A wilting Southern belle visits her sister in wartime New Orleans with plans to swindle her, but the sister's brutish husband, Stanley, sees through her.
In transferring Tennessee Williams' play from stage to screen, Elia Kazan was obliged to brush up the ending to suggest the brutish Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando) is punished for his abuse of faded belle Blanche (Vivien Leigh) by the loss of the love of his wife Stella (Kim Hunter), Blanche's sister. However, director and writer fought to keep in the precedent-setting rape scene as Stanley mauls Blanche in front of a symbolically broken mirror, and the bedroom tussle cuts to an orgasmic hose washing garbage off the street.
In a wonderfully seedy New Orleans apartment, at once an Expressionist set to delight the fantasist Williams and a realistic locale to appease Kazan's documentary streak, Brando has as much trouble as the Incredible Hulk keeping his tight shirts and sweaty vests untorn, while Leigh flutters mesmerisingly as Scarlett O'Hara gone battily to seed. Made when Brando could strip to the waist on screen and excite shivers of lust not disgust, this scooped three acting Oscars - for Leigh, Hunter and Karl Malden, but not, surprisingly, Brando.
Epic performances in a movie that seethes with atmosphere.