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Burl Ives gives the greatest portrayal of a literary character in film
history, and he wasn't even recognized by an Oscar nomination, further
evidence of the Academy's complete lack of credibility as an arbiter of
The casting is brilliant:
Tennessee Williams's Big Daddy was indeed big - larger than life, domineering, insensitive, self-absorbed. Burl Ives's Big Daddy is larger than life, insensitive, domineering, self-absorbed. Ives is "on" every moment. And every moment is true.
Paul Newman's Brick, is as afraid of life as Big Daddy is in love with it. Yet, in his way, he's a chip off the old block - self-absorbed, insensitive.
And domineering or, as Big Daddy and Maggie would have it, masterful, ready to take charge -
if he could just get over himself.
I confess, I don't care for Elizabeth Taylor as an actress, but she is so right for the part, that I can't think of anyone else to fill it. Anyway, who else has eyes that could compete with Newman's?
Judith Anderson plays the typical Williams matron, living in her house of delusions. She's Big Daddy's tormented, desperately lonely, unloved partner, who towards the end wins Big Daddy with her nobility and devotion.
The under-appreciated Jack Carter has the unenviable role of Brick's pliant, conformist brother, Gooper, decent at heart but worn out after years of jumping through Big Daddy's hoops and still winding up on the short end, with a house full of brats, bred at Big Daddy's presumed bidding and delivered by a scheming, ambitious weasel of a wife. Gooper the only character I have a little trouble with, because his climactic speech, as rendered by Carter, is so heartfelt, that we are aggrieved with him at the injustice of Big Daddy's favoritism for the no-account but aesthetically more pleasing Brick.
Perhaps an even more unenviable role is that of Gooper's wife, played to perfection by Madeleine Sherwood. Anyone who has grown up in the South has known "Sister Woman". I can assure those who haven't, that this character is not a stereotype or caricature.
There are a few quibbles. One character, the family doctor, though played well by Larry Gates, has a dramatic function that's about as useful as the referee in a pro wrestling match, but not nearly as decorative. I guess he's included to provide plot information, but I think it could have been provided just as well without him. I was also put off by the contrived thunder claps at dramatic moments. Then, there were some continuity problems, such as different facial expression when shot angles were changed and Gooper's too many "Shut ups" to Sister Woman.
If, as another reviewer has said, Tennessee Williams hated this film, then it couldn't have been because it was untrue to his work. If he disliked the changes and omissions, he should blame '50s prudishness, not the film, for dictating, say, the suppression of Brick's homosexuality.
Williams wrote about lies and delusions, the good ones and bad ones. Well, that's what Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Streetcar Named Desire and Glass Menagerie were all about. Tennessee Williams's stories about the South and its culture of delusion are not just rebukes of Southern hypocrisy and bloodymindedness but paeans to the gentle and genteel refuge which delusion provides. As Maggie "The Cat" says, "Truth, truth - everybody keeps hollerin' about the truth. Well, the truth is as dirty as lies."
Finally, I think it was brilliant of Richard Brooks to insist on color, for Williams's stuff is talky, and with the drabness of a typical Williams set, this can be a bit oppressive. With color, and the wonderful animation Brooks instills in all the characters, his Cat contains not a dull moment. If Brooks has given us something at odds with what Williams intended, I think he has given us something just as fine.
"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is truly an actor's movie, and it is one of those
rare films where every single actor is perfect.
Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor are both brilliant as Brick and Maggie Pollitt, respectively. Not very often is there a screen couple that have the same chemistry together that they do.
Newman, however, steals the show. If you watch "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" for nothing else, watch it for his performance. One of the greatest actors of all time, Newman showcases how powerful an actor he can be. This is not to say the supporting cast isn't excellent. Burl Ives is superb in a supporting role as Big Daddy, a man who's greatest concern is having his legacy live on after him. The sequence with Ives and Newman in the basement of the house remains one of the most incredible displays of acting I have ever seen.
