Both Tennessee Williams and the films based on his most famous plays have become so iconic that it can be easy to take their genius for granted. To remedy that, Warner Home Video offers “The Tennessee Williams Film Collection,” a stellar package that demonstrates just how deserving that status is.
The six films are remarkably consistent in quality. Beyond “A Streetcar Named Desire” (bundled here with a new disc of bonus features), even less-remembered titles like “The Night of the Iguana” and “Sweet Bird of Youth” offer memorable perfs, sharp direction, and Williams’ lusty poetry. And then there’s “Baby Doll,” a twisted comedy of lust directed by Elia Kazan that was at least 20 years ahead of its time. It’s about time it debuted on DVD.
As with its Garbo collection, Warner also includes a feature-length docu available only in the box set. Released in 1973, “Tennessee Williams’ South” is an offbeat little picture that intercuts scenes of the scribe reciting his poetry with extended re-enactments from his plays. Most thrilling to see is Jessica Tandy, the original Blanche DuBois on Broadway, delivering a 10-minute monologue from “Streetcar.”
“Streetcar” contains a wealth of new material: bios on Kazan, also its helmer, and star Marlon Brando; commentary; a Brando screen test; and featurettes covering everything from the play’s rehearsals to the film’s battles with censors.
Williams’ films certainly made people angry. Each movie comes with a featurette documenting the inevitable crises and Oscar nominations that surrounded a Williams project; cast members and a particularly witty group of film historians weigh in on each.
The collection’s only drawback is its dearth of commentaries. Tracks for “Streetcar” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” are ripping good fun, with Karl Malden shining on the former as a generous, warm-hearted storyteller. It would have been nice to hear similar anecdotes about, say, Warren Beatty’s turn in “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.”
But ultimately, this collection balances the contributions of Hollywood legends and the playwright who helped them shine. Even without some of his greats — other studios distribute “Suddenly Last Summer” and “The Rose Tattoo” — this box still captures the potency of a legendary American writer and the cinematic era he helped create.