3 October 2019 | TheLittleSongbird
Could have sizzled more but doesn't fizzle
'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' has been proported to be Tennessee Williams' personal favourite play of his. It's mine as well, and this is coming from a big admirer of Williams since studying the play in school when studying all the different aspects of love in English Literature. It is also one of his most famous and most performed, both justifiably so and it deserves its positive reputation. It is a very powerful and brilliantly written play with vividly drawn characters, with bold themes.
Saw two filmed versions prior to this 1976 version. One was the best known one, the film from 1958. The other was from 1984 with Jessica Lange, Tommy Lee Jones and Rip Torn. As well as come to think of it a very interesting version part of the National Theatre Live series, very well performed if an acquired taste on a visual level. Both the 1958 and 1984 versions are very good in their own way. 1984's is much more faithful in detail and spirit to the play, censorship not restricting things so it has what was toned down or ommitted before. 1958 despite being toned down, while still sizzling, has the better production values and even more of a powerhouse cast, namely Burl Ives, also thought the confrontation between Brick and Big Daddy more powerful in the film too.
1976's version is a more than worthy one. Actually consider it very good with a lot of excellently executed things. Like 1984's, it is much more faithful to the play, more of it and it's not toned down, though 1958's had the production values and cast.
Do agree that the production values are the biggest hindrance. The restricted budget does show but it's the video direction that fares weakest in this regard. It is very choppy and it is not near expansive enough, there is far too much of filmed play feel that completely lacks focus and experience.
Also agree to some extent that Robert Wagner is too cold in the first act so the chemistry between him and Natalie Wood doesn't always sizzle enough. Most of the time though it is a long way from a fizzler.
He does come off much better though later on, his chemistry in particular with Laurence Olivier sears. Wood is a sensual though also heartfelt Maggie (actually didn't care about her being too old because the interpretation is dead on and she looks beautiful), out of all the versions to me this one has the most developed character writing for Maggie. Olivier is a very powerful presence as Big Daddy with overdoing it, especially in the latter stages, and Maureen Stapleton is a deeply moving Big Mama, her despair really breaks the heart.
Williams' dialogue is bold, provokes thought and induces a wide range of emotions. The storytelling and staging doesn't feel either cluttered or static, the drama always coherent and with momentum. The claustrophobic feel of some of it was effective.
Concluding, very good. 8/10