"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is a very appropriate title. It is a searing, wonderfully acted film that I will not soon forget. I recommend those who haven't seen it yet to rent it as soon as they get a chance. A true classic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," Newman is an ex-football player, trying to
relive his college athletic glories
Drinking and staggering, he
attempts to jump hurdles, resulting in a painful injury that has him
hobbling around on crutches during most of the film
The role was certainly another demonstration of his widening range, for Brick is in many ways the antithesis of Ben Quick ("The Long, Hot Summer"). Although he too is cynical, cold and guilt-ridden, he manifests it by becoming moody, withdrawn, introverted In addition, whereas Ben was strong and decisive, causing and participating in events, Brick is weak and passive, largely reacting to events around him... And he's anything but ambitious: while his greedy brother and sister-in-law await Big Daddy's death so they can inherit his huge fortune and plantation, and while his wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) urges him to fight for his share, he merely broods and drinks... An emotionally crippled, "thirty-year-old boy," he refuses to face responsibility and truth, preferring to drown his memories in liquor
Newman and Taylor enact striking contrasts in temperament: she is fiery, loud, animated, sensual; he is cold, quiet, immobile, dispassionate Brick and Maggie haven't been sleeping together, and she wants him desperately, but he keeps rejecting her advances As she talks, he replies with sarcasm, contempt and mostly indifference, speaking in a dreamy, monotonous manner, as if only half-there
In conversations with her, as with Big Daddy (Burl Ives), he stares into space, or walks away (usually toward the liquor supply), turning his back on the other party and forcing the dialog to take place on separate planes All of this places him in a private world, where he hides his torment and anxiety beneath a mask of detachment
If Newman is best at enacting Brick's unspoken thoughts and emotions, he's also effective in the more spirited moments, as when he screams at Maggie or Big Daddy, to prevent them from getting at the truth he wants kept buried But exactly what the "truth" is remains unclear
In the play, Brick's fear of admitting a homosexual attachment led indirectly to his friend's death and explained his overall moodiness and passivity But because of Hollywood's moral code, director-scriptwriter Richard Brooks had to eliminate this, and the character's motivations are considerably weakened His hostility toward Maggieunderstandable in the playis especially confusing because it results from events that are unconvincingly outlined
With the homosexuality cut out, Brick's dependence upon his friend is now explained by the failure of Big Daddy to provide strength and love, and this changed emphasis does make for exciting drama The film's key scenenot in the playis one in which Brick confronts his father with this painful truth As they sit in a cellar disarranged with the old man's useless antiques, he tells Big Daddy that love cannot be bought Newman moves powerfully from anguished looks to an eruption of emotion, smashing everything in sight, finally breaking down and crying: "All I wanted was a father, not a boss ... I wanted you to love me." Both are in painBig Daddy because of cancer, Brick because his crutch has (symbolically) been broken, and they need each other's he1p to get upstairs Therefore the film ultimately becomes another statement of father-son alienation, and their coming to terms with it, as in "The Rack" and "Somebody Up There Likes Me," leads the characters to a new strength (and an upbeat ending not in the play).
Despite its compromises, the film was still daring by 1958 standards, and was an enormous commercial success It received six Oscar nominations, including one for Newman as Best Actorhis first. Newman had developed, at last, a really impressive acting ability, and a distinctive screen image
Much has been made of the differences between Tennessee Williams' play
and this film--the homoerotic themes have been driven further into subtext
(though not eliminated entirely) and a more upbeat ending was added. The
changes were necessary when the film was made; although theater and literary
purists decry the "sanitizing" or censorship of plays when they are adapted
for the screen, in some cases (such as this one) the changes can improve the
work in question. "Cat" on film is clearer, for one thing. Tennessee
Williams plays tend to be "cluttered" in their original form. They are also
cynically downbeat; if that type of story appeals to one, this adaptation
might be off-putting.
As with all theatrical adaptations, many of the scenes are excessively talky, especially the Brick/Big Daddy scenes in the second act. Some of the highlights are just as wordy but thoroughly enjoyable rather than tedious (especially Maggie's story about Mae's reign as Cotton Carnival Queen and the entire scene in the basement). All of the performances are excellent, though Paul Newman as Brick is less flashy; it's not really until the basement scene that one feels his talent is given a workout. Elizabeth Taylor is an emotional rollercoaster, venturing from flirtatious to hectoring to wheedling to calm to grasping to tender, often within a single scene, and yet she never slips the rails. Watching films from this period (her career peak), one wonders what happened to turn her into the vague, bleary-eyed woman we see today. Judith Anderson's Big Mama is loud, coarse, and bossy, but completely sympathetic both in the scene with the birthday cake and in the confrontation scene at the end. When Big Daddy invites her along with him at the end, it is every bit as welcome to the viewer as it is to her. Burl Ives is the most towering of all; the emotional growth in the film is as much his as it is Brick's. Jack Carson and Madeleine Sherwood are every bit as good despite being relegated to comic relief at times.
