MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
Blanche depending on the kindness of strangers, Maggie and Brick trying to get on Big Daddy's good side. All this is found in a new DVD release, The Tennessee Williams Film Collection. Our movie critic Bob Mondello says it's a reminder of the impact that one of America's great playwrights had on Hollywood.
BOB MONDELLO reporting:
The south, as Tennessee Williams sees it, is filled with southern belles who never wear anything but a slip and handsome brutes who drive them crazy.
Ms. ELIZABETH TAYLOR (as Margaret Pollitt): You know what I feel like? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof.
Mr. PAUL NEWMAN (as Brick Pollitt): Then jump off the roof, Maggie, jump off. Cat's jump off roofs and they land uninjured. Do it, jump.
Ms. TAYLOR (as Margaret Politt): Jump where? Into what?
Mr. MONDELLO: Elizabeth Taylor at the peak of her career, Paul Newman just coming into his. Cat was Williams' fifth picture in six years, all based on his stage plays. No playwright had ever crossed over to Hollywood so successfully. Arthur Miller even married Marilyn Monroe, but still didn't come close. As it happens, Miller's Death of Salesman and Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire were both turned into very good films in 1951, but Death of a Salesman got nominated for five Oscars and Streetcar for 12.
Mr. MARLON BRANDO (as Stanley Kowalski): Hey Stella. Hey Stella.
MONDELLO: Marlon Brando pretty much rewrote the book on American acting when he played Stanley Kowalski. But if you think it was all Brando, that the words didn't matter even with a line with just one word like that. Well, here's an outtake where Brando adlibbed.
Mr. BRANDO (as Stanley Kowalski): Hey, honey.
MONDELLO: Honey doesn't ring quite the same does it? The extras in the Tennessee Williams film collection are great fun including lots of outtakes and a Brando screen test for Rebel Without a Cause that suggests that if he had made that film instead of James Dean, the high school rebel might actually have been a criminal.
(Soundbite from Rebel Without a Cause screen test)
Mr. BRANDO (as Jim Stark): If we could get a boat going down the river it wouldn't cost us anything, and we could go another town and live. And there I could pull a job, one job, an easy one. And that would give us enough dough to keep going.
Unidentified Woman#1 (as Judy): Well where'd we go?
Mr. BRANDO (as Jim Stark): Well I don't know. We'll go to another country.
MONDELLO: It's nice that they included that bit of non-Williams dialogue, because it points out the difference between ordinary speech and the heightened speech of even a bad Tennessee Williams script, like the one for Baby Doll.
Ms. CARROLL BAKER (as Baby Doll Meighan): Ain't they got some plan to round up destructive men and shoot them?
Mr. KARL MALDEN (as Archie Lee Meighan): Well what destructive men you talking about?
Ms. BAKER (as Baby Doll Meighan): Men that blows things up and burns things down. 'Cause they're too evil and too stupid to get along otherwise. 'Cause fair competition is too much for them, so they turn criminal.
MONDELLO: Baby Doll is supremely silly, as is the Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone in which Warren Beatty plays an Italian gigolo whose suits fit him better than his accent does.
Mr. WARREN BEATTY (as Paolo di Leo): I, too, and drifting, senior. The whole world, everybody, the stars, everything is drifting. Is it so bad to drift?
MONDELLO: By the time Night of the Iguana came along in 1964, with Richard Burton's priest fending off Ava Gardner, Deborah Carr and Sue Lyon, Williams had wandered off into seriously campy territory. Still, Street Car and Cat and parts of Sweet Bird of Youth remain pretty wonderful. And if the others depend on the kindness of viewers, well that's because Williams' career faded not with grace but with flamboyance, much as the older women in his plays always did. I'm Bob Mondello.