Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Dir: Richard Brooks, 1958. Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Burl Ives. Classics.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

I've seen other movies with Elizabeth Taylor in them. She is particularly wonderful as a sickly child serenely accepting her impending death in the Orson Welles version of Jayne Eyre. Still, her performance as Maggie in Tennessee Williams's steamy Southern melodrama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  is what I'll always remember most vividly.

It was the fifth Tennessee Williams play to be adapted for the movies and is perhaps the most famous example of his hot-and-bothered Southern style being given the celluloid treatment. Paul Newman plays Brick, the alcoholic son of a Mississippi plantation owner (Burl Ives) with the excellent name of Big Daddy. Brick's wife, Maggie, struggles to understand why their marriage has deteriorated to the point where he barely looks at her. This is understandably unconscionable because his wife is Elizabeth Taylor in her prime as one of the most gorgeous women of her day.

Brick and Maggie are home for Big Daddy's 65th birthday along with Brick's brother Gooper (a tired looking Jack Carson), his wife, and their endless amount of bratty children. Brick shuns the festivities and broods in his room, swigging from a bottle and limping around on crutches. Brick was a former high school football star who can't seem to move on from his past glories or the friendship he had with a boy in school. Everyone hounds Brick and wants him to face up to himself. Maggie wants to know why he doesn't look at her. Big Daddy, in his gruff way, wants to know why Brick hasn't given him a grandson yet. And Brick seems to only hold any respect for his dead high school buddy and the intense bond they had. When everyone finds out that Big Daddy is dying of cancer the news proves to be a turning point in Brick's relationships with everyone.

This film inevitably disappoints because in the Williams play it is clear that Brick is a closeted homosexual in love with a former flame from high school. This material was inevitably excised for the movie (the Production Code was still in effect) and at least one noted director, George Cukor, turned down the chance to direct the film because of this loathsome act of censorship.

Even without the true meaning of Brick's torment made explicit this is still a riveting film with a cast that was never equaled for a Tennessee Williams film adaptation. Newman and Taylor are spellbinding, representing an emerging young Hollywood. They're sexy and real in a way that their predecessors were never allowed to be. Taylor would go on to bigger triumphs - most notably in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - but she will always be Maggie the Cat to me.


Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was nominated for six Oscars: Best Actor (Paul Newman), Best Actress (Elizabeth Taylor), Best Director, Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and Best Adapated Screenplay.

Posted by:
Jed Leland
Apr 3, 2011 6:11pm
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