March Issue 2014
Classic Film Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Mendacity, a more sophisticated word for “lies,” is what ails our heavy-drinking protagonist, Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman), in Richard Brook’s big-screen adaptation of Tennessee William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). Once a celebrated rugby star and sports commentator, Brick is now an alcoholic with a fractured leg — the result of him trying to relive his glory days in a state of inebriation. But despite everything he hates about those around him, Brick carries a dark secret that he can’t bring himself to confront.
The entire film is set over the course of one day, around a birthday party for Brick’s father, Big Daddy (Burl Ives), which gives a glimpse of how the Pollitt family interacts: Brick’s cool detachment and resentment towards his wife, Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) — a great example of one of William’s many ‘wounded women,’ played faultlessly by Elizabeth Taylor — whose repeated attempts at trying to seduce her husband are in vain; Maggie’s own distress at not having any children and the fear that Brick’s brother and sister-in-law will inherit Big Daddy’s wealth; Big Daddy as the ultimate patriarch and a self-made man with a no-nonsense approach to the self-indulgence of others.
Because Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was meant to be a stage-play, the acting is dramatic, but it never seems forced. A seductive jazz soundtrack and thunder, lightning and heavy rainfall at the right moments add to the drama. Newman and Taylor, who might just be one of the best-looking onscreen couples in Hollywood history, give power-packed performances.
This review was originally published in Newsline’s March 2014 issue under the headline, “Cool Cat.”
The writer is a journalist and former assistant editor at Newsline.