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Art and Censorship

Elia Kazan's Film "A Streetcar Named Desire" Compared to Tennessee Williams's Play

von Henriette Plienow (Autor)

Hausarbeit 2008 16 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The Movie’s Background: Making a Film Out Of a Play
2.1 The Cast
2.2 Director Elia Kazan
2.3 Censorship
2.3.1 The Production Code Administration
2.3.2 The Catholic Legion of Decency
2.3.3 The restored 1993 version

3 Changes Made for Artistic Reasons
3.1 Scene One
3.2 Further Opening Up the Setting
3.3 Music
3.4 Conclusion

4 Changes Caused by Censorship
4.1 Stella’s Stairwalk 1951 and
4.2 Allan’s Homosexuality
4.3 Stanley Rapes Blanche
4.4 The Ending

5 Conclusion: Streetcar - a Photographed Play?

Works Cited

1 Introduction

Why did Warner Bros. choose to produce a Streetcar movie version? During the 1950s, it was common in the United States to use literary texts, such as best-selling novels and successful Broadway plays, as a basis for movie scripts. Moreover, Tennessee Williams had already been a popular and successful writer since The Glass Menagerie had been performed in 1945. When A Streetcar Named Desire went into production as a film, it had already and very been successfully performed on Broadway for two years under the direction of Elia Kazan.

Film studios underwent great financial risks with each single film production. They had to make sure a film would attract a large audience and would thus be profitable. Hence Warner Bros. saw an opportunity to turn already successful and popular material into a profitable film. (Schröder 89-90)

One should expect that a play like A Streetcar Named Desire could easily be turned into a movie version. The play, which falls into the genre of heightened realism (Costanzo Cahir 72), bears many resemblances to certain movie features. This can possibly be attributed to the fact that Tennessee Williams had already been a signed film script writer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1943, four years prior to the first performance of Streetcar on Broadway. Perhaps his experience in films was the reason that – as well as his other plays – Streetcar does not adher to conventional drama structure (i.e. five acts) but consists of several scenes, similar to a movie.

Moreover, the visual elements he uses, such as spot lights, projections and music are more typical of the film genre than of drama. (Schröder 91) Or, as Williams himself said: “I write my plays in a cinematic style . . .” (qtd. in Schröder 91).

For these reasons, this paper compares the play’s text with Elia Kazan’s movie version from 1951 as well as with the so-called ‘restored version’ from 1993 (which contains additional scenes that had been removed by the censors in the 1951 version). It examines the differences between text and film, considering changes which were made for merely artistic respectively medium-typical reasons, as well as changes which were made due to censorship, and most importantly: which effects those changes had.

2 The Movie’s Background: Making a Film Out Of a Play

2.1 The Cast

According to Kazan’s wish, all actors from his Broadway production joined the film cast - except for Jessica Tandy, who was replaced by Vivien Leigh as Blanche. Jessica Tandy, though as an actress preferred by Kazan, was not considered to be commercial enough for ensuring profit of a major motion picture by the studio. Vivien Leigh, on the contrary, had already starred in Gone With T he Wind and was a movie star big enough to ‘carry’ the presence of the then rather unknown other Broadway actors. (Schickel 211)

The rest of the cast consisted of Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, Kim Hunter as Stella Kowalski and Karl Malden as Harold Mitchell (Mitch). (Schröder 92-93) In order to preserve the theatre atmosphere, Kazan rehearsed every scene with the actors “as if it were a play, and then we photographed it.” (Young 80)

2.2 Director Elia Kazan

Williams personally wished that Kazan would direct the movie, but as Kazan put it, at first he “didn't want to do the film” because he hated “to do things twice.” (Baer and Kazan 134) It was only out of his friendship and respect towards Williams that he finally agreed to direct the movie. Afraid that he might be bored with the same material and with a great ambition to turn the drama into a movie script, he decided to ‘open the script up’.

Opening it up meant: Kazan wanted to make the play fit the visual medium of the motion picture, so at first he decided against producing simply a filmed theatre piece. Together with a screenwriter he edited the script to show Blanche’s past, Belle Reve and her time in Laurel (which is called “Auriol” in the movie) on screen. After all, a movie – in contrast to a play – is not restricted to a single, fixed setting.

However, he quickly changed his mind when he realized that “William’s [sic] play is a contemporary classic and not to be fooled with. . . . There’s only one thing to do, I thought, take the book and just photograph the play.” (Young 79–80) Kazan understood that the confined setting in the Kowalski’s two-room-apartment created “intense actions and tense dialogue” in a “claustrophobic set.” (Schickel 216) He he did not want to lose the play’s original character by changing the setting.

The close friendship between Kazan and Williams and the fact that they had already worked together on the Broadway version added to an approach that was very close to the text. For this reason, the movie’s overall content, plot and chronology are mostly identical to the theatre script (Schröder 102-104). However, despite Kazan’s determination to stay as closely to the text as possible, a large number of small and subtle, yet significant changes were made due to movie censorship.

2.3 Censorship

Streetcar was subjected to censorship by two institutions: Firstly, the Production Code Administration (PCA) which was the film industry’s own censorship office. Secondly, the Catholic Legion of Decency, an independent organization which issued ratings for movies.

Why were movies subject to heavy censorship and why was Streetcar as a movie censored and not as a play on Broadway? The answer lies in the following excerpt of the film industry’s Production Code:

F. Everything possible in a play is not possible in a film.

- Because of the larger audience of the film, and its consequential mixed character. Psychologically, the larger the audience, the lower the moral mass resistance to suggestion.

- Because through light, enlargement of character, presentation, scenic emphasis, etc., the screen story is brought closer to the audience than the play. . . .

In general, the mobility, popularity, accessibility, emotional appeal, vividness, straight-forward presentation of the fact in the film make for more intimate contact with a larger audience and for greater emotional appeal.

Hence the larger moral responsibilities of the motion pictures. (Quigley and Lord, qtd. in Doherty 359)

While a play usually reaches only a specific and limited audience, a film is open to every kind of audience from a diversity of social backgrounds and age groups. The Catholic authors of the Production Code saw the film industry’s responsibility in taking these facts into consideration and thus protecting the public from ‘moral degeneration’ by censoring violence, sex and crime in motion pictures. Or, as Kazan put it in the interview titled “A Quiz for Kazan”: “Censorship is a serious limitation in films; the stage is still free.” (15) Nevertheless, as it will be seen, the PCA and the Catholic Legion of Decency often had different views on the Production Code and on what had to be censored.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
505 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Elia Kazan Tennessee Williams Marlon Brando Vivien Leigh A Streetcar Named Desire Film Broadway Karl Malden


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    Henriette Plienow (Autor)


Titel: Art and Censorship