My favorite aspect of this story, however, is the social dynamic. Brick and Maggie are spoiled, young, "beautiful people" who have yet to take on any responsibility, while Gooper and Mae are the epitome of a serious young family. Brick is an alcoholic former football player, while Gooper is a corporate lawyer. Despite these obvious differences, however, both their parents and the audience (and Tennessee Williams, obviously) clearly prefer Brick and Maggie. Every aspect of Gooper and Mae's personalities, even those which bespeak traditional values, are portrayed as petty and unimaginative. Even if one believes that Gooper and Mae have done all the right things, they have done them for the wrong reasons. Thus the theme of the story is most clearly presented: all that is important is to love and to express that love.
Sultry and downbeat, this Richard Brooks directed film is set at a
Southern plantation where a dysfunctional family celebrates the 65th
birthday of family patriarch Big Daddy (Burl Ives), a portly man whose
health, or the lack of it, is very much on the minds of all the family
members. The story centers on one of Big Daddy's two sons, a brooding
young man named Brick (Paul Newman) and his childless wife Maggie
Brick is reticent and repressed for reasons unknown, and finds relief in alcohol. Beautiful Maggie is concerned that Brick's indifference to Big Daddy may cost them their share of the family inheritance, at the hands of Brick's brother and scheming sister-in-law. Adding fuel to the fire is Brick's prepubescent nieces and nephews, in-your-face brats, whom Maggie refers to, not kindly, as little "no-neck" monsters. Big Momma (Judith Anderson) just wants Big Daddy to be physically well, and for everyone to get along.
Of course, with a big inheritance on the line, tension erupts, first between Brick and Maggie, then later between them and everyone else. As the tension mounts, arguments erupt into a real down-home Southern soap opera.
The film's script is heavy on dialogue. But because of the story's thematic depth, the issues are interesting and insightful, and the script never seems talky. At the heart of the story is the subject of mendacity, of lies and not telling the truth. There is considerable emotional pain, expressed as anger, resentment, and sarcasm. The story, originated by Tennessee Williams, goes against its era, in that it contradicts the virtues of traditional family values and capitalism.
Casting and acting are quite good. But Burl Ives' performance is wonderful, and alone makes the film worth watching. Color cinematography is conventional. It's a slow-paced film with long camera "takes". Sets and production design are lavish.
Because the dreadful Hays Code censored much of the thematic content in 1958, the film's conclusion is weak and does not justify Brick's emotional state. This is not a criticism of the film, but of the Hays Code itself which, mercifully, was abolished in the 1960s.
Dripping with Southern atmosphere, and with a sultry jazz score, "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" is a terrific movie, for its thematic value, its cast, and the splendid performance of Burl Ives.
I first encountered "Cat" in a fine National Theatre production in 1988 with
Lindsay Duncan as Maggie, Ian Charleson as Brick, Eric Porter as Big Daddy,
Paul Jessons as Gooper and Alison Steadman as Mae.
The film is not the play, but you don't often get an opportunity to see a fine cast perform this amazing play, and it needs a fine cast.
The movie has a fine cast. The movie grips you from start to finish. The movie even adds a little; the basement scene works wonderfully in the movie in ways that would be hard or impossible to reproduce on stage.
Yes, the play has been bowdlerised to make it into a movie, but what do you expect in 1958. The reality is, this film is a piece of cinema and drama history. You'd need to be a "Williams Fundamentalist" to hate the movie for its toned-down-ness. To the balanced Williams fan, it is gripping, well acted and nicely-paced.
Once every 10-15 years there is a truly fine production of this play in a world-class theatre. If you get the chance, go see a great production in the theatre. In between times, this movie is a very good second.
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.
This is my all-time favorite film, ever ever ever ever!!
How can I describe the fabulousness?? Paul and Liz are so hot and beautifully frustrating together as Brick and Maggie, that the TV nearly explodes...Gooper is perfectly portrayed as a good man, financially independent, but still seeking Big Daddy's approval, and a prime example of a man being "whipped"...we hate Sister Woman, and rightly so -- for she is a despicable character...Big Momma is stronger than anybody thinks, and Big Daddy holds the whole family and story together with his massive strength and faith in himself.
The relationship between Brick and Maggie is the most fascinating ever recorded on celluloid. We think it's all about sex, but if it were, they would have jumped each other long ago (My GOD, LOOK at them!! It's Newman and Taylor). This is a relationship full of confusion, betrayal, honesty, dishonesty, love, desire, and trust. The phenomenal symbolism of Brick's crutch is beautifully represented.
The play was wonderful, and the movie was wonderful, but it is important to remember that they are two separate entities. A mistake that I believe that many people make while watching adaptations, is that they are exactly that -- an ADAPTATION! They are not meant to be the same. They should be judged each on their own merit!!
