Written and Directed By: Richard Brooks
Based On The Play By: Tennessee Williams
Staring: Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Burl Ives, Jack Carson, Judith Anderson, Madeleine Sherwood, and Larry Gates
I’ve got the guts to die. What I want to know is, have you got the guts to live? -Harvey “Big Daddy” Pollitt
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire are two of my favorite Tennessee Williams plays adapted into film. Besides good direction in each case, there is also the enigmatic persuasion of the lead actors and the chemistry between them. In this case, the duo of Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. Each are. so young and vibrant, ripe for the role of Brick and Maggie The Cat. While the majority of this film circulates in three rooms, and entirely around dialogue, it’s just as seductive, intense, and enjoyable as seen on stage, not to mention considerably better than most drama’s today.
Brick is Maggie’s estranged husband, and is drowning in alcohol abuse. An ex-football player who was injured and unable to continue playing laments the death of his best friend, while resisting the affections of his wife, who is desperate to have a child with him, and have the man she married back. The entire Pollitt family has reunited for Brick’s father, “Big Daddy’s” final birthday celebration, as he is dying of cancer. What’s been said behind closed doors, and whispered as secrets is now up for topic, and no one wants to hear the truth.
There is a passion and fire from our actors in this film that you just don’t see anymore today. Just because movies aren’t made like they used to doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be. So many of today’s dramas and character studies are so pretentious or use different technology to distract and avoid the fact that their film has no soul. The mystery of Brick being able to turn away from Maggie’s desire and advances makes the audience genuinely curious what could have made this beautiful looking couple so far apart from one another. What could make a man turn away from such a vivacious and sultry woman, who obviously adores him? The story gets you right away, and that mystery and interchange between the two keeps you watching with a gripping magnitude.
It’s all about the character’s and the dialogue. Essentially telling a story without showing it, and no flashbacks is not something filmmakers today often explore, and is fairly reserved for the theatre. It’s far easier to make that character connection when they are right in front of your face with the dram, rather than threw your television, but Burl Ives, Paul Newman, and Elizabeth Taylor succeed in triumphing those barriers. Taylor pulls off the performance of a life time here. Her desperation, adoration for Brick, broken heart, and animalistic craving for her life to be more than it was is palpable. The chemistry she was with Newman is electrifying. You can feel beneath all the tension, the resentment and blame that there is a real connection between the two. It makes sense that they ended up together in the first place. Ives is amazing and commands each seen he is in, but when he learns of his own fate, and the “mendacity” of the situation, his performance changes from powerful and bitter, to soft and reflective, a giant range of emotions, really reflecting what he’s going through.
The dialogue is melodramatic, but director and writer Richard Brooks adapted the work of Tennessee Williams in a way that made it seem like it was actually written for film. The actors down played in the moments that it needed to be, and took it over the top at all the right moments. The full effect of southern passion and culture was in full effect and emoted throughout. The setting felt natural, and the character’s true to it. There is an overwhelming sort of desperation and melancholy that runs in the theme, and it’s power is reflected through the character’s and the choices they make.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is one of my favorite classics, and definitely one of Elizabeth Taylor’s most noteworthy performances, along with an astounding performance by Burl Ives. Every moment of this film keeps you on edge, enthralled and completely enamored by what each of our characters will say next. A film truly about the character’s in it, with a clear build up to the climax and the ultimate revelations at the conclusion, is balanced perfectly. This is a film that has and will continue to endure.