Tennessee Williams’s play, A Streetcar Named Desire, was an instant success rapidly followed by the 1951 film version by Elia Kazan. Marlon Brando is at his best and the classic has been a favorite of mine for decades. Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine starring Cate Blanchett brought with it great expectations. Which version do you think is better?
In the 1951 film version, Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski played the blue-collared brute whose machismo personality demanded loyalty from his wife Stella and refused to submit to the whims of snobby and mysterious phony, Blanche DuBois, his wife’s sister. Vivian Leigh played the fragile Blanche perfectly. “I have always depended on the kindest of strangers.” Poor Blanche. Once a debutante from an exclusive southern heritage, her father wasted the family fortune and she was reduced to beg for help. Without skills, she pursued an ideal husband who would protect and accept her special skills–the ideal accompaniment for a man, the trophy wife.
Homeless, Blanche arrives at her sister’s apartment in New Orleans, disgusted by the meager lives and decrepit setting. The crash from élite lifestyle to poverty-stricken homelessness is a long drop; she must hold on to her wits while keeping her composure. The contrast from elegant to trashy is what makes the situation interesting.
Blue Jasmine has a similar plot and the point of view from Jasmine is a film showcasing an outstanding talent. Even better than Vivian Leigh. Cate Blanchett captured the fragile, elegant, delusional, sarcastic, loving, self-absorbed Blanche DuBois fantastically. There’s no way she will lose at the Oscars this year!
Caught in a nightmare, what’s a princess to do?
My heart ached for Jasmine who tried to pick herself up and move on from disaster. She tried to improve skills so she could find a job. She muddled through as a receptionist but what she needed was to go back to her earlier, affluent life. The only way she could do that is if she married well.
Karl Malden is the butcher Mitch, a suitor charmed by Leigh’s Blanche, who gives a powerful performance. In Blue Jasmine, a congressman looking for a woman sophisticated enough to match his lifestyle; Blanchett’s Blanche almost catches herself a big fish.
I never thought I’d say Andrew Dice Clay did a good job acting, but there you have it. He was perfect as Auggie, the laborer who epitomized the stereotype and the cast of TV’s crass reality show, Jersey Shore. He listened to Jasmine and her entrepreneur husband, Hal, played by actor Alec Baldwin and lost everything. It was easy, darn right predictable, to see Baldwin in this role—again—the man in charge who is a schmuck.
While Blue Jasmine was not a direct replica of A Streetcar Named Desire, it was easy to associate the two if you consider Cate Blanchett played Blanche DuBois successfully in the Sydney traveling production in 2009, (Joel Edgerton was Stanley) and Alec Baldwin played Kowalski on the stage in the 1990s. The plot, the themes, the tragedy are both similar. Woody Allen’s transformation of a steadfast classic was brilliant. So, too, was the direction by marvelous Elia Kazan. He’s one of my favorite directors.
So which is better? I think it boils down to two performances. Marlon Brando vs. Cate Blanchett.
Who is the winner?