Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

I have not done a review on an Old Hollywood film in a while. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  was sitting in my DVR recordings, so I finally decided to watch it. I absolutely loved it, and it made me want to read the play so I could compare the two works.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was directed by Richard Brooks and released in the fall of 1958. Brooks also assisted with adapting the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which was written by Tennessee Williams, into a screenplay. The film stars Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie, Burl Ives as Big Daddy, and Paul Newman as Brick. It was actually Newman’s break out role and eventually pushed him to stardom. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was nominated for six Academy Awards but failed to take any home.

The story revolves around the Pollitt family and takes place within one weekend. Everyone has gathered at the family plantation in Mississippi to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday. Although the festivities are supposed to be happy, the family is shrouded in conflict. Brick, the younger of the two Pollitt sons, is experiencing marital issues with his wife Maggie. He is victim to alcoholism and depression. Big Daddy is suffering from terminal cancer and the older son, Gooper, appears to be conniving with his wife to take Brick out of Big Daddy’s will. The plot covers the thematic topics of relationships, truth, masculinity, loneliness, and death. It is captivating and touching.

What makes Cat on a Hot Tin Roof great is the acting ensemble. Everyone was perfectly casted, even the supporting actors. Many A-list actors turned down the role of Brick, giving Paul Newman the chance. He went on to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He and Elizabeth Taylor work well together as a troubled couple and both are able to convey impactful emotions. Several words go unspoken between Brick and Maggie, but their expressions say it all. Even though their marriage is on the rocks, the convincing performances give the audience wistful hope that everything will sort out. Originally, the film was to be shot in black and white. Brooks then decided that color would be better so that the famous striking eyes of both Newman and Taylor could be enhanced. This decision was smart and the color adds to the dynamic appearance and personalities of both Brick and Maggie. One cannot help but root for both characters. Burl Ives was fantastic as Big Daddy. He is supposed to be a strong and belligerent man, which is what he comes off as. But Ives allows the audience to see a more vulnerable side of the powerful character as well. The seemingly perfect Gooper (Jack Carson) and his wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) are deeply flawed. They both strive to do everything that Big Daddy and Big Momma deem to be right, but they still fall short of love and approval. Although their characters are not likable, the actors display how problematic the Pollitt family is. Every single family member is deeply flawed.

Because this film was produced in the 1950s, there were many topics that Hollywood censorship would not allow. Tennessee Williams’ original play had heavy implications of homosexuality between Brick and his deceased best friend, Skipper. Williams claimed to strongly dislike the film because the screenplay cut the relationship out. He thought that Hollywood was making a mistake, and that the industry was blocking necessary progression. Not everyone disagreed with the “scandalous relationship,” even if studio executives did. George Cukor turned down the offer to direct the film because of the removal of the homosexual references and Paul Newman expressed his great disappointment.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof gives the audience a glimpse at the vanishing Southern plantation lifestyle. It is the mid-1950s, but the family still relies on servants. Big Daddy, who represents the traditional way of life, does not show much regard for the help. He also expects Brick to continue running the family plantation, but Brick shows no interest whatsoever. This creates a rift in their already troubled relationship. Big Daddy shows his “love” through gifts and money. He lacks the ability to show real love to not only his sons, but his wife as well. Probably the most emotional scene takes place in the basement. Big Daddy and Brick have come to terms with and discussed the complications in their relationship. They both help each other up the stairs, the beginning of a more caring and loving relationship.

I highly recommend this film. The actors transform the story into something tender and relatable. Although there are some differences between the film and the play, it is still worth the watch. Please comment below your opinions or questions. 🙂

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