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
The best thing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has going for it is one truly remarkable acting performance. And that performance comes from neither Elizabeth Taylor nor Paul Newman. There's nothing wrong with the work turned in by Taylor and Newman, they are both perfectly fine in their roles. And it is their characters who are the focus for most of the film. But late on in the proceedings Burl Ives grabs hold of the film and makes it his own. Ives turns in a performance which is so strong and powerful that it threatens to overshadow and overwhelm everything else in the film. However it is rather difficult to overshadow Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. And the film's rather simple story is certainly compelling enough so as not to be overwhelmed by the Ives tour de force near the end. So while Ives may end up being the most memorable thing the film has to offer he is certainly not the only memorable thing. His great performance is merely the best part of what is an overall thoroughly satisfying film.
The film's simple story centers around a day in the life of a wealthy Southern family. With this family the key word is "mendacity". What does that even mean? Any of our characters who initially don't know about mendacity surely will by the time the story plays itself out. As we meet them everyone has come together to celebrate the 65th birthday of family patriarch Big Daddy. Initially it seems the film is about Big Daddy's son Brick and his wife Maggie the Cat. Brick and Maggie are not currently in the throes of wedded bliss. To say their relationship is strained would be putting it mildly. The fact that alcohol seems to be the only thing in life Brick is at all interested in probably does not help matters. But as the film progresses we see there is a larger issue than Brick and Maggie's troubled marriage. Big Daddy is dying. And nobody, not his family and not his doctors, has the guts to tell him. This will ultimately play itself out in powerful, heartrending fashion.
For much of the film's running time you would call it compelling but certainly not spectacular. But then Ives, as Big Daddy, grabs the film by its throat and shakes some real life into it. There's a scene where Ives as Big Daddy and Newman as Brick are alone in a basement which simply could not have been performed any better. There's so much these characters have to say to one another. The emotion is raw and the scene is so powerful. It hits you right in the heart. Just this one scene alone, with these two great actors, elevates the film all by itself. Newman is terrific. Ives is astounding. Perhaps it is in fact possible to overshadow Elizabeth Taylor. Maybe just this once. Maggie the Cat is an intriguing character in her own right and Taylor certainly doesn't disappoint in the role. But it turns out that ultimately the film is really about the relationship between Brick and his father, not Brick and his wife. And as such it is Newman, and most especially Ives, who you will most remember. It is their work which transforms a good movie into something truly memorable.
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