Classic Movie Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)


Title: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Release Date: August 27, 1958
Director: Richard Brooks
Production Company:  Avon Productions
Summary/Review:

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a family drama set in a Mississippi mansion adapted from the play by Tennessee Williams. It features loathsome characters being horrible to one another.  I ended up watching it pieces over a period of four days, not because it is a bad movie, but all those bad feelings made it a hard movie to watch.

The action is centered around the birthday party for cotton tycoon Big Daddy Pollitt (Burl Ives).  He has received a clean bill of health, but early in the film his doctor admits to other family members that he as actually dying of cancer and he lied to Big Daddy and Big Mama (Judith Andersen). Big Daddy’s younger son Brick (Paul Newman) has broken his ankle and has isolated himself from the family in a bedroom where he steadily drinks the night away.  His estranged wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor), navigates between the party and Brick’s room.  Meanwhile, Brick’s older brother Gooper (Jack Carson) and his wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) and their awful children are trying to kiss up to Big Daddy in order to ensure a good inheritance.

It’s revealed that Maggie and Brick have not had a sexual relationship for some time and Brick’s alcoholism picked up after the suicide of his best friend from his football playing days, Skipper. Brick’s biggest issue is that he’s repressed his homosexual feelings toward Skipper, but thanks to the Hays Code, you have to read the lines between the lines to get what’s happening. In the final act, Brick and Big Daddy hash out some long-time issues in a cathartic argument.  Ironically, this was the most palatable part of the movie for me although Williams objected to the substantial changes made from his script.

The movie is very much staged like a play with long scenes in a single location.  Brick is often centered in the foreground, quietly drinking while a family member rants in the background.  His silence says more than their wordiness.  Newman, Taylor, and Ives all put in excellent performances.  But, whoa Nelly, I don’t think I’m going to want to watch this one again any time soon.

Rating: ***

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