Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

“Something ain’t right: you’re childless, and my son drinks.”

Synopsis:
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.

Genres:

Review:
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

Must See?
No, but film fanatics will likely be curious to check it out.

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One Response to “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)”

  1. Not must-see, though no doubt many will watch it once because of its status as a well-known title, and because of the cast.

    By the time I revisited this in its blu-ray edition, it had been some time since I had seen it. I had forgotten just how much liberty was taken with Williams’ play. The play cannot be judged by this film version, the differences are just too striking. You end up only getting a partial understanding of the story.

    And that’s a major problem here. By the time I was in the second half of the film (and I had seen it a number of times in the past; also saw a Broadway revival of the play), I started thinking, ‘What is this story actually about?’ The lack of focus was throwing me.

    Because of censorship problems in cinema at the time, it’s not that easy making complete sense of the story. (Not only that but, as a writer, Williams tends to have a distinct tone – which gets the heave-ho on-screen from time to time.) The gay aspect is…a bit there…but it’s like listening to someone speaking to you at the other end of a very long tunnel; you can barely catch some of the words, and a lot of the others are just inaudible.

    That said, this ‘Cat’ is not a complete disaster, and it’s not dull. Just a rather unfortunate adaptation.

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