she can be rescued, "waited on" and taken away from her problems by marriage:

Mitch is coming at seven. I guess I'm a little nervous about our relations. He hasn't gotten anything more than a goodnight kiss. That's all I've given him, Stella. I want his respect. A man don't want anything they get too easy. On the other hand, men lose interest quickly, especially when a girl is over, over 30...I haven't informed him of my real age.

"Because of hard knocks my vanity's been given," Blanche is sensitive about her advancing age, and she attempts to keep surrounding herself with illusion: "He thinks I'm sort of prim and proper, you know! I want to deceive him just enough to make him want me."

When a young newspaper delivery boy (Wright King) comes to the door to collect the bill for The Evening Star [Stella's name means 'celestial star'] one rainy afternoon, Blanche is attracted to him as a lonely woman pathologically desperate and yearning for sexual attention. He reminds her of her young husband who committed suicide [in her head, she hears polka music again - a flashback reverie of his suicide], and still neurotically grieving, she wants to subconsciously make up for his death. She causes the bashful young man to linger with small talk, first asking for a light for her cigarette and then asking for the time:

Young man. Young, young, young. Did anyone ever tell you you look like a young prince out of the Arabian Nights? You do, honey lamb. Come here. (She seductively offers herself for a maternal kiss - he walks to her.) Come on over here, like I told you. I want to kiss you just once, softly and sweetly [on your mouth]*. *(originally deleted)

But she catches herself after seductively pressing one kiss into his lips, knowing she has a weakness for young males:

Run away now quickly. It would have been nice to keep you, but I've got to be good - and keep my hands off children. Adios. Adios.

Immediately thereafter, Mitch comes around the corner, arriving in the young man's place. She demands that he court her chivalrously: "Look who's here. My Rosenkavalier!" He presents her with flowers, bows chivalrously, and they go on a date to a dancing casino.

Feeling dismal and depressed, they wander to the outside porch of the pier/dock where they talk under a lamppost. She apologizes for not being able to "rise to the occasion...I don't think I've ever tried so hard to be gay and made such a dismal mess of it." Mitch doubtfully asks permission for a kiss, but Blanche declines expressing her natural feelings, explaining that it would encourage other familiarities: "...a single girl, a girl alone in the world, has got to keep a firm hold on her emotions, or she'll be lost." Mitch open-heartedly confesses: "In all my experience, I have never known anyone like you." Blanche reacts with a laugh.

To fulfill more of Blanche's romantic dreams, she wants them to pretend that they are sitting in a little bohemian artists' cafe on the Left Bank in Paris. To create a make-believe, refined atmosphere, she lights a candle stub on the table and asks for "joie de vivre." Apologetic for sweating profusely, Mitch is persuaded to remove his "light weight alpaca" coat and then he explains why he has such an imposing physique and muscular strength - he lifts weights and swims to keep fit.

He expects a kiss and fumbles to embrace her after putting his hands on her waist and raising her off the ground, but she evades him, calling him a "natural gentleman, one of the few left in the world." Then, she excuses herself as having "old-fashioned ideals." She slowly rolls her eyes up toward him. Mitch turns from her to cool off, and there is a long, awkward silence between them.

She asks Mitch if a hostile Stanley has talked about her and what his "attitude" is toward her. Uneasy, Mitch soon changes the subject and asks how old she is. An overgrown mama's boy, he explains that his sick mother wants to know all about her and wishes for him to settle down before she dies (in maybe just a few months). Reminded of a past love affair when she was sixteen, Blanche reveals her discovery of love -

All at once and much, much too completely. It was like you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow, that's how it struck the world for me. But I was unlucky - deluded.

In a very veiled account in the foggy surroundings of the dance casino, she tearfully recalls the details of her tragic early marriage to a handsome youth named Allan. Her memories are a painful reminder and she struggles to talk about how she judgmentally failed to be loving toward him:

  • He was homosexual: "There was something about the boy, a nervousness, a tenderness, an uncertainty that I didn't understand."
  • Blanche wished to satisfy her need to protect and help the young boy: "He lost every job. He came to me for help. I didn't know that. I didn't know anything except that I loved him unendurably."
  • He was possibly impotent with her, his new bride: "At night, I pretended to sleep. I heard him crying. Crying, crying the way a lost child cries."
  • She regretfully blames herself for driving her husband to suicide by cruelly rejecting him - at another dance casino: "I killed him. One night, we drove out to a place called Moon Lake Casino. We danced the Varsouviana! [the polka dance] Suddenly in the middle of the dance floor, the boy I had married broke away from me and ran out of the casino. A few minutes later - a shot! (A distant shot sounds) I ran - all did - all ran and gathered about the terrible thing at the edge of the lake. He stuck a revolver into his mouth and fired. It was because, on the dance floor, unable to stop myself I said - 'You're weak! I've lost respect for you! I despise you!"

Metaphorically, the merciless exposure of the revelation about the young man extinguished the momentarily-illuminated searchlight and dimmed Blanche's world ever since:

And then the searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again and never for one moment since has there been any light stronger than, than this yellow lantern.

Afterwards, Mitch comes over to stand by her and he tentatively consoles her, having been persuaded to revere her as an innocent, wronged woman:

You need somebody. And I need somebody, too. Could it be you and me, Blanche?

He thinks about proposing to her and kisses her forehead. They huddle together and embrace, feeling a mutual need for each other - they kiss on the lips.

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