Lange gives this wounded creature an inner glow of resiliency; without it, Blanche could never lay such a powerful claim to our sympathies. Vivien Leigh captured that otherworldliness in the film; Lange is every bit her equal here.
Too bad the other three key roles are so utterly miscast. Baldwin was not a good match for Lange onstage, and the mismatch is even more glaring here. Though he can be a great romantic lead, Baldwin doesn’t conjure that mix of feral magnetism and raw need that keeps Stella hankering for the “colored lights” that go off when they have sex, and which Marlon Brando personified. By comparison, Baldwin just seems a spoiled lout.
John Goodman plays Blanche’s sometime suitor Mitch as the dumbest sort of hick; he stands around looking goofy for most of the movie. Lane, finally, is too beautiful for Stella, and her slow, vampish descent from the second floor apartment back into Stanley’s arms just after he has beaten her provides this version’s major howler.
One reason the scene has such a powerful impact in the Kazan pic is simply by virtue of the humane way it depicts sexual hunger between two regular people, as the beautiful Blanche watches, scandalized. Here, however, the scene is devoid of any erotic charge.
On the other hand, Lange does provide one unforgettable moment of longing and lust that Kazan — doubtless bowing to the censors — glossed: When a paperboy finds Stella alone in the apartment, Leigh’s utterance, “You make my mouth water ,” is an ambiguous throwaway that seems to refer to the boy’s desire for soda pop. Lange, however, makes it quite clear that the line is no more about soda pop than it is about her mouth.
Production designer Fred Harpman and costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge successfully have conspired to evoke the play’s muted, jazzy New Orleans atmosphere — it’s great-looking — and composer David Mansfield’s underscoring adds a lot too.
But Jordan’s direction attenuates the action, and the play unfolds sluggishly , squandering the dramatic buildup. Moreover, perhaps in deference to current sensibilities, Jordan underplays Stanley’s violence in ways Kazan did not.
It’s doubtful whether any but hardcore theater buffs will stay on this “Streetcar” for the entire three-hour ride. Those who do however, will see Lange vindicated, giving one of the best performances of her career.