Before his feature presentation, Henry elected to show What’s Opera, Doc?, which was rated the #1 cartoon ever in a 1994 poll of 1000 animators.
Directed by Chuck Jones, What’s Opera, Doc? was about six-times as labor-intensive as the other cartoons of its era. Depending on your point of view, it’s an homage to or a parody of opera, and the music for the cartoon is drawn entirely from the works of Richard Wagner: Tannhäuser, The Flying Dutchman, and two works from Wagner’s 17-hour Ring Cycle, Sigfried and Die Walküre. Yes, those Walküre. The plot is not particularly important. What is important is this (sing along with me!): KILL DA WABBIT, KILL DA WABBIT, KILL DA WABBIT, KILL DA WABBIT! Of course, Elmer is remorseful once da wabbit is finally killed, but it’s a cartoon. Bugs can come back next week.
The funny thing about A Streetcar Named Desire (at least to me) is that everybody but Marlon Brando, director Elia Kazan, and writer Tennessee Williams won an Oscar for it. No offense to Kim Hunter and Karl Malden, or even to Vivien Leigh, whose performance as Blanche DuBois was basically flawless, but this movie was completely driven by Brando, the direction, and the screenplay.
The story revolves around the incredibly sweaty Stanley Kowalski (“Don’t you ever call me a Pollack”), who despite his perspiration was quite the ladykiller here, and his sister-in-law, the disgraced and alcoholic Blanche DuBois. As a result of what she claims to be misfortunes, Blanche has come to New Orleans to live with the only family she has left. Unfortunately, Stanley hates her because she’s a snob, and she hates Stanley because she’s a snob. Well, that and she finds him a brutish animal, which given his physical and mental abuse of her pregnant sister Stella is probably reasonable.
Instead of being repulsed by Stanley’s brutish qualities, Stella is in fact attracted by them. (“He smashed all the lightbulbs with the heel of my slipper…Actually, I was sorta thrilled by it.”) Blanche, of course, does her best to cause a rift between Stanley and Stella. When Blanche delays Stanley’s poker game by trying to put the moves on his friend Mitch, well, Stanley goes a bit crazy, smashes a radio, and then beats Stella on account of sticking up for Blanche. Ladies…this is poker, we’re talking about. This is not a joke.
Anyhow, Stella gets her wits about her and runs off, but unfortunately only to the upstairs neighbors’ place. All it really takes is a well-timed “Stellllllaaaaa” from Stanley to get her back. Stanley is not about to take this lying down, so he starts snooping into Blanche’s past. On top of her alcoholism, she’s not quite as squeaky clean as she tries to make herself out to be. Like well-known-for-affairs, got-fired-as-a-teacher-for-bonking-a-17-year-old-student unsqueaky. Stanley’s hardly the guy to keep the lid on this sort of dirt, and his revelations pretty much ruin Blanche’s burgeoning romance with Mitch.
To be honest, this is probably a blessing in disguise. Why? Let me quote the wisest extant discourse on Godzilla and related unintended consequences of the nuclear testing of the 1950s, courtesy of the fine folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000:
“To wrap it up, the worst mutation/ No! You don’t suppose!/ Oh yes it is, the horror of horrors/ Karl Malden’s nose!”
It gets worse though, because Stanley, drunk in celebration of his newly-arrived son, commits the minor faux pas of raping Blanche. The combination of the rape and Stella’s refusal to believe Blanche’s story drive Blanche over the edge and lead to her famously ironic line, delivered to the doctor who arrives to escort her to the looney bin: “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.” Her sister’s asylum commitment, orchestrated by Stanley, is the final straw for Stella – she leaves Stanley (by going upstairs again, this time with her baby) and we are led to believe that even his well-timed “Stellllaaaa!” is not going to work this time around.
What else can I say? It’s a classic, and I saw it for the first time at Cinema 1544. Thanks, Henry!