“Something ain’t right: you’re childless, and my son drinks.”
A dying patriarch (Burl Ives) and his wife (Judith Anderson) celebrate Ives’ birthday with their two grown sons: an alcoholic ex-athlete (Paul Newman) whose childless wife (Elizabeth Taylor) is desperate for sexual attention, and a man (Jack Carson) whose pregnant wife (Madeleine Sherwood) wants to secure the family inheritance for her growing brood.
Richard Brooks’ adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play suffers from a fatal flaw (albeit one that didn’t stop audiences from flocking to it upon release): the central character (Newman) has been shifted (per Hays Code) from a suppressed homosexual to a man simply lamenting the loss of a high school buddy. Yes, there’s more than this to the melodramatic storyline, which revolves around “motifs such as social mores, greed, superficiality, mendacity, decay, sexual desire, repression and death”, as we watch squabbling family members desperate to hold onto or gain whatever it is they most want (money, love, sex, respect, hope). However, the primary focus of the film is the strained relationship between “Maggie the cat” (Taylor) — a gorgeous woman literally in heat — and her equally gorgeous but relentlessly brooding husband (Newman). As DVD Savant writes, “the notion of the incredibly sexy Elizabeth Taylor begging in vain to sleep with Paul Newman strikes us as a sin against nature” — especially without the believable premise that Brick (Newman) is gay. However, the performances are all strong, the stunning co-stars are enoyable to watch on-screen, and writer-director Richard Brooks keeps the direction interesting throughout.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Strong performances and direction
No, but film fanatics will likely be curious to check it out.