Term Paper, 2006
17 Pages, Grade: 2,7
2 "No appropriate film project": Joseph Breen and his demands on A Streetcar Named Desire
3 The compromise with the MPAA
4 Censored scenes
4.1 Raw meat
4.2 Allan Grey
4.3 The rape
5 Symbolic cutting
6 The ending: Punishing the brute
Tennesse Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the most successful plays in the history of American drama. It was written in 1947 and first staged on December 3, 1947 at the Barrymore Theatre in New York. Blanche DuBois was played by Jessica Tandy, who had worked with Tennessee Williams before. Marlon Brando played Stanley Kowalski and Kim Hunter played Stella, his wife. The Broadway stage production was directed by Elia Kazan.
As the play had been such a great success one quickly began to discuss the production of a film version. Nearly the entire Broadway cast was kept for the film, apart from Jessica Tandy, who was replaced by Vivien Leigh. Leigh seemed to promise a larger success due to her award-winning performance in Gone with the Wind about ten years earlier. She had played Blanche in Laurence Olivier's production of A Streetcar Named Desire in London. Similar to the play, the film was directed by Elia Kazan.
Kazan's attempt was to stick to the play as much as possible. He and Tennessee Williams were working together closely on the development of the script. The screenplay itself was written by Oliver Saul who had to rewrite a few passages but mostly followed the dramatist's version.
The plot of A Streetcar Named Desire raised the interest of industry censor Joseph Breen, who was "the official administrator of the Code of the Motion Picture Association of America" (Phillips 1980: 81). Breen doubted the subjects discussed in A Streetcar Named Desire to be acceptable in case that they were presented in a motion picture. Although both Williams and Kazan were in opposition to the censor's demands, they were forced to find compromises as the association's influence on the audience was remarkably strong.
This paper discusses the scenes that had to undergo a change as a consequence of censorship. I will compare the dramatic text and action with the film plot and try to depict the problems concerning the story, which do appear, even if Kazan and Williams did their very best to avoid this. I will illustrate how Kazan used subtle images and hints in attempt to transport the message he had been forbidden to transport. The ending of the film is of special interest and will be dealt with more explicitly as it changes not only the plot but also special features of the characters. Small modifications through which only little is lost in translation will not be discussed.
When A Streetcar Named Desire was planned to become a motion picture Joseph Breen, who was working for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), began to worry about the content of the film being appropriate for a motion picture. The point he made was that the movies were a mass medium, and therefore a family medium, and that A Streetcar Named Desire was not a play being suitable for the whole family (Phillips 1993: 229).
The MPPA followed a strict guideline, the Motion Picture Production Code, which forbid among others the following issues:
1. Adultery and illicit sex …
2. Scenes of passion …
b) lustful and open-mouth kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive posture and gestures are not to be shown.
3. Seduction or rape …
4. The methods and techniques of prostitution …
5. Sex perversion or any inference of it …
(Schumach quoted from Schröder 1983: 106)
Breen's demands concentrated on two scenes in particular, namely the reference to homosexuality and the rape. Both were impossible matters to be treated in a motion picture at that time. He demanded Kazan to change the scene where Blanche tells Mitch about her former husband, Allan Grey, who had committed suicide after she had found out about his homosexuality. The scene in which Stanley rapes Blanche while Stella is in hospital giving birth to her baby he labelled as totally inappropriate and expected its deletion.
As both Williams and Kazan were forced to cooperate with Breen, they omitted the direct reference to homosexuality. But Williams refused to eliminate the rape scene, writing a letter to Breen which said that
 The movie was about to receive a "C" (condemned) rating from the Catholic Legion of Decency, which would have meant that catholic viewers would be discouraged from seeing the film.
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