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Sunday, 26 August 2012

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) - Spotlight on... On the Edge!

"Maggie the Cat is alive! I'm alive!" - Elizabeth Taylor (as Maggie in 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof')

'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' is a 1958 drama directed by Richard Brooks and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Burt Ives, Judith Anderson, Jack Carson and Madeleine Sherwood.

Based on the Pulitzer prize-winning play by Tennessee Williams, it became one of the biggest box office hits of 1958.

Brick Pillitt is a former football player who breaks his ankle after he jumps hurdles under the influence of alcohol. As a result, Brick spends the rest of the film on a crutch. The next day, Brick and his wife Maggie (played by Taylor) visit Brick's family home for the 65th birthday of his father, Big Daddy (played by Ives). Also visiting are Brick's brother Gooper (played by Carson), his wife Mae (played by Sherwood) and their five bratty children. 

Watch the trailer:

Key relationships

The basic premise of the film is an in-depth examination of key relationships among the various family members. I will comment on the two key relationships, Maggie & Brick, and Brick & Big Daddy.

Firstly, the troubled relationship between husband and wife, Brick and Maggie. Brick's recently deceased best friend Skipper is also an important part of this relationship bringing about a love triangle. Tied into this relationship are the themes of sexual desire, and sexual repression. Maggie is desperate for Brick to make love to her, but Brick does not show any interest. Maggie is confused about what Brick's issue is, "Where did I fail you? Where did I make my mistake?" Although the couple live together, Maggie does not feel it. She tells Brick,"I'm not living with you! We occupy the same cage that's all!" 

Secondly, we have the detached relationship between Brick and his father. From the beginning of the film, we get a sense of some tension, but we don't know exactly what this is. Once we see Big Daddy and Brick talking in the cellar, Big Daddy asks Brick what he never gave him, to which Brick replies: "You can't buy love."

Key themes

Paul Newman & Elizabeth Taylor in an early
scene in the film
Key themes in the film include greed and death.

The film explores greed, and in particular family greed, with Gooper and Mae who use their five children and crawling tactics to scheme and take the family inheritance. Maggie fights back and tries to protect her husband's inheritance by lying she is pregnant.

The film also explores the concept of death, and the way in which the characters face death, particularly Big Daddy. At the start of the film, we learn Big Daddy has been sent away due to ill health. When he returns, we are told he has fully recovered. Shortly after, we learn the doctor had lied to Big Daddy, and he is in fact going to die. Once Big Daddy discovers the truth, we travel with him on his emotional response journey from denial, resistance, exploration to acceptance of his inevitable fate. Big Daddy even says to Brick: "I've got the guts to die. What I want to know is, have you got the guts to live?"

Censored for the screen

Tennessee Williams was angered by the way in which the strict Hays Production Code forced changes to his original play.  A notable component was the way in which the film adaptation limits Brick's sexual desire for Skipper, and removes the original play's critique on homophobia and sexism.

Did you know...

  • Burt Ives and Madeleine Sherwood reprise the roles they created on Broadway
  • Ben Gazzara played the role of Brick on Broadway, but turned down the role in the film
  • Don Murray was considered for the role of Brick
  • Elvis Presley turned down the role of Brick
  • Grace Kelly & Lana Turner were considered for the role of Maggie
  • George Cukor turned the chance to direct this film
  • Playwright Tennessee Williams disliked the film adaptation so much, he told people waiting to see the film to go home 
  • Due to a musicians union strike, the film lacks a traditional music score composed specifically for the film - instead the music score features pre-recorded pieces of music from the MGM music library, much of which was composed for the film 'Tension' (1949)
  • The film was originally meant to be filmed in black and white, however director Brooks insisted the film be in colour due to Elizabeth Taylor's violet coloured eyes, and Paul Newman's blue eyes
  • Burt Ives (who plays Big Daddy) was only one year older than Jack Carson, who plays his eldest son, and 16 years older than Paul Newman, who plays his youngest son

Award nominations

  • Academy Award nomination for Best Picture
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Actor (Paul Newman)
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Actress (Elizabeth Taylor)
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Director
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, screenplay based on another medium
  • BAFTA Award nomination for Best Film from any Source
  • BAFTA Award nomination for Best Foreign Actor (Paul Newman)
  • BAFTA Award nomination for Best Foreign Actress (Elizabeth Taylor)
  • Directors Guide of America nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures
  • Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture - Drama
  • Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Director
  • Golden Lauren award for Top Female Dramatic Performance (Elizabeth Taylor)
  • Golden Lauren nomination for Top Male Dramatic Performance (Paul Newman)
  • National Board of Review Award winner for Top Ten Films
  • Writer's Guild of America Award nomination for Best Written American Drama

Closing remarks

'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' is one of my favourite dramatic films, and is my favourite Elizabeth Taylor film. I like the way in which the film delves into family relationships and gradually unpacks the catalysts for the relationships throughout the film.

The entire cast delivers fantastic performers. In my opinion this is both the best performances Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman ever delivered. The only bad thing I can say about the acting is Australian actress Judith Anderson, occasionally loosing her accent and saying a few words here and there in an Australian accent. This may appear more obvious to me, as I am Australian, but other than, she does a great job.

I would consider 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' to be co-best film of 1958 with the MGM musical 'Gigi', which won the Best Picture Oscar (and is my second favourite film).

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