Brick, an alcoholic ex-football player, drinks his days away and resists the affections of his wife, Maggie. His reunion with his father, Big Daddy, who is dying of cancer, jogs a host of memories and revelations for both father and son.
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The fifth Tennessee Williams play to reach the screen, wealthy Mississippi plantation owner Big Daddy Pollitt, unaware that he's dying of cancer and disturbed by the strained and childless marriage of his favored alcoholic son Brick and his other son, Gooper, whose wife is about to bring forth another in the endless line of little "no-neck monsters," celebrates his sixty-fifth birthday with his family. Brick's wife, Maggie, beautiful and desirable, tries unsuccessfully to coax her husband away from the bottle, while alternately enticing him and taunting him about his obsession with his deceased best friend and the guilt about their relationship. The seamy tensions reach a climax when the truth of Big Daddy's health is revealed, and he and Brick manage to resolve their differences. Written by
After a run of 694 performances on Broadway during the 1955-1956 season, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof made it to the big screen in 1958, just in time for Elizabeth Taylor to get her second Best Actress nomination in two years. Unfortunately Liz was up against Susan Hayward for I Want to Live and nobody was beating Hayward out that year.
But Elizabeth Taylor proved something. She was more than just an extraordinarily beautiful woman. That girl had real talent and she proved to be more than a box office name to insure business.
In fact of the original Broadway cast only Burl Ives as Big Daddy and Madeleine Sherwood as his other daughter in law were retained for the film version. Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor replaced Ben Gazzara and Barbara Bel Geddes as the leads.
Newman also got one of his early triumphs playing Brick Pollitt, the favored younger son of Big Daddy Pollitt. Brick's an aimless guy, still living out his dreams of glory from being a football player when he was younger. In fact in a drunken stupor he tried some athletic stuff at his former high school and got a broken leg for his troubles. Newman spends the entire film on crutches, with Ives berating him for being a 30 year old kid.
The Pollitts are one dysfunctional family. They are awaiting the arrival home of the patriarch Burl Ives from a big name hospital and the news ain't good. Ives is dying and it's how the estate is to be divided that's his concern. Older son Jack Carson as Gooper with Sherwood has five kids with another on the way. A thoroughly obnoxious little group of 'no-neck monsters', but Southern families do like breeders.
Brick on the other hand is making a big show of ignoring Elizabeth Taylor and no normal heterosexual male's going to do that for long. Obviously something is eating him, possible infidelity by Liz with his late football buddy Skipper.
A whole lot of family skeletons get thrown from the closet before this film is over. Each one of the Pollitts is a deeply flawed human being as Tennessee Williams shows us.
Burl Ives as actor was established in this role and in his role in The Big Country for which he got an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. 1958 was that man's career year on screen. Big Daddy Pollitt is a man who worked his way up from nothing, concentrating so much on making a success he had no time for his family.
And Paul Newman really is wonderful as a 30 year old kid who if he doesn't straighten out will soon be a 50 year old kid. It's a performance that really rings true for me because I was pretty aimless in my twenties before settling down to the job I held for 23 years before retiring.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is one of the great pieces of 20th Century American literature. It has some universal lessons we could all profit by in viewing it.
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