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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
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,Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Long before "dysfunctional family" became a familiar catch phrase, Tennessee Williams was dramatizing variations on this subject in his work. Take Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for instance. Lust, avarice, and impotence are just a few of the conflicts exposed within a plot line that centers on a dying Southern patriarch and his family's greedy aspirations. The word "cat" in the play's title refers to the character of Maggie, due to her bedroom stealth and feline-like resolve to get what she wants at any cost; the play's title refers to her sexual frustration, the result of a passionless marriage. Maggie's husband, Brick, is an ex-athlete grieving over the recent suicide of his best friend and tormented by his own closeted homosexuality. Their tentative relationship is aggravated by Big Daddy, Brick's terminally ill father, who is being courted by his other son for his estate and inheritance.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof earned Williams his second Pulitzer Prize and, under Elia Kazan's direction, was a smash success on Broadway, with Ben Gazzara, Barbara Bel Geddes, Burl Ives, and Mildred Dunnock in the key roles. For the film version, only Ives returned to essay the part of Big Daddy. Although it was rumored that Grace Kelly was once considered for Maggie the Cat, the role went to Elizabeth Taylor, who was just beginning to stretch her dramatic range in films. Paul Newman was cast as Brick and Judith Anderson won the part of Big Mama. George Cukor was originally the first choice for director but backed out when faced with the prospect of battling the censors over the possible deletion of certain crucial scenes. Instead, Richard Brooks was brought in to direct (he would also helm the film version of Sweet Bird of Youth, 1962) and, as expected, had to excise some of the dialogue and subject matter in regards to sexual matters.

At first Newman, a graduate of New York's Actors Studio, had reservations about starring with Elizabeth Taylor whose approach to acting was entirely different from his own. Yet, despite their different backgrounds, the two actors had a potent on-screen chemistry together. Unfortunately, it was during this film that Taylor's husband, Mike Todd, was killed in a plane crash, causing the production to be delayed until Taylor was emotionally ready to return to work.

Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor (Newman), and Best Actress (Taylor), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof didn't win any Oscars. Ironically, Burl Ives, who gave a dynamic performance in the film as Big Daddy but wasn't nominated, took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in The Big Country (1958).

If anyone was displeased with the film version it was Tennessee Williams, who always considered Cat on a Hot Tin Roof one of his favorite plays. Not known for his fondness for movie versions of his work, he made a point of visiting a Florida cinema that was showing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and warned potential ticket buyers not to attend, exclaiming, "This movie will set the industry back fifty years! Go home!"

Director: Richard Brooks
Producer: Lawrence Weingarten
Screenplay: Richard Brooks, James Poe, based on the play by Tennessee Williams
Cinematography: William Daniels
Editor: Ferris Webster
Art Direction: William A. Horning, Urie McCleary
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Maggie "The Cat" Pollitt), Paul Newman (Brick Pollitt), Burl Ives (Big Daddy), Jack Carson (Gooper), Judith Anderson (Big Mama).
C-109m. Letterboxed. Close captioning. Descriptive video.

by Eleanor Quin