Director: Stuart Gordon
Stars: Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Carrie Lorraine, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 77 minutes

A much-needed DVD tribute to one of the essential American playwrights, The Tennessee Williams Collection gathers six Williams titles and one vintage documentary. Taken together, it's a potent introduction to the specific terrain (geographical and emotional) of this brilliant writer. The set is anchored by Warner's deluxe two-disc treatment of A Streetcar Named Desire, which has copious extras (among them a fine 90-minute documentary about director Elia Kazan). The multi-Oscar-winning Streetcar is one of the better stage adaptations in film history, and it captures the electrifying Marlon Brando, re-creating his stage role, in the part that changed American acting: the brutish New Orleans sensualist Stanley Kowalski. Vivien Leigh won an Oscar opposite him, as the faded (except in her own mind) Southern belle Blanche DuBois, whose arrival in the Kowalski home leads to disaster. Kazan also directed Baby Doll, which Williams scripted from a couple of one-act plays. This outrageous sex comedy casts the excellent Carroll Baker as the 19-year-old wife of middle-aged Karl Malden, who anxiously awaits the day he can finally consummate his maddening marriage; immigrant cotton magnate Eli Wallach shows up at Malden's crumbling plantation house just in time to take the bloom off the rose, as it were. Famous for being condemned in 1956, Baby Doll remains a very modern (and gloriously dirty) movie. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Richard Brooks, faithfully brings three of Williams's indelible characters to the screen, even if the script discreetly changes the original stage text: the hot Maggie the Cat (Elizabeth Taylor), her reluctant husband Brick (Paul Newman), and Brick's rich Big Daddy (Burl Ives). All three performers act the lights out. Sweet Bird of Youth reunites Paul Newman with director Brooks, and also showcases Geraldine Page's performance as an aging film star tagging along with young stud Newman to his Southern home town. Some of Williams' more depraved touches are toned down, but the milieu is unmistakable and the movie is intense. The Night of the Iguana gives Richard Burton perhaps his finest hour onscreen: as Williams' dissolute defrocked priest, playing tour guide in Puerto Vallarta to tour groups of nattering biddies. The movie has director John Huston's sympathy for life's losers, as well as a trio of women built to torment Burton's reverend: Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, and Sue Lyon. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, based on Williams's novel, is not a great movie, but gives Vivien Leigh a good workout as a wounded actress dallying with Italian gigolo Warren Beatty. Tennessee Williams' South is a 1973 documentary featuring some marvelous observations from Williams, as he holds court for filmmaker Harry Rasky. It also has long scenes from his plays, enacted by good folks such as Maureen Stapleton, Colleen Dewhurst, and Burl Ives. Especially valuable is a Streetcar sequence with Jessica Tandy re-creating her original role as Blanche. Williams himself reads the narration from The Glass Menagerie, a privileged moment. This is not an exhaustive Williams set (Joseph Mankiewicz's Suddenly, Last Summer and Sidney Lumet's The Fugitive Kind are among the best Williams films), but it maps out the steamy, tortured landscape awfully well. --Robert Horton

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