Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Late one night, a drunken Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman) is out trying to recapture his glory days of high school sports by leaping hurdles on a track field, dreaming about his moments as a youthful athlete. Unexpectedly, he falls, leaving him dependent on a crutch. Brick, along with his wife, Maggie “the Cat” (Elizabeth Taylor), are seen the next day visiting his family in Mississippi, waiting to celebrate Big Daddy’s (Burl Ives) 65th birthday.

Depressed, Brick decides to spend his days inside drinking while resisting the affections of his wife, who taunts him about the inheritance of Big Daddy’s wealth. Numerous allusions are made as to their tempestuous marriage – the most haunting of these are speculations as to why Maggie does not yet have children, while Brick’s brother Gooper (Jack Carson) and his wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) have a whole clan, many of which run around the “plantation” (as Big Daddy’s estate is called) unsupervised and singing obnoxiously.

Big Daddy and Big Mama (Judith Anderson) arrive home from the hospital and are greeted by Gooper and his wife, along with Maggie. Despite the efforts of Mae, Gooper and their kids to draw his attention to them, Big Daddy has eyes only for Maggie. The news is that Big Daddy is not dying from cancer. However, the doctor later meets privately with Brick and Gooper and divulges that it is a deception, but the family wants him to remain happy. Maggie begs Brick to put care into getting his father’s wealth, but Brick stubbornly refuses. When Big Daddy is fed up with his alcoholic son’s behavior, he demands to know why he is so stubborn. Brick angrily refuses to answer.

Big Daddy forces the issue, dragging Maggie into the conversation and the revealing moment ensues when Maggie tells what happened the night Brick’s friend Skipper committed suicide. Maggie reveals she was jealous of Skipper because he had more of Brick’s time. She claimed she wanted to ruin their relationship “by any means necessary”. She intended to seduce Skipper and put the lie to his relationship with her husband. She got scared and ran away without going through with it. Brick claimed to blame Maggie for Skipper’s death, but it is revealed that he actually blames himself for not helping Skipper when he called Brick in a hysterical state.

Big Daddy learns that he will die from cancer and that this birthday will be his last. Shaken, he retreats to the basement. Meanwhile, Gooper, his wife, Maggie, and Brick argue over Big Daddy’s will. Finally, Brick descends into the basement, a labyrinth of antiques and family possessions hidden away. Once he finds his father, Brick and Big Daddy confront each other before a large cut-out of Brick in his glory days as an athlete. The rest of the family begins to crumble under pressure, with Big Mama stepping up as a strong figure. Maggie says that she’d like to give Big Daddy her birthday present: the announcement of her being pregnant. After Mae calls Maggie a liar, Big Daddy and Brick defend her lie, even though they know it to be untrue. Even Gooper finds himself admitting “That girl’s got life in her, alright.” In the end, she and Brick reconcile, and the film ends with the two kissing with the implication that they will make love.

REVIEW:

I vaguely remember reading Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in either high school or one of literature classes in college. Tennessee Williams’ play, to this day, still is revered as a true classic, but does the film garner the same reputation? Or does it suffer from being labeled as “overrated”?

What is this about?

Members of an avaricious Southern clan scramble to curry favor with dying, wealthy patriarch Harvey “Big Daddy” Pollitt (Burl Ives) in this Oscar-nominated adaptation of playwright Tennessee Williams’s sizzling stage drama. Paul Newman stars as alcoholic ex-football star Brick Pollitt, whose self-pity and drunken malice jeopardize not only his inheritance, but also his marriage to the seductive Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor).

What did I like?

Thespians. At the time this was released, Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman were at that point in their career where they needed a hit to keep moving upwards. Had this been a flop, they may have disappeared into obscurity. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, obviously. Why didn’t it happen? Well, the fact that they were able to actually act is a major reason. The pain and suffering of Taylor and Newman, as well as the other emotions that they go through was a major selling point and earned them both Academy Award nominations.

The play’s the thing. For those that aren’t aware, this was originally a stage play by Tennessee Williams. As such, the film has elements that remind you that it was a play, most notably the way some of the scenes play out, the actors have more of a stage pentameter to their lines, and the whole film takes place in this big New Orleans house. I’m a little torn on how I feel about that, but it does seem to work in some cases. I seem to recall To Kill a Mockingbird having a play-like feel to it, as well.

Big Daddy. Every Christmas, I watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer whenever it comes on (which was shortly after Halloween this year for some reason). One of my favorite character in the stop motion jewel is the narrator snowman, voiced by Burl Ives. This may come as a surprise to some who know me and my love for classic Hollywood and such, but I have never seen a picture of Ives. He looks exactly like the snowman, but his character of Big Daddy in this film couldn’t be further from what he may best be known as. Ives’ is able to bring the scary intensity that a man with lots of money, dying of cancer, and in an unhappy marriage lashing out as his son, for starters, deserves. This is truly something to behold, even he does make you wonder if subsequent Big Daddy characters based out of New Orleans were based on him, either personality-wise or design.

What didn’t I like?

Let’s play. As I mentioned earlier, the film feels like it is a play. I’ve given this some though, and I just can’t get over that. Keeping it in the same few settings is fine, that saves on budget. Acting it out like a play also doesn’t bother me, as it leaves the audience to think that is an homage to the play. However, it is the lifeless way the actors seemed to be saying their lines. A film version of a play should have a more, I don’t want to say flamboyant, but there should be something more to the way these lines were uttered, and it just wasn’t there.

Code. If you’re familiar with the play, then you know it has some controversial themes, namely homosexuality and homophobia. In its place, the film’s final act was totally changed from what Tennessee Williams originally wrote. Why were these changes made? Well, the final act was changed in order for the film to end with a happy ending. As far as the “homo” stuff, that omission can be attributed to the Hays Code, a Nazi-like code that censored films of pretty much anything “fun” from 1934-1968. Audiences can only wonder what this film would be like if that code wasn’t in the way.

Motivation. As I was sitting on the couch watching this film and doing my best to keep up with what was going on, one thing became more and more apparent, these characters don’t really have any development, at least that the audience is able to relate to. How many of us are rich southerners in the late 50s? Also, Paul Newman’s character seems to be too well-centered and rational in the second half of the film considering he was introduced as a self-destructive alcoholic. Elizabeth Taylor’s character comes off as nothing but a pretty face at times and there is a sense of bitterness that permeates the entire film. Can’t people just be happy?

As far as classics go, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is more than deserving of all the accolades it has received, as well as the reputation for being a great piece of cinema. This is a film that will require you to be fully attentive, but with the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor and handsome Paul Newman as the leads, why would you look away? While it is a little slow, this is the kind of drama that I can give a pass to for that. Do I recommend this? Yes, it is one of those films that you should see before you die. It is a great flick from the days of classic Hollywood and should not be passed over in favor of some crappy remake or whatever they call that schlock they churn out these days.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

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