4 November 2009 | Lechuguilla
Some Really Fine Acting Here
Sultry and downbeat, this Richard Brooks directed film is set at a Southern plantation where a dysfunctional family celebrates the 65th birthday of family patriarch Big Daddy (Burl Ives), a portly man whose health, or the lack of it, is very much on the minds of all the family members. The story centers on one of Big Daddy's two sons, a brooding young man named Brick (Paul Newman) and his childless wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor).
Brick is reticent and repressed for reasons unknown, and finds relief in alcohol. Beautiful Maggie is concerned that Brick's indifference to Big Daddy may cost them their share of the family inheritance, at the hands of Brick's brother and scheming sister-in-law. Adding fuel to the fire is Brick's prepubescent nieces and nephews, in-your-face brats, whom Maggie refers to, not kindly, as little "no-neck" monsters. Big Momma (Judith Anderson) just wants Big Daddy to be physically well, and for everyone to get along.
Of course, with a big inheritance on the line, tension erupts, first between Brick and Maggie, then later between them and everyone else. As the tension mounts, arguments erupt into a real down-home Southern soap opera.
The film's script is heavy on dialogue. But because of the story's thematic depth, the issues are interesting and insightful, and the script never seems talky. At the heart of the story is the subject of mendacity, of lies and not telling the truth. There is considerable emotional pain, expressed as anger, resentment, and sarcasm. The story, originated by Tennessee Williams, goes against its era, in that it contradicts the virtues of traditional family values and capitalism.
Casting and acting are quite good. But Burl Ives' performance is wonderful, and alone makes the film worth watching. Color cinematography is conventional. It's a slow-paced film with long camera "takes". Sets and production design are lavish.
Because the dreadful Hays Code censored much of the thematic content in 1958, the film's conclusion is weak and does not justify Brick's emotional state. This is not a criticism of the film, but of the Hays Code itself which, mercifully, was abolished in the 1960s.
Dripping with Southern atmosphere, and with a sultry jazz score, "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" is a terrific movie, for its thematic value, its cast, and the splendid performance of Burl Ives.