Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” - Contrasting the Play With the Movie from 1951 Directed by Elia Kazan

Seminar Paper, 2009

18 Pages, Grade: 1,8



2. Introduction

3. Differences in the general conversion of scene ten and eleven
3.1 Music and Noises
3.2 Censorship

4. Conclusion

5. Works Cited

2. Introduction

“’The marvelous performances in [this] great movie [...] [are] only slightly marred by [a] Hollywood ending.’ Tennessee Williams” (cf. Yacowar).

Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire” from 1947 was often staged and interpreted. It was also the base of Elia Kazan’s famous and remarkable movie from 1951. Since a book allows for interpretation, the movie features a different realization. This paper will contrast the written form with the film version. To illustrate the different realizations there will be a closer look at the two special and important scenes, ten and eleven, which are exemplarily for the differences in the general conversion. The decision for exactly these scenes is founded in the striking differences in conversion and adaptation and by reason of plenty of content rapidly beat down in these scenes. Due to many influences, the film departs in places completely from Williams’ original. These influences and differences will be described in the following first part. Particular attention will then be paid to the music and noises, and the moods and emotions caused by these. And, due to being close linked to the adaptation of the whole movie, the effects of censorship will be explained. The impact is to work out in which ways the movie is adapted to the play and where it distinguishes from it.

3. Differences in the general conversion of scene ten and eleven

The general differences are varieties in the text that constantly influenced the plot and the characters. Opening with scene ten, there are text changes and interleaves that are of little importance, as well as in scene eleven. But when the rape and violence is introduced in this scene, the movie differs strongly in places from the play. To begin with some examples, the play says Stanley first “unbuttons his shirt” (Williams 138) during he is talking to Blanche after he was sent home from the hospital where Stella is going to give birth to her baby, and then he “starts removing” (Williams 139) it. The script states that “he takes off his shirt and tosses it down” (Garrett 461), which is much more provocative and gives the act more power and determination. Then the situation when Stanley has detected Blanche’s lie about her invitation and the wire of Shep Huntleigh, differs. In the movie Stanley jostled Blanche on the bed to tell her what he thinks about her and the lies, although the script does not claim that, this is already a sign for the rape. The play also does not state that Stanley already turned violent, instead Blanche additionally says that he shall not come into the bedroom, whereupon he goes into the bathroom (cf. Williams). Next, in the script she wants to flee fast from the situation of being exposed and opens the door. Further it is said, that only the struggles on the street hinder her from walking out, but instead, the movie shows the same old woman selling flowers for the dead, as in scene nine, when Mitch is taking Blanche to task, after Stanley has sold her out. This remembers her again, also like in scene nine, of her dead husband and the situation at Belle Reve, where she was surrounded by death. So she is frightened again of this memory and she bangs the door and starts phoning. The play describes “lurid reflections” and “grotesque and menacing shadows” (Williams 143) that scare her, but she immediately goes to the phone. When she is already talking to the operator, she pauses for going into the kitchen where she also watches struggling people that move her back to the phone. Important are also the different moments, when Stanley leaves into the bathroom and returns later. In the movie he goes there directly before Blanche wants to escape; in the book he leaves when Blanche already went to the phone. His return in the play is announced by his noisy opening of the bathroom door. It is not clear if he got Blanche’s call. In the script, however, Stanley suddenly stands beside Blanche at the phone and it is explicitly said that “he has overheard her call for help” (Garrett 466). The eminent difference between those two versions is that Stanley has a more powerful role in the film script than in the play; he has Blanche in his grip with his immediate appearances that scare her. He seems more violent and vicious in the movie because the audience can/should feel that he has already planned something in his mind. Generally striking are also the interleaves of the humoristic, sarcastic, or ironic notes, primarily of Stanley. For example, the following dialogues:

BLANCHE: Does that mean we are to be alone in here?

STANLEY: Yep. Just me and you, Blanche. Unless you got somebody hid under your bed.


BLANCHE: I think so. An invitation.

STANLEY: What to? A fireman’s ball?

