Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Release year: 1958
Director: Richard Brooks
Writers: Richard Brooks, James Poe, Tennessee Williams (play)
Starring: Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Burl Ives, Jack Carson, Judith Anderson, Madeleine Sherwood.
Ratings: 6 Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Elizabeth Taylor), Best Actor (Paul Newman), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography.
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #48, week 19 2015
Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) passionately loves her husband Brick (Paul Newman), an alcoholic who pushes her affections aside. On Big Daddy’s (Burl Ives) birthday the family learn one by one about his health and it causes the family to start talking about things they have avoided talking about for years.
Based on the famous play by Tennesse Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof evolves around one day in the life of the Pollitt family, a day where all the secrets surface and change the family for good. For the first half of the film it is unclear why Brick rejects his beautiful wife and what memory he suppresses by drinking, and the untold things soon becomes a theme that follow the characters around like a shadow until they finally release them with raging feelings matching the thunderstorm outside. This is a character driven movie and it wouldn’t be worth much without great performances, something Brooks (The Last Time I Saw Paris, 1954) needn’t worry about. Newman (The Sting, 1973) is magnificent as the alcoholic Brick dwelling on past accomplishments and denying to appreciate what is right in front of him. He locks himself up, both literally in his and Maggie’s room and metaphorically with whiskey functioning as gates to his feelings and thoughts. Taylor (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1966) is so stunning one can only imagine how difficult it must be for Brick to reject her. She switches between a tender loving wife and Maggie the Cat with her claws out in the blink of an eye all the while circling her husband clearly dying to be noticed. It is when Ives (East of Eden, 1955) enters the picture that the situation comes to a head. It becomes clear that he is Big Daddy in more than name as you watch everyone gather around him like bees to honey trying to win his appreciation and respect. Brick’s brother Gooper, played by a solid Carson (Arsenic and Old Lace, 1944), keeps himself much in the background while trying to contain his over eager wife who tries to win Big Daddy’s heart through their children. She is played by a brilliant Sherwood (The Changeling, 1980) reprising her part from Elia Kazan’s Broadway production of the play and she is like a fire cracker with her nose in everyone’s business until you feel like slapping her and her horrid children. The mother is played tenderly by Anderson (Rebecca, 1940) who gives an excellent performance as a woman subcumped by her desire to feel loved by her husband but she steps up as a strong lioness when the situation requires it. Together they raise the roof with emotions that have long been held back in a dramatic scene in which these strong personalities clash as they start clearing the air between them. A great family drama, a great story about regret and misunderstandings, but an absolutely amazing collection of some of the greatest performances.
In the 1950s it was standard that ‘artistic’ films was filmed in black and white which was also the plan with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. But When Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, who are both famous for the colour of their eyes, were cast, director Richard Brooks insisted on filming it in colour.
To comply with the Hollywood Production Code of the time the references to homosexuality in the original play was removed, something that Paul Newman expressed disappointment about.
Elizabeth Taylor’s husband Michael Todd was killed in a plane crash the same day filming began but she proceeded filming.