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TENNESSEE WILLIAMS FILM COLLECTION (1951-1964). Fans of the great playwright's film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire have been waiting patiently -- OK, make that impatiently -- for Warner's home entertainment division to give it the DVD respect it deserves (a bare-bones edition was released nine years ago). The outfit has finally delivered -- and then some. Streetcar is but one of the six titles included in this invaluable box set that, in addition to offering terrific entertainment, demonstrates how Williams' controversial works were often transplanted to the screen in slightly neutered versions that still managed to enrage the moral watchdogs of the day.

Directed by Elia Kazan, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) remains the definitive screen Williams, as well as an important addition to any movie lover's DVD library. Legions of Brando fans cite his work in On the Waterfront or Last Tango in Paris as the pinnacle of his cinematic legacy, but my favorite performance by this hot-and-cold actor will forever be his astonishing turn as the brutish lout Stanley Kowalski, married to simple Stella (Kim Hunter) but engaged in a particularly twisted battle of wills with her mentally fragile sister Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh). Hunter, Karl Malden (as Blanche's suitor) and the tremendous Leigh all copped Oscars, yet it's Brando (losing out to The African Queen's Humphrey Bogart) who towers over the film with his magnetic, animalistic work. This cut of the picture, billed as The Original Director's Version, contains a couple of minutes of restored footage trimmed by the Legion of Decency right before the film's initial premiere.

Williams and Kazan were back at it with Baby Doll (1956), creating a firestorm of controversy so potent that Cardinal Spellman, the Archbishop of New York, felt compelled to forbid his flock from seeing it "under pain of sin." Written directly for the screen by Williams, this finds the man in a wickedly playful mood, spinning a broad farce about a virginal child bride (Carroll Baker) who finds herself caught between her oafish husband (Karl Malden) and his vengeful business rival (Eli Wallach).

While Williams himself penned the scripts for Kazan's Streetcar and Baby Doll (earning Oscar noms for both), director Richard Brooks took it upon himself to whip up (with James Poe) the adapted screenplay for Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (1958). Brooks knocks it out of the park: While the censors nixed the play's homosexual content, there are still enough pointed allusions in Brooks' adaptation to allow viewers to fill in the blanks themselves. Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, both gorgeous beyond measure, strike sparks as the sexually unfulfilled Maggie and her tortured husband Brick, while Burl Ives (as Big Daddy) cuts to the crux of the piece by noting the "mendacity" that surrounds all the characters.

The 1950 version of The Glass Menagerie, starring Kirk Douglas and Jane Wyman, would have been a fascinating addition to this set -- the film's never been released on video, let alone DVD -- but in its place we get The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961), which registers as minor Tennessee. Based on a novella rather than one of his plays, this stars Vivien Leigh (in her penultimate movie appearance) as a wealthy widow who becomes involved with an Italian gigolo (Warren Beatty). Mature in tone but also ponderous, this does benefit from a satisfyingly ambiguous ending relating to its central character's fate.

Richard Brooks came back to Tennessee -- again with Paul Newman in tow -- with Sweet Bird of Youth (1962). Once again, Hollywood proved to be more constrictive than Broadway ---- a key castration gets replaced by a common beating -- but the Southern discomfort of its characters keeps this torrid melodrama humming. Newman, in one of his standard "cad" roles of the period, plays a pretty boy who returns to his hometown with a fading actress (Geraldine Page) by his side. He's hoping to rekindle a romance with his former sweetheart (Shirley Knight), but the girl's father (Ed Begley in an Oscar-winning performance), a corrupt politician used to getting his way, schemes to keep the two apart.

The Night of the Iguana (1964) is often overlooked, yet it's actually one of the best TW adaptations -- certainly, it boasts one of the most flamboyant directors, one of the most colorful casts and one of the most intriguing production shoots. Richard Burton stars as Lawrence Shannon, a defrocked priest who now spends his time leading church groups on Mexican tours. Relentlessly pursued by a blonde, budding Lolita (Sue Lyon of, yes, Lolita fame), he finds himself persecuted by the girl's chaperone (Grayson Hall), hightails it to a secluded hotel managed by his longtime friend (Ava Gardner) and establishes a bond with a poor artist (Deborah Kerr) who travels with her nonagenarian grandfather (Cyril Delevanti). Filming on location -- and allowing the media easy access to the production (the better to document the scandalous affair between Burton and visitor Elizabeth Taylor) -- John Huston whipped together an enticing blend of philosophical musings and fascinating couplings, all linked by Burton's wild-eyed performance and an atmosphere so muggy that you can almost see the sweat beads forming on your television screen.

The box set includes a seventh DVD containing the 1973 documentary Tennessee Williams' South. The two-disc Streetcar DVD includes audio commentary by Malden and film scholars Ruby Behlmer and Jeff Young, Brando's screen test for Rebel Without a Cause, a 75-minute documentary on Kazan and five new featurettes. The other titles all include new featurettes and theatrical trailers, as well as other scattered extras.

A Streetcar Named Desire: ****

Baby Doll: ***

Cat On a Hot Tin Roof: ***1/2

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone: **1/2

Sweet Bird of Youth: ***

The Night of the Iguana: ***1/2

Extras: ***1/2

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