Monday, June 30, 2014

Film of the Week: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958

“Mendacity!” That was most-likely what Tennessee Williams said of the 1958 film version of his successful 1955 Broadway play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Williams did not care much for the film, finding that the toned-down sexuality of the picture strayed too much from his original concept. Still, the film is a triumph from a cinematic standpoint and features excellent performances from its principal cast which includes Elizabeth Taylor as “Maggie the Cat,” Paul Newman as “Brick,” Burl Ives as “Big Daddy,” Judith Anderson as “Big Mama” and Jack Carson as “Gooper.”
Much like the play, the film explores the interpersonal relationships of a wealthy Southern family as they weave in-and-out of discussions about truth, loyalty and fidelity. Newman is perfect as Brick—the aging, alcoholic, former football hero/favorite son and frigid husband. Taylor is the ideal, overwrought Maggie who wants nothing more than her husband’s love. Taylor wasn’t the first choice for “Maggie.” The role was originally offered to Grace Kelly who probably wouldn’t have been as deliciously neurotic in the part. Similarly, the role of “Brick” was first offered to Elvis Presley who turned down the part. That would have been quite a different film. Burl Ives reprises the role he made famous on stage and he’s joined by the always-excellent Judith Anderson as the melodramatic and misunderstood “Big Mama.”

The film is particularly interesting when one considers the back-stage drama. Taylor became a widow during the film’s production when her husband at the time, Mike Todd, was tragically killed in a plane crash. She took a brief break from the production, seeking solace in the company of her friend, Monty Clift. When she returned to the production, she was considerably thinner and more fragile, but nonetheless gave an excellent performance.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof offers up just the right amount of tawdry, steamy Southern drama and is the perfect way to spend a chilly Sunday afternoon.

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