On Cat's own merit, it is a magical film
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Pollitt family gather to celebrate the 65th birthday of Big Daddy
(Burl Ives), wealthy land owner and cotton merchant. Amongst the group
are Big Daddy's wife, Ida, their eldest son, Gooper (Jack Carlson),
Gooper's wife Mae (Madeline Sherwood) and their five children and the
Pollitt's youngest and favourite son Brick (Paul Newman) and Brick's
wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor).
The movie opens with Brick, in a drunken stupor, attempting to recapture his lost glory days on the athletics track. Unfortunately, the only glory he gains is a broken ankle. Brick is a former star footballer who has become a miserable alcoholic. He spends his days in a deep depression, hobbling around on his crutch, grieving for the death of his best friend, Skipper, and yearning for the love of his father that he has never had. Brick is so wrapped up in feelings of disgust and sadness; he can't even bear to make love to his wife Maggie (whom he accuses of seducing and sleeping with Skipper). He lies on the couch swilling whiskey, nursing his broken ankle and wounded pride and rejecting Maggie's seductive advances as well as refusing to care about the family quarrelling downstairs.
The story really heats up towards the middle of the film. As a thunderstorm erupts outside, the gloves come off. Determined to find out the cause of Brick's alcoholism, Big Daddy battles Maggie and Brick behind closed doors. Several revelations finally come to the surface. Brick's hatred of himself over losing his best friend and 'crutch', finally bring him out of his emotionless state as he starts to talk about the events leading up to Skipper's death. His deep blue eyes slowly well with tears and his grief-ravaged face crack through his father's harshness towards him. Big Daddy realises that his son's 'very close and almost obsessive' friendship with Skipper replaced the love that had been denied by his father for so long. During the heated arguing, Brick lets it slip that to Big Daddy that he has been lied to about his illness. Stunned with the revelation that he has terminal cancer and he has been lied to, Big Daddy wanders off to be alone.
Brick searches for Big Daddy to apologise, and finds him in the basement, where they both have a deep and meaningful talk about their relationship. Father and son then realise how much they need each other. Brick doesn't care about wealth. All he wants is a father, not a boss. Both men are physically crippled Brick with his broken ankle and Big Daddy with cancer. However, they become emotional crutches for each other, which in turn ease the physical pain. With a new found respect, understanding and love for each other, father and son help each other up the stairs to face the storm brewing in the living room between the remainder of the family. This particular scene is the strongest and most emotional in the entire movie.
The family gather for a 'final confrontation' in the living room. It is uncovered that Gooper and Mae have drawn up papers to try and take Big Daddy's plantation from under him due to his terminal illness. With these revelations out in the open, Maggie cunningly takes the opportunity to give her 'birthday present' to Big Daddy. She announces that she is in fact pregnant with Brick's child. Of course Big Daddy knows that it is a lie. But he also knows now that Brick's demons have finally been laid to rest, and that his youngest son is ready to take on the responsibility of a family as well as the Pollitt property. He admires Brick for his simple want of love not money. Big Daddy then organises to have his lawyer leave his wealth to Brick.
Paul Newman captures the intense depression of Brick really well. For the first half of the movie, he is emotionless, uncaring and wrapped up in his own world of pity and sadness. Elizabeth Taylor was perfect as the desperate and beautiful Maggie the Cat. She was courageous and powerful. Her performance perfectly bounced off Newman as he expressionlessly thwarted her advances. Both Newman and Taylor are so stunningly beautiful in this movie, that they take your breath away.
Burl Ives was magnificent. What I loved most about Ives' performance, was Big Daddy's ability to be the domineering patriarch, but at the same time in his scenes with Brick, he allows himself to show that he understands his son's emotional pain, and in his facial expressions, you can see that he does hurt for the torment that Brick is going through. They are very subtle expressions of tenderness, but at the same time, they do make an impact on the viewer. Big Daddy's heart does truly break for his son, and it is clear that Brick is the favourite. Madeline Sherwood was impeccably cast as Gooper's annoying, greedy wife, Mae. Her whining, yelling and constant sneering at Brick and Maggie's infertile marriage is enough to make you wish Maggie actually did slap her into oblivion. The underrated Jack Carson is Gooper. Judith Anderson plays Big Mamma the desperate, lonely and under-appreciated wife.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof takes us back to when the performances of actors were simply enough to draw audience. The story only revolve around family domestics, but it keeps the viewer interested and thoughtful until the final scene because of the pain, torment and greed of its characters. It was a pleasure to see such wonderful and talented performers at the top of their craft, and it is a terrific salute to the way dramatic film should be made.
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