Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Directed by Richard Brooks
Written by Richard Brooks and James Poe from the play by Tennessee Williams
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
Fantastic acting and writing makes up for watered-down drama.
As the film begins Brick Pollit (Paul Newman) is drunkenly running high hurdles at his old high school’s track. He falls and will be on crutches for the rest of the film. We segue to the bedroom he shares with wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor). Much of the action, or rather talking, will take place there. Maggie is a lusty young woman in need of some action and Brick is both intoxicated and disgusted by her. He would rather drink than address their problems which apparently stem from a disagreement about Brick’s friend Skipper, now deceased.
The remainder of the plot concerns Brick’s wealthy family. His irascible father, whom every body calls “Big Daddy” (Burl Ives) and mother “Big Mama” (Judith Anderson) have just returned from a famous clinic where father has been examined for his severe stomach pains. They have been told it is simply a spastic colon but we quickly learn that Big Daddy has terminal cancer. His other son Gooper (Jack Carson) has shown up with his wife and five obnoxious children sniffing an opportunity to lock up control of the dying man’s vast estate.
Maggie is fighting this move tooth and nail but gets little cooperation from her alcoholic husband. Before the end of the film many hard truths will have been told.
William’s play famously had a strong undercurrent of homosexuality or at least sexual confusion in the relationship between Brick and his friend Skipper. This could no more be shown in 1958 than gang rape. Thus, the whole conflict boils down to Brick’s search for a father figure in the absence of true love from his money-obsessed father. This considerably weakens the story though there is still the pointed and poetic examination of hypocrisy, disfunction, and greed present in the play.
The acting is just fantastic. I could watch these people do their thing all day. Burl Ives is especially wonderful. I had been under the impression that he got his Oscar for this performance but I was wrong. If he hadn’t won for something else the same year, he would have been robbed.
The DVD contains a commentary by Donald Spoto. I still haven’t quite forgiven him for his Hitchcock book but enjoyed his insights on this any way.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor (Newman); Best Actress (Taylor); Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; and Best Cinematography, Color.