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Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

By Patrick Samuel • August 19th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5

Original release: September 20th, 1958
Running time: 107 minutes

Director: Richard Brooks
Writers: Richard Brooks, James Poe, Tennessee Williams (play)

Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Burl Ives, Judith Anderson

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

We tell lies all the time, and for a number of reasons. We don’t want to a hurt a friend’s feelings, or disappoint our families, sometimes we just want a day off. Little white lies we call them, they’re victimless crimes; no one’s any wiser and we get what we want in the process. What happens then when we have big secrets and need to protect them? We create even bigger lies to hide them under and it becomes such a destructive process that we end up hurting the very ones we tried so hard to protect.

In Tennessee Williams’ play, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, this is exactly what happens as we see a marriage cracking beneath the strain of the lies it has to uphold. Brought to the screen by director Richard Brooks, it’s one of Williams’ best known works and a personal favourite of mine since my early youth.

As the film opens we see drunken Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman) leaping hurdles on a track field at night, trying to recapture what made him such a big star. He falls and breaks his leg which leaves him hobbling around on a crutch for the rest of the film, and always with a half full glass of liquor in his hand. Brick and his wife, Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor), are staying with his extended family in Mississippi, where they’re celebrating Big Daddy’s (Burl Ives) 65th birthday. It’s far from being a happy time for the couple; Brick has become depressed and his mood steadily worsens despite Maggie’s attempts to seduce him.

Meanwhile, the family continue to make assumptions as to why she hasn’t given him any children yet. Brick’s brother Gooper (Jack Carson) and his wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) already have a litter of obnoxious little brats and Maggie is concerned her husband will end up getting cut out Big Daddy’s will altogether. If only they could have just one child, but Brick is the least bit interested in her. He stares at her coldly and moves away every time she tries to get close to him. When she talks about men flirting with her and about her desires, he tells her such talk is disgusting. He can’t even bare to drink out of the same glass as her. Every time she opens her mouth they find themselves arguing.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Why can’t you lose your good looks, Brick? Most drinking men lose theirs, why can’t you? I think you’ve even gotten better looking since you went on the bottle… You were such a wonderful lover –

You’ll be late!

Maggie’s like a cat on heat and Brick’s constantly turning the cold water on her. It’s as if he’s punishing them both for something.

Big Daddy arrives home from the hospital with news there’s nothing wrong with him – he’s not about to kick the bucket anytime soon. Still, Mae and Gooper continue lay it heavy with their kids’ all-too-obvious displays of affection but Big Daddy only wants to know about Brick and Maggie – and why she doesn’t have a bun in the oven. Big Mama (Judith Anderson) also wants to know if her son’s turning to drink because she’s not “making him happy”.

The tension simmers and comes to full boil in the third act when Big Daddy finally confronts his son about his marriage, his drinking and his friend, Skipper. The truth about Big Daddy’s health also comes out and while the family argues about his will and inheritance, Maggie suddenly announces she’s pregnant. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof combines familial tensions and ideas about immoral behaviour for a story Cat On A Hot Tin Roofabout the destructive power of lies. As they’re all eventually forced out into the open we see Brick and Maggie squirming with shame, guilt and disgust – for each other and for themselves.

Despite toning down the homosexual content of Williams’ original play, where we find out about Brick’s relationship with Skipper, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof excels because of its cast. Taylor as Maggie the Cat dominates the screen with her presence, delivering her lines with blind fury and burning frustration at having a husband like Brick, but never being able to touch him. Newman captivates as the broken athlete drowning in his self-loathing, for his part in what happened to Skipper. Ives brings in a powerhouse performance as Big Daddy, a man larger than life who’s ultimately afraid of dying.

Having seen Cat On A Hot Tin Roof as a teenager on TNT back in the early 90’s, it was my first experience of Williams’ work and it wasn’t long before I got myself a copy of the play. Reading through the lines, the characters came to life in my mind, the same way they came to life on the screen. As a story about the pain of harbouring secrets and telling lies in a family where everyone has something to hide, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is more telling than most. By way of reminding us we can do with less mendacity in our lives, it also tells us expressions of true, honest love is always in short supply.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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