Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

You’d think that somewhere along the line I would have seen the film version of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, as many old movies as I’ve watched over the years. I’ve seen and liked several other films based on plays by Tennessee Williams, such as THE GLASS MENAGERIE, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA. But I’d never watched this one until now. And doing so was actually work-related, research for an upcoming project for one of us, but the details of that should probably wait until another time. (How’s that for a tease?)

There’s not much point in going into the plot. You know it anyway, whether you’ve seen the movie or not -- the members of a rich, decadent, dysfunctional Southern family spend a couple of hours yelling at each other, revealing long-buried secrets, and torturing each other emotionally before the whole ordeal acts as sort of a catharsis, leaving at least some of them with the glimmerings of hope. So here are a few observations, for what they’re worth.

Director/co-scripter Richard Brooks tries to open up this adaptation of the play and make it less stagebound, but the results are mixed. Sure, there are some outside scenes, but for the most part the action still consists of people standing around in rooms, talking. Not that there’s anything wrong with that if what they’re saying is interesting.

You expect a movie like this to be a little lurid and over-the-top, and CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF delivers. You got your dying patriarch, you got your suck-up son and his absolutely horrible wife and children, you got your black sheep son and his possibly unfaithful wife who can’t have children because her husband won’t touch her anymore. You got your struggle to inherit a vast plantation even though its owner isn’t even dead yet. You got your thunderstorm moving in for heavy-handed symbolism. You’ve got a lot of scenery-chewing that I suppose might technically be considered overacting, but with material like this, nothing else is going to work. I think Burl Ives won a Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Big Daddy, and he deserves it for finding a few quiet moments of humanity amidst all the bombast he puts out. Paul Newman is good, too, spending a lot of the movie in a rather understated mode with all the emotional chaos going on around him but capable of erupting at times like everybody else. Elizabeth Taylor’s Southern accent is grating at first, but I got used to it after a while.

And speaking of Elizabeth Taylor, it’s sort of easy to forget after the past few decades, but there was a time when she was incredibly hot. I’m not sure any actress ever looked better in a slip than she does in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Maybe it’s time for me to find a copy of BUTTERFIELD 8 and watch it . . .


Unknown said...

If you've never seen Butterfield 8, you should get it. Taylor was never more beautiful than in that one.

How about the "no neck monsters"?

Cap'n Bob said...

I did a scene from this play in my college drama class. Eat your heart out, Paul Newman.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The combination of Taylor and Newman in Cat is enough to excite anyone born before 1960. Even if no sparks were generated between them.
Grace Kelly was just as beautiful but not as hot. She played more tepid roles though.

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