Cat on a Hot Tin Roof-1958
Director Richard Brooks
Starring Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor
Scott’s Review #1,356
Reviewed April 12, 2023
If not for a drastically modified ending that completely changes the scope and message of the story the film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) would have ranked a solid ‘A’.
Instead, it is reduced to a grade of ‘B+’ which is a shame because the film for the most part is fabulous-themes such as greed, jealousy, and heartbreak are explored.
Director Richard Brooks who never shied away from controversial subject matters with later films like In Cold Blood (1967) and Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977) created the screenplay with James Poe as a collaborator.
The film is based on the 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by Tennessee Williams and stars titular talented actors Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Burl Ives, Jack Carson, Madeleine Sherwood, and Judith Anderson.
After Brick Pollitt (Newman) injures himself while drunkenly revisiting his high school sports-star days, he and his tempestuous wife, Maggie (Taylor), visit his family’s Mississippi plantation for the sixty-fifth birthday of his aggressive father, Big Daddy (Ives).
In declining health, Big Daddy demands to know why Brick and Maggie haven’t given him a grandchild, unlike Brick’s brother Gooper (Carson), and his overbearing wife, Mae (Sherwood).
The accusations result in shadowy secrets involving an unseen ‘football buddy’ and best friend of Brick’s that brim close to the surface but are never wholly unleashed.
In 1958 Newman and Taylor were each at the top of their game and their talent, good looks, and chemistry nearly smoldered off the screen. Easy on the eyes to say the least one can relax with the comfort of witnessing good-looking people with tremendous acting talent hash it out.
The rest of the cast, especially Ives and Anderson, give bravura performances as fury and family drama emote most of the film’s running time.
Nearly rivaling the ferocity of the bitter scenes between Brick and Maggie is a lengthy and ultimately tender scene between Brick and his father. The sequence is for the ages and infuses some sympathy for the materialistic Big Daddy who tearfully admits to loving his father, a penniless drifter who loved his son more than life itself.
Ives should have won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar but missed a nomination for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof entirely. Instead, the actor won the Academy Award for a film called The Big Country.
Shot like a play because it’s based on one, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof feels claustrophobic and stuffy despite the glamour of the family estate where most of the action takes place.
Servants serve and scamper after the four little rascals belonging to Gooper and Mae nicknamed ‘Sister Woman’ while cutting the cake and dealing with party favors of the rich and powerful.
Sadly, the film is nearly ruined with a piss-poor and severely botched wrap-up reuniting Brick and Maggie cementing their sexual union and ascertaining the fact that they are a straight couple.
You see, in the original play, Brick’s sexuality is in question heavily but the film removes almost all of the homosexual themes.
The hated Hays Code limited Brick’s portrayal of sexual desire from Skipper and diminished the original play’s critique of homophobia and sexism.
These items are the basis of the story and their removal leaves a huge void in the film. We assume that Brick had erectile difficulties due to his injuries and drinking but the point is weak and uneven, to say the least, and also makes the continued mention of Skippy irrelevant.
Newman in particular was unhappy with the film.
The Southern traditions and hot summer atmosphere is wonderfully portrayed by Brooks causing the audience to feel suffocated and anxious. A feeling of doom and gloom hovers over the film.
But, a stark change of course with the writing and Williams’s original concept is unforgivable save for all the other elements of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) which are exceptional.
After seeing the film twice I yearn for the authenticity of seeing or reading the play.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Richard Brooks, Best Actor-Paul Newman, Best Actress-Elizabeth Taylor, Best Screenplay-Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Cinematography-Color