The original play "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" by Tennessee Williams opened at the Morosco Theater in New York on March 24, 1955, ran for 694 performances and was nominated for the 1956 Tony Award (New York City) for the Best Play. The play also won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1955. See more »
Just as Stanley Kowalski and Blache du Bois will be forever associated with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, so too will Brick and Maggie be with Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. These are performances that define the meaning of definitive which of course poses an insurmountable problem for anyone attempting to recreate those roles. One has to approach a revival of "Streetcar" or "Cat" with the foreknowledge that the principals will more than likely fall short. It's more a question of just how short.
Jessica Lange falls shorter than one might expect although not for want of trying. That in fact is the major problem with her performance. One is constantly aware of just how hard she's trying. There's far too little cat in her "Maggie the Cat". In a bit of misdirection she takes to using her hands to make cat like movements. The result is ungainly and fails to compensate.
As Brick, Tommy Lee Jones' limitations have never been more evident. It's impossible to believe that he has any real sexual ambivalence which is the very heart of the character. His speeches concerning his buddy Skipper have no emotional truth whatsoever. It is a heartless performance. I saw Brendan Fraser battle with the part on the stage. He failed to make it work, but fared far better than Jones.
Burl Ives' marvelous portrayal of Big Daddy is too a definitive one. From Rip Torn, an actor with a wealth of experience one certainly could have expected a lot more. For some reason he is presented as scruffy and unkempt. This is hardly the imposing figure that Williams intended, one that commands respect and flaunts his power as head of the family. But worse still was his way over the top acting. Like Jones, he too lacked any sense of inner truth.
Before touching on the one redeeming feature of this production a word must be mentioned about the Southern accents used. I don't profess to have a deep knowledge as to the accuracy of the ones on display here. But I do know that from the first line to the last one is constantly aware of these accents. They seem to be greatly exaggerated and rather than lend a certain Southern charm they soon begin to grate on the nerves. They simply do not come off as natural and hamper what is already a very problematic production.
And finally, Kim Stanley. While Lange, Jones and Torn never stop acting for a minute, Kim Stanley simply is Big Mama. And that, of course, is what separates the men from the boys. Judith Anderson was superb in the screen version and yet Stanley manages to recreate the character as her own. While the other actors present caricatures, she becomes a real person before our eyes. There is precious little on film of Kim Stanley's performances which is, in the final analysis, the only worthwhile reason for seeking out this version.
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