Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

>> Monday, October 13, 2008

USA/C-108 m./Dir: Richard Brooks/Wr: Richard Brooks & James Poe (based on the play by Tennessee Williams)/Cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Maggie Pollitt), Paul Newman (Brick Pollitt), Burl Ives (Harvey "Big Daddy" Pollitt), Jack Carson (Gooper Pollitt), Judith Anderson (Ida Pollitt), Madeleine Sherwood (Mae Flynn Pollitt)

Mendacity! That is the reason that Brick Pollitt gives for his Herculean intake of bourbon in the 1958 film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Of course, the word could also apply to the censors and producers of the movie; because the version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play that they brought to the screen was considerably watered down.

"Mendacity" is Brick's word for dishonesty, and there is plenty to be had in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. As the story begins, the Pollitt clan has gathered for the 65th birthday of plantation owner, Harvey "Big Daddy" Pollitt (Burl Ives); but most of the family is less interested in the anniversary than in positioning themselves to take the lion's share of the old man's wealth once he croaks. Elder brother Gooper and his wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) take every opportunity to promote themselves and their no-neck rug rats over Brick and his childless spouse, Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor). Of course, Maggie has designs of her own (on both Big Daddy's property and on jumping Brick's bones). For his part, Brick is uninterested in everthing except draining bourbon bottles until he can hear the "click" in his head that washes away the cares of the world.

In the stage production, there was the suggestion that Brick's drinking and resistance to the advances of his wife were due to latent homosexuality. Of course, that subject was taboo under the Hollywood production code of the time. Suprisingly, the drama still works with the excision of that major theme. One can believe that Brick drinks due to feeling unloved in a dishonest world, and one can accept the eventual reconciliations between Big Daddy, Brick, Maggie, and Gooper's tribe. The only thing I had trouble buying was that Paul Newman and Jack Carson were in any way genetically related.

The film works in large part due to the cast. Liz Taylor, Jack Carson, Madeleine Sherwood, and Judith Anderson all turn in fine performances. However, it is the wounded charisma of Paul Newman and the powerful intensity of Burl Ives that leave a lasting impression. The movie version of Tennessee Williams' drama is flawed, but it is a pretty potent cocktail just the same.

Drinks Consumed--Bourbon, beer, and champagne

Intoxicating effects--Staggering, stumbling, and bickering

Potent Quotables--MAGGIE: Let's face it, baby. You're a drinker, and that takes money.
BRICK: I don't want his money.
MAGGIE: You ready to settle for ten cent beer? 'Cause that's just what Gooper will dole out to you when they freeze you out. They gotta plan, baby. Oh, you shoulda heard them layin' it on Big Daddy; a mile a minute. Big Momma's already on their side. You're a drinker, and I'm childless.

Video Availability--Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Deluxe Edition) is available as a standalone DVD or as a part of the Tennessee Williams Film Collection (MGM)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--It was Taylor's turn to hit the bottle in the 1966 adaptation of Edward Albee's play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Deluxe Edition)

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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