Censorship In A Streetcar Named Desire

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In 1951 A Streetcar Named Desire was brought to the big screen with most of the cast of the original play. But the play seen on broadway was much different than the story in the film version. Back then, Broadway plays were mostly not subject to censorship, while on the other hand, Hollywood was very different. Following a conservative American society, films were regularly edited, removing “unsavory” material. This, however, did A Streetcar Named Desire a great injustice, making it ultimately unpowerful. The difference between the play and movie Demonstrates how censorship limited the filmmakers, but also how filmmakers could get around these and still get those troublesome points across.

While creating a movie in this time, producers turned to Joseph Breen, head of the production code Administration (PCA). The PCA was the main oversight for all motion pictures and “no film… was to be released without a PCA Seal of approval” (lev 88). Paramount, the first production company to attempt moving this play into a movie, asked Breen why the play could be performed on stage, but not through film. His answer was that “the production code is quite patently sat down in the knowledge that motion pictures, unlike stage plays, appeal to mass audiences; to the mature and immature, to the young and not-so-young. Because these motion pictures are exhibited rather indiscriminately among all kinds of classes and audiences” (Shumach, The Face on the Cutting Room Floor, 73). There were simply different audiences between plays and films and censors viewed their job as a responsibility to show only high-quality films acceptable for all ages. At this point in time, there was no rating system like we have now, so everyone with the money could go and view any movie of their liking no matter their age, so the PCA believed they needed to censor the public.

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When Paramount backed down, Warner Brothers led by Charles K Feldman, decided to take on the risky task. Feldman collaborated with Kazan to direct the film and the screenplay was written by the author himself, Tennessee Williams. When it made its way to the sensors they first eliminated the “Damns” and “Hells” (Shumach, The Face on The Cutting Room Floor). Then Breen Got ahold of it and brought up larger topics such as Homosexuality. Kazan was willing to lose this battle hoping to win others and was supposedly not too fond of it anyways.

Breen then went after another topic, trying to get rid of the rape which was a big part of the ending in the play. Williams finally spoke up saying that he would not allow this part to be removed. He stated that in “Streetcar” this is a pivotal point in this extremely moral play, and in the truth within it. Without this part, in Williams eyes, the play loses all meaning. Finally, after much negotiation, Breen caved in and allowed the rape to be part of the film, but something still had to change in regards to the ending. The play ends in Stella not believing the rape happened, but Breen did not think this was ok because something had to happen to the husband because of his wrongdoings or it would look bad on him, so instead Williams reluctantly agreed to have stalled run out of her house with her baby, and not go back to her husband.

Bringing a play into the film world in the early 1950s was a real challenge and you could see it through A Streetcar Named Desire. The difference between the play and movie Demonstrates how censorship limited the filmmakers, but also how filmmakers could get around these and still get those troublesome points across. Broadway had way less censorship than the film industry, believing they needed to censor the broad audience they were catering towards.   

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