A Streetcar Named Desire: Steelbook Edition Blu-ray Review
The disc presents a theatrically correct academy ratio 1.37:1 1080p AVC MPEG4 encoded transfer and is Region free.
The first thing that sticks out from the sixty year old black and white film is how much detail is present within the image, be it skin texture, clothing weaves, the dirt and grime of the flat, the intricate knick knacks that adorn the mantel piece, the beads of sweat on foreheads, the individual feathers of dress wear, there are clear and definite edges, both fore and background that rarely if ever softens.
Brightness and contrast are set to give terrific greyscale with some definite blacks in the deeper shadows of the apartment – this gives some real punch to the picture at times even if the elusive 3D pop is absent there is still a strong sense of presence.
Digitally there are no compression problems, no edge enhancement or aliasing to content with. There is the occasional print blemish, but the print retains its grain structure giving a wonderful feel to the image. On the whole this is a very pleasing picture.
I opted for the English dts-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound track. The original sound design, including the score, was intended to mirror the claustrophobia of the visuals, thus it is wise that there has been no 5.1 surround mix included, just the original track, cleaned up, as it was intended. And the clean-up has been very good with little to no audible back ground hiss and no audible pops of clicks of any kind. Even in mono there is a great definition to the layering between the sound, i.e. the over speaking of the dialogue, sound effects and score – each has its place. During some of the more heated arguments each piece of dialogue is clearly audible. Indeed, dialogue, the most important part of this track is always clear and precise, even if it is, at times, a little bass light. Effects are, obviously, very limited, but trains, trams, thunder and rain are present and sit very well within the sound field, with bass being very limited. There is nothing unnatural at all and it is a credit to the sound design that one channel can remain so very atmospheric. Great stuff.
- Audio Commentary – A cobbled together track with Karl Malden, Rudy Behlmer and Jeff Young who talk extensively about the film, the play, the casting, the performances and more. Despite its edited together nature that pacing is well exercised and relevant to the on screen action and all three supply a wealth of information about the film – not just for fans of the film.
- Elia Kazan: A Director's Journey (1.15.32, SD) – A portrait of the enigmatic director told through his own words. Examines his early career as an actor, fledgling director through to his filmic output and impact he had on Hollywood and the actors who worked for him. Glosses over perhaps the most notorious; his participation and naming names in the Un-American Activities Committee hearings which damaged his career and hurt his peers, however as this piece is more a celebration of his life and work we will just have to forgive it this omission. And as a celebration it works very well and explores in great detail his life and works – the whole thing is narrated by Eli Wallach.
- A Streetcar on Broadway (22.01, SD) – A closer examination of the Williams’ original play, its themes, casting and Broadway run with contributions from major cast, crew and film historians, all of whom appear in each of the documentaries and features on this set.
- A Streetcar in Hollywood (28.10, SD) – An even closer examination of how the play was adapted for the screen and the compromises that had to be made to pass the censors as well as a look at the casting, character and story analysis as well as direction choices (such as filming in sequence) by Kazan.
- Censorship and Desire (16.21, SD) – A look at what changes were demanded from the censorship board just to get the film made, and then what was cut after the fact so as not to offend the ‘Catholic Legion of Decency’ whose ‘wrong’ endorsement could have meant box office failure – this was not limited to visual editing, but included musical cues too!
- North and the Music of the South (09.14, SD) – Alex North’s influential score for ‘Streetcar’ is discussed by Robert Townson who explains how it demonstrates the mental state of each character as well as its legacy.
- An Actor Named Brando (08.53, SD) – A brief look at the career of the magnetic star through the eyes of those that knew and respected him, doesn’t delve anywhere near deep enough to be of any real significance, but it serves as a decent introduction.
- Marlon Brando Screen Test (05.06, SD) – See the star test for A Rebel Without a Cause, very interesting bit of footage.
- Outtakes (15.38, SD) – Should really be entitled alternative takes and is a selection of scenes shown unedited, great for film buffs.
- Audio Outtakes (17.01) – Similar to the above, only this time just the audio exists.
- Trailers – Original release, 1958 and 1970 reissue trailers.
A Streetcar Named Desire is a powerful and compelling piece of cinema as testified by its numerous awards, place on the AFI top 100, critical and commercial success. It was developed for the screen by the original writer and starred the same actors and director that had made it such a huge success on Broadway; its success was pretty much guaranteed. It tells the story of Blanche DuBois a ‘Southern belle’ who has fallen on desperate times and moves in with her sister, Stella and her husband, Stanley. Stanley dominates Stella in every way, physically, mentally and emotionally, but they have a primal relationship which is only upset by the arrival of Blanche, whose loose grip on reality soon starts to unravel under the pressure of Stanley’s relentless authority. With themes of repressed sexuality, homosexuality, alcoholism, nymphomania, domestic abuse and rape the film is as relevant today as it was sixty years ago. Whilst its deliberate pacing and talkative nature may be take some getting used to by those familiar to the more ‘fast cut and pace’ cinema of modern times, such films could learn an awful lot about character, dialogue delivery and simple raw energy when it comes to story. Told by a young, hungry and energetic team of actors and makers who were at the very top of their game, including a mesmerising performance by Marlon Brando in a career making part, the film is simply a must see for admirers of the cinematic art.
As a Blu-ray set this Region free Steelbox edition from Warner contains the restored (director's intended) version of the film that has a picture that belies its age, being detailed with strong contrast; a sound track that is clean, detailed and clearly audible and a whole host of extra material that delves deep into the making of the film by those associated with it. Highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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