Friday, September 24, 2010

For the Weekend: Can You Take It?

Tomorrow evening, TCM is showing a night full of Tennessee Williams. Williams can be intense, I know, but if you can handle it, be sure to check out these great movies.

First up is the most famous of the bunch at 8pm EST – “A Streetcar Named Desire” from 1951. Starring Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden, it is based on Williams’ 1947 Pulitzer Prize winning play about the deterioration of an emotionally unstable widow while visiting her sister in New Orleans, destroyed by her sister’s husband. Directed by the great Elia Kazan (who directed the play on Broadway), it stars all of the original Broadway cast members except for Jessica Tandy as Blanche. The producers felt they needed more star power for the film version, because at the time, Brando had not yet reached his fame we know now. Leigh, who starred in the London production of “Streetcar” (directed by then-husband Laurence Olivier), was then cast as Blanche after first-choice Olivia de Havilland turned the part down. Only 35 at the time filming, the production had to age Leigh for the part. Also, due to the fact that the rest of the cast knew each other well from the stage production, Leigh felt like a constant outsider on the set, of which Kazan took full advantage to get the performance he needed out of Leigh. It all worked well, because come Oscar night, “Streetcar” went home with 3 out of the 4 acting trophies (a feat matched by only one other movie in history – “Network” from 1976).

After “Streetcar” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at 10:15pm EST (click here for my past blog on “Cat”), it’s “Suddenly, Last Summer” (1959), based on a one-act play of Williams that was teamed up with “Orpheus Descending” to create the production entitled “Garden District” in 1958. The film stars Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Montgomery Clift and tells the story of a woman who goes crazy after witnessing the brutal murder of her cousin the summer before and her aunt’s struggle to keep that secret locked forever. Clift was still getting over his 1956 car crash during filming, relying heavily on drugs and alcohol. Taylor pushed very hard to get him his part. Unfortunately, it was a rough shot for him, not just from the alcohol. Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and producer Sam Spiegel both treated Clift horribly because he was gay. It disgusted Hepburn so much that at the end of filming, when no reshoots were needed, she went off on them and even spat in Spiegel’s face. “Suddenly, Last Summer” is on at 12:15am EST.

Finally, to wrap up the intense evening, “Sweet Bird of Youth” (1962) is on at 2:15am EST. It was adapted and directed by Richard Brooks (2nd husband of Jean Simmons) from Williams’ 1959 play of the same name. Brooks hired the two original stars of the Broadway production to star in it again – Paul Newman and Geraldine Page – as well as supporting actors Rip Torn and Madeleine Sherwood. They were joined this time around by Shirley Knight and Ed Begley (yes, father of Ed Begley Jr.) Page won a Tony for her stage performance and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress from the film. Knight also earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but Begley was the only one from the group to win, for Best Supporting Actor. Like most of Williams’ plays, “Sweet Bird” was also altered and tamed down a bit for film as well, changing the ending to something a little less harsh than the original play called for.

It may be quite a lot to take in in one sitting, but try your best to catch Tennessee Williams night tomorrow eve on TCM. They are all great films that everyone should see. Enjoy your weekend, and I’ll be back Monday like always!

(Post-tidbit: Kazan utilized another insider trick to help show Blanche’s growing insanity in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” As the story progresses, the sets get smaller and smaller to convey a sense of claustrophobia. He did this by not connecting any of the walls of the set.)

No comments:

Post a Comment