Another Friday and "It's Going to be a Scorcher!", but this time the phrase does not even begin to cover the heat of this week's installment of Paul Newman summer-themed films. Last week, we checked in to a Florida prison and endured chain gang work thanks to that old Cool Hand Luke smile. Then before that, we traveled to Mississippi for The Long, Hot Summer and witnessed the complex relationship of rich southern families. Of course, today's film shares a lot of similarities with the Varners of The Long, Hot Summer. The Pollitt's also hail from Mississippi, are ruled by a loud boisterous patriarch, but of course their intensity is greater, the type that leaves one feeling like a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof .
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Based on a Tennessee Williams play, the film of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was released in 1958 (same as The Long, Hot Summer, but also three years after the premiere of the play).
As noted above, the story is about a wealthy cotton family in the Mississippi Delta, their secrets, their tensions, and the desire for lineage). The film opens with Brick (Newman) drunk (much like in the beginning of Cool Hand Luke) and trying to jump hurdles at his old high school. Needless to say, he breaks his leg leaving him not only dependent on a crutch but a bit on those around him, which he despises.
Brick was once a once famous up-and-coming football star but is now an alcoholic and due to an arrangement with his wife, Maggie--"Maggie the Cat"-- (Elizabeth Taylor ) is keeping up the charade of a happy marriage. The truth is Brick can't stand her. Their state of affairs keeps them childless, which is lorded over them by Brick's sister-in-law Mae, AKA "Sister Woman" (Madeleine Sherwood) who has five "little no-neck monsters" with a sixth on the way (Note, I like children. But Mae's are shown sticking their dirty hands in tubs of ice cream, screaming at adults, playing annoying kazoo band music, and so on to the point you side with Maggie on this one. But you do feel for them as their mother forces them to sing in every other scene like they are von Trapps. Trust me when I say: They are no von Trapps.
Brick's brother-in-law Gropper, AKA "Brother Man" (Jack Carson) tries to keep the peace between his wife and Maggie, but you quickly realize the fact he went from living with a bossy father to the pushy and opinionated Sister Woman and his choices throughout the story waiver from taking small stands to being a spineless ninny.
All the family is at home awaiting a special clinical diagnoses of Big Daddy's (Burl Ives) health. When he and Big Mama arrive, they announce a clean bill of health. Of course, Dr. Baugh (Larry Gates) confides other information to Gropper and Brick, which, instead of bringing everyone together, stirs the pot even more.
Everyone attempts to play nice. Maggie at every chance tries to mend her marriage. Many scenes play out in the couple's bedroom, with the iconic brass bed and stocked bar to fill many highball glasses. Big Daddy wants to know if Brick is happy with Maggie and why they have no children. Grooper and Mae, and their children, perform as best they know to ensure the inheritance and when that seems to fall flat, strike out at Maggie's and Brick relationship, and of course, Brick alcoholism--brought on by the death of his best friend Skipper.
Big Mama (Judith Anderson) simply wants to celebrate the good news and Big Daddy's birthday, having all her family together, but her joy is met with disdain from her husband and the truth of it all injures (but does not break) her.
The way secrets are handled in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof show various characters truths - whether they have integrity, how they handle themselves in a crisis, what really makes them tick. Some of the secrets the Hays Code at the time tried to hide, but those familiar with the original content know the extent of Brick and Skipper's relationship. Tennessee Williams was unhappy with the filmed version, as it was too toned down and contained a lengthy reconciliation added to the third act. Even Newman was disappointed with the adaptation. So why did I include it in the series?
Simple: This well-cast film, despite the Hays Code stronghold, has raw emotion, undeniable sexual tension, and moments that you never get out of your head. Brick does not apologize for who he is and plainly doesn't care that it's the alcohol that eases his intense emotions rather than his wife. Maggie the Cat, though incredibly beautiful, has claws and isn't afraid to show them, and will fight for what she wants. She isn't afraid to retaliate, say what she thinks, or push her luck. Her only fear is losing the man that she loves. Brick has to suppress these things. He has to be the more subdued one, which makes it an interesting dynamic.
Brick and Maggie, thanks to the actors that play them, are electrifying in every scene, whether they are fighting or need to "lock the door." Despite the countless times I have watched the film, I can never take my eyes off them. I find myself holding my breath. They are mesmerizing. It is a heat you can not deny - especially when you throw in the summer heat, thunderstorm, and clothing options in certain parts of the film. Even the characters need to take cool baths and use copious amounts of ice with their drinks. When you watch it - you will need the same cooling treatments. "It's Going to be a Scorcher!" after all. This one goes to the point of melting.
If you have never seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, or are a purist who prefers the play, I urge you to give this film a chance on a nice hot, summer day. As always, I have included the trailer below. It may be the the third in this series, but I definitely think it is the steamiest. That does not mean that next week's final installment will pale in comparison. No, next week "It's Going to be a Scorcher!" too and I hope you will tune back in to find out more.