Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Taylor wants Newman to be her Old-man

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is one of a few movies which makes me wish I had been born earlier so that I could have seen it on the big screen when it originally came out. The reason for this is that I am sure it came across as edgy back in the late 50s but now this adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play doesn't feel that edgy at all. It is still well acted, entertaining and powerful as well as being full of depth but the social undertones are those of the 50s and so don't resonate as strongly like they once did.

Having returned home for his father's 65th birthday, Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman - Road to Perdition) would rather spend the time drinking himself into oblivion in his room rather than celebrate with his emotionally distant father. He doesn't even want Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor - A Place in the Sun) his wife near him, cruelly starving her of love ever sing his close friend Skipper died. But when it become clear that Big Daddy Pollitt (Burl Ives) is dying Brick finds himself surprisingly trying to deal with his issues with his father, whilst his brother Gooper (Jack Carson) and his greedy wife scheme to inherit the family estate and business empire.

Burl Ives and Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

If "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" was adapted into a movie now the word dysfunctional would crop up in its description somewhere because to be honest there is an element of a dysfunctional family about it. And like other modern dysfunctional family movies the drama unfolds over a short period of time at a get together to celebrate Big Daddy Pollitt's birthday. Even the various surface problems such as Brick and Maggie's failing marriage, Brick's drinking problem, Big Daddy Pollitt's illness and Gooper and his wife focussing on their inheritance and business all wouldn't be out of place in a modern dysfunctional family movie.

But unlike most modern dysfunctional family movies "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is more than just a collection of issues, it has depth, motive and as the drama unfolds we learn what is at the root of all these issues. And at the centre of most of this is the failing marriage of Brick and Maggie as Brick shuts her out, cruelly denying her of affection as he drinks himself into oblivion racked with guilt over the death of his close friend Skipper sometime earlier. We learn that Maggie loves Brick, will do anything to keep their marriage intact whilst Brick half blames Maggie for the death of Skipper. Why is he so guilt ridden over the death of Skipper, well it's all in the depth and subtleties which reveal themselves as the drama unfolds and the tension boils over as the truth comes out, or at least the censored truth.

But the drama is just not about Brick and Maggie as there is also his issues with his father, Big Daddy who is looking death in the face a secret which everyone seems to know other than his wife. And Brick's problems interweave as Big Daddy can see that his son's marriage has hit the rocks, something which all the family members are aware of despite attempts to keep it secret. You can also throw into the mix Brick's brother Gooper and his wife who are there bending over backwards to please Big Daddy, desperately trying to manipulate their way to get the family empire.

What makes this all so great is what you read between the lines as whilst we learn more and more about the issues as the time passes not everything is spoon fed. We are left to make our own conclusions about certain things and whilst some of them are clearer than others there are parts to "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" which can be taken in different ways.

All of which makes "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" a fascinating drama which whilst watching now doesn't carry the same social punch that it must have had during the late 50s is still powerful stuff and that power comes from good performances throughout. There are of course the two obvious brilliant performances, those of Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor who deliver something deep within themselves so that we can feel Brick's pain and anger whilst also feeling Maggie's need for affection, to be held and loved. And then there is the stunning performance from Burl Ives as Big Daddy Pollitt whose controlled anger is captivating especially as he clashes with Brick over their own issues. But then Jack Carson as Gooper also deserves credit because he never overplays his character, never tries to make it more than it is and in such a power packed movie it shows great restraint.

What this all boils down to is that "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is both entertaining and fascinating drawing you into the drama and dysfunctional relationships in the Pollitt family. But where as once those underlying social issues may have been seen as boundary pushing they now feel surprisingly tame, although it doesn't stop "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" being a must watch movie even if it is for top performances from Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Burt Ives.