So there are generally two things you take away from A Streetcar Named Desire. One is the fact that Vivien Leigh doesn’t just chew the scenery as Blanche du Bois - she swallows it only to regurgitate it, eat it again, and bring home a doggy bag. The other is that despite the fact that you can’t understand Marlon Brando even when he’s yelling, his portrayal of Stanley Kowalski is even more exquisite when held up next to that of Leigh’s over-dramatic performance.
Basically, the rapidly-becoming-unhinged Blanche moves in with her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter) and Stella’s husband, Stanley, in New Orleans after being fired for sleeping with a student (she initially told Stella that she was allowed a brief hiatus to recollect herself after her nerves were getting the better of her). It probably also helps to mention that Blanche feels responsible for her husband’s suicide (one of many parts of the play that was omitted for the film was that Blanche’s husband was discovered having a gay affair).
Stanley is your typical brutish oaf. He likes to drink and play cards with his buddies, and he thinks nothing of roughing up his old lady, with the typical apologetic “Don’t leave me” afterwards. (The famous “Stella! Stella!” should come to mind about now.)
Stella is your typical battered woman who can’t leave her man. She’s attracted to his physical outbursts, and they have that kind of volatile relationship that they keep going back to, knowing full well that someone is going to get potentially irreparably hurt in the long run. And, of course, she ultimately ends up pregnant with his baby.
Blanche is, in no uncertain terms, a slut. She asks random young men that she has just met if they’ll let her kiss them “on the mouth,” and she flirts with any man who even looks in her general direction. She even hooks one of them in - a friend of Stanley’s named Mitch (Karl Malden), who is in love with her - that is, until he discovers truths about her past that she tried to keep hidden from him.
Unless you were familiar with the play, or had access to an internet connection, you probably wouldn’t have gathered from the film that Stanley, in the end, rapes Blanche in an ultimate power-play while Stella is off having his baby. (Damn softening of the material to be less controversial.) This results in Blanche have a complete and utter mental breakdown and being carted off to the loony bin with Stella vowing, baby in arms, that she will never go back to Stanley again. But who can be sure?
The film’s ending differs from that of the original ending of the play, which features Stella being wordlessly consoled by Stanley as her sister is hauled away. In that sense, the ending to the film is preferable but also predictably Hollywood. Of course we want to see Stella throw that douche to the curb, but in reality, would she? She was never strong enough to leave him before, and now she has his baby...during the ‘50s when women didn’t work as often. Something tells me she isn’t going anywhere.