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Classic Movie Characters: Stanley Kowalski

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Played by Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, dir. Elia Kazan)

From the moment he appears onscreen—remarking that his shirt is sticking to him and promptly peeling it off—he has no predecessor and no equal. Surly, sweaty, mocking, muscular, and dangerous as only the young Brando could be, Stanley blasted a path through all the stilted, mannered depictions that American cinema had known before. Throughout the film he stalks his sister-in-law, Blanche (Vivien Leigh), with an incendiary combination of barely leashed cruelty and knowing hunger until their final violent confrontation, which leaves her broken and him an indelible icon.

Defining Moment: Stanley stands at the bottom of the stairs, dripping wet, in a torn T-shirt, screaming for his mate. Every anguished yell is charged with pure animal lust, need, and loss—everything Hays Code Hollywood had been excruciatingly careful to keep offscreen till then.

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