(Williams 137)

The italic parts, which should be a little sign of amusement, are left out in the film. And this scheme is kept through the whole scene: all easy statements or joking notes of Stanley are deleted. This provides the argument that the scene and the character of Stanley have more strength of purpose in the movie than in the play. Vice versa, Blanche went even more soft and helpless. Everything is more straightened to the ultimate rape. What leads to the next general difference in the comparison of these two versions of this scene; the script imputes a direct criminal intent to Stanley, whereas the play is more vague and it does not imply a plan. This is confirmed by the fact that in the script, Stanley is “going to close the front door” (Garrett 466), what shows the audience that he is intentionally blocking Blanche’s last way out of her misery. Williams against only described Stanley standing or respectively “waving” between the door and Blanche, and when she asks him to get by, he even “moves back a pace” (Williams 145), what does not implicitly accentuate his intent with ultimate power. The last radical alteration in the movie is, of course, the rape itself. Tennessee Williams already just hints at the rape and does not explain every detail, but the movie really just shows the fighting of the two in a big mirror where Blanche’s face bursts in the end, when Stanley hit her. Only the text “we’ve had this date with each other from the beginning!” (Garrett 468) tells the audience that this is going on a sexual level. If one has not read the play or seen the Broadway production, it must not be clear if Stanley really rapes Blanche. But the reasons for this way of adapting this scene will be discussed later.

To come to scene eleven, the observing audience immediately perceives the different introductions to this scene. The movie shows the view out of Stella’s flat to the street. “Garbage is being collected” and “someone is cleaning the front of a store with a hose” (Garrett 468), what shows the great symbolism of the play and Kazan’s movie. Directly after the rape, dirt and garbage is removed. In connection to the scene before, one can come to think that this already gives a hint to Blanche’s leaving, because this also suggests the interpretation that Blanche is seen as dirt or garbage by the people she lives with. It is also picked up the “water-theme” by this entrance. Blanche is bathing very often throughout the whole story, and her only place of refuge and privacy is the bathroom. As the reader already knows from her confessions in the scenes before, she is not as clean as she wants to suggest with her behaviour and insistence on manners. So, her bathing in connection with the hose that washes the dirt away, can be interpreted as symbols for her wish to be “clean”, innocent, and pure again. Going with that argument, an important fact is lacking in the movie. Even though it is written explicitly in the script exactly the way as in the play, Blanche’s discourse about her death on the sea, right before she is picked up by the doctor, is missing.

BLANCHE: I can smell the sea air. […] The rest of my days I’m going to spend on the sea, and when I die I’m going to die on the sea. One day out on the ocean I will die – with my hand in the hand of some nice-looking ship’s doctor – a very young one with a small blonde moustache and a big silver watch. […] And I’ll be buried at sea […] dropped over board at noon […] and into an ocean as blue as – the blue of my first lover’s eyes!

(Garrett 475)

This discourse with the main focus on water is suggesting, the same as her constant bathing, “the traditional association of purification; [and] there is also the implication of Lethe and [thus] forgetfulness” (Griffin 68). By this ellipsis, which is not known to be caused by censorship, Blanche does not even ask for forgiveness. Her last poetic speech in the story is left out to enforce the image of desperation. And further, this fantasy, staging, or dream of her death, was her last straw she grasped at to stay in life. Another important condition is the time specification in the book, whereas the movie tells nothing about how much time passed between the rape and Blanche’s departure. It could be one day or, as in the play, weeks later. So there is no orientation given, how Blanche is and what she and her environment has done meanwhile. Only the fact that the baby carriage is showed, tells that it must be at least a few days later. Besides that, Eunice is taking care about the baby instead Stella should do this, but the play does not even cater for the baby. But the last argument is the most important difference between the two conversions; the ending. Williams' original means that Stella cannot believe Blanche, otherwise she would have to leave Stanley, but she stays with him, also for the baby. But the movie shows Stella finally believing Blanche, not forgiving Stanley and leaving him. When he calls for Stella after Blanche has left with the doctor, she says: “`we’re not going back in there. [...] We’re never going back. Never, never back, never back again.’ And then Stella turns and procedes [...] to Eunice’s apartment” (Garrett 484). This makes clear that there is an enormous discrepancy which deserves closer attention. But due to the fact that many factors and reasons play a role with the decision to change the ending, this attention has to be paid afterwards.


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” - Contrasting the Play With the Movie from 1951 Directed by Elia Kazan
University of Tubingen  (Englisches Seminar)
Introduction to Literary Studies
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ISBN (Book)
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Elia Kazan, Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, Endstation Sehnsucht
Quote paper
Valerie Hurst (Author), 2009, Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” - Contrasting the Play With the Movie from 1951 Directed by Elia Kazan, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/144831


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