Blanche Dubois arrives on the dirty streets of New Orleans and takes a streetcar named Desire to her sister’s home. Her sister, Stella, married a brutish lower class man, Stanley Kowalski. Stanley is dismayed when he learns that Blanche lost the Dubois family plantation, Belle Reve. He demands all of her legal documents when Stella is away, leading to his first confrontation with an increasingly erratic Blanche.
One night, when Stanley is up late playing poker with his rowdy friends, Blanche plays a radio in the next room, separated only by a curtain. Stanley, upset over losing and Stella’s defiance, throws the radio through a window, and when Stella becomes upset, punches her several times in a drunken rage. Stella feels upstairs to the safety of their neighbor’s home. Stanley realizes what he’s done and remorsefully shouts to his wife from the street until she dutifully returns to him, as she always does.
Blanche extends her stay with Stanley and Stella indefinitely. She makes it clear she thinks little of Stanley. She thinks he’s ignorant, unrefined, brutish, a drunk, and, worst of all, poor. One of Stanley’s friends, Mitch, begins a romance with Blanche. Mitch’s sick old mother can smell crazy from a mile away and tells him to be cautious of Blanche. Ultimately, Mitch asks Blanche to marry him in a passionate plea for the two of them to settle for what’s in front of them in the interests of convenience and realism.
But Stanley digs up the sordid dirt of Blanche recent past. Turns out Blanche is as much of a whore as Stanley is a drunk. When Stanley tells Mitch, Mitch stands up for Blanche. But after he makes his own inquiry into the facts, Mitch confronts Blanche about being an old, dirty pedophile, and Blanche does what she always does when someone confronts her, takes three big steps toward full insanity, but ultimately comes clean. Mitch says Blanche is too dirty to marry, but does express his interest in one of her patented casual sexual encounters. Blanche, however, requests a rain check.
Stanley tells all of this to Stella the night Stella goes into labor. While Stella is in the hospital, Stanley expresses his joy by hitting Blanche up for one of those casual sexual encounters for which she has become so famous. But Blanche demurs, and Stanley has his way with her.
The films ends with a now completely insane Blanche Dubois waiting the arrival of rich old admirer from Dallas who is going to take her on a cruise and catch up on old times. That guy doesn’t exist. In fact, a doctor arrives with a well-built nurse to take Blanche away to a mental institution for good. Blanche fights them at first, but complies when the doctor extends a chivalrous arm to her and pretends to be the man from Dallas. Stanley attacks Mitch, who denies raping Blanche. Stella has now had enough. She takes her baby and runs upstairs, this time leaving Stanley for good.