Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958

Cat on a Hot Tin RoofCat on a Hot Tin RoofCat on a Hot Tin Roof

Paul Newman (as Brick) and Elizabeth Taylor (as Maggie) are at war over reality. He thinks (but can't bring himself to say) she's been unfaithful with his (now dead) best friend, Skipper. He's also deeply confused about why he is a washed-up ex-football star (a massive consumption of alcohol is only part of the cause).

Maggie, however, is convinced she can save their marriage by just sticking to loyalty and persevering, no matter what (she would also like to be exonerated for Skipper's suicide, and that she in fact didn't commit adultery). She will be severely tested on that strategy as the 108 minute film unwinds.

Plus, there is the chaos of Brick's family, headed by the terminal cancer-case father called "Big Daddy" (Burl Ives) who has to come to terms with the doctor's death sentence hanging over his head.

Big Daddy is usually bellowing, and frequently a bully, particularly to his wife "Big Momma" played by Judith Anderson. Whether she is stoically putting up with the inner-family mayhem or crying after a scene of pathetic cruelty by the dying Big Daddy, she has her eyes always on the goal of keeping her tempestuous family together. In Tennessee Williams' story, you get the sense this is what she has always done, especially because she doesn't actually learn Big Daddy is doomed until later in the tale.

Keeping this family together isn't a simple task, though, as Brick's brother Gooper (Jack Carson) is an attorney who has his eye fixed on how to make sure the family's vast agricultural empire doesn't fall into Brick's hands when Big Daddy "let's go." He is ably assisted in this plot by his wife Mae (played by Madeleine Sherwood) who has an army of children (called 'no neck monsters' by Maggie) under her command. Mae receives one of the few compliments Big Daddy issues: "she'd a good breeder."

The family comes together when Big Daddy is released from the hospital (at first Big Daddy is led to believe the cancer has been cured; it has not) and as time passes, everyone's emotions are pushed to the top in a continually smoldering series of skirmishes between all parties.

Directed by Richard Brooks, who knew how best to present Elizabeth Taylor screaming, something many other directors didn't quite have a handle on. Taylor received her second Oscar nomination for her work as "Maggie the Cat" in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (she lost to Susan Hayward in I Want To Live.) In the previous year, Taylor was nominated for Raintree County (1957), and right after Cat, she was nominated for an Oscar in Suddenly, Last Summer. This was followed by her Oscar win for Butterfield 8 (1961).

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is based on the Tennessee Williams' play and the screenplay is by Richard Brooks and James Poe.


Original Page January 22, 2015


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