Monday, September 12, 2011

Cat on a hot tin roof

So, back in February I had man managed to go through A Streetcar named desire, based on a play by Tennessee Williams. With all the buzz after Liz Taylor’s death, I decided recently to watch Cat on a hot tin roof, based on a play by TW and released in 1958. The cast was good enough to tempt me: Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy, Cool Hand Luke), Burt Ives. Director is Richard Brooks but never heard of him before (I might have missed something).

The film is set in Mississipi – Maggie (Taylor) and Brick (Newman) are a troubled couple who come and visit Big Daddy (Ives) for his birthday. Big Daddy is dying of cancer but doesn’t know it, and Brick’s brother and his wife are trying to manipulate him for his inheritance. Meanwhile, Brick drinks his troubles away and refuses to have sex with his wife. When the news is announced to Big Daddy, we begin to understand the troubles that set the family members apart.

You can see this was originally a theater play: scenes are in one location and then move to another, and dialogues occur at one place at a time. The movie covers different themes: greed, death, sexual desire, sexuality, hypocrisy. Tennessee Williams was unhappy with the screenplay, which removed the homosexual themes and revised the end to include a reconciliation between Brick and Big Daddy. TW hated the film so much that he told people : This movie will set the industry back 50 years. Go home!

I tend to agree with him, but not for the same reasons – I got bored bored bored. Paul Newman is a fantastic actor in general - and drop dead gorgeous! -, but doesn’t bring much to his character : how can anyone drink so much in one evening and not die of poisoning, let alone have a meaningful conversation with anyone ? Liz Taylor is very beautiful indeed, but screams non stop for the entire length of the film (1 hour and 45 minutes) – I actually stopped the movie after a bit more than one hour and forced myself to watch the end. Which made up for part of it. Of course, it is not part of the original play, but that very last scene with Newman and Taylor was just hooooooot. And full of promises. But this is just the last 2 minutes. The motivation for Newman's sexual estrangement from Taylor is not clear in the movie and the story of Skipper is a mess : whether it is homosexual or heterosexual connotation, the « message » was too well hidden and I did not get it.
Burt Ives, who plays Big Daddy, was excellent, and his acting made up for the rest. I did like the secondary role of Madeleine Sherwood, the obnoxious sister-in-law, who portrays perfectly the greedy woman – she is so ugly that she contrasts well with Liz Taylor, who has less obvious expectations about the inheritance, and is more concerned about getting her husband’s love back.
Because the film is also about that : about loving someone whodoes not love you anymore, about learning to say goodbye, about accepting responsibility.
That said, putting into into the context, it is a movie that studies issues that are still valid in today’s wold, and was probably ahead of its time.

I am really trying to be fair here, but this was a hard one to sit through. As you have seen with previous posts, I enjoy old movies, but this was just too much.

A few quotes are memorable so here is a selection below:

Big Daddy: I've got the guts to die. What I want to know is, have you got the guts to live?

Dixie: Why is Uncle Brick on the floor?
Brick: Because I tried to kill your Aunt Maggie. But I failed. And I fell.

Dr. Baugh: Sometimes I wish I had a pill to make people disappear.

Big Daddy: I'm going to go out and look this place over before I give it up. The place and the people on it.

Brick: A family crisis brings out the best and the worst in every member of the family.

Maggie: You can be young without money, but you can't be old without it.

Maggie: Thank you for keeping still, for backing me up in my lie.
Brick: Maggie, we're through with lies and liars in this house. Lock the door.

I have nothing to add. Apparently it is part of the culture, that is the only reason I am glad I watched it.

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