Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958)


I want… to… kill… those… kids!!!

Screenplay By: Richard Brooks & James Poe
Directed By: Richard Brooks

Movies can be story driven or effects driven or atmosphere based or focus on ideas, theologies and ideologies. I think you get where I am going with this, or maybe you don’t, I am often hard to understand. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is an actors movie, it isn’t driven by its story or by its theme and deeper meaning, it is a vehicle for its actors and they are the ones who drive the movie to great heights or send it tumbling to ruination. So, what is the case with Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, what place do the actors leave Cat On A Hot Tin Roof in?

It depends on which actors you are talking about. If you are talking about the kids, then it is a terrible movie. I know they are minor in every sense of the word, and that they are supposed to be annoying, but they were so annoying that I dreaded every time they were on screen and they took my attention away from the performances that deserved it. If you are talking about Madeleine Sherwood as Mae then you have a mixed bag. At times she is very good, but in others she overacts to extreme levels. With Sherwood it all came down to her face, she’s not pretty, but it has nothing to do with looks. There were times when her face sold me on her character, such as when she passes Brick on her way upstairs after her Punch Bowl comment. In that moment I believe her character, I believe she is that manipulative and only cares about herself. But, in other moments, such as when Big Daddy pulls her into Brick’s room from her hiding place I don’t believe her for a second. She has a look on her face that tells me she is straining for something, I don’t know what and whatever it is I’m not buying it, but her face tells all.

If the acting is a mixed bag, then how can Cat On A Hot Tin Roof be a great movie? Because there isn’t anything mixed about the performances of Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor or Burl Ives. Ives is the lesser of the three, but it’s not for any lack of acting on his part, it’s simply that this isn’t his story, Big Daddy operates as ancillary to the story of Brick and Maggie. That brings me to the two shining pearls in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Newman as Brick and Taylor as Maggie.

For Newman it is clear early on where he is going with Brick and it is wonderful to watch unfold. He could have played Brick as callous to the bone, but even in his most dastardly and morally bereft moments he allows some humanity to come through. We see the soft inner that his hard shell is trying to hide and we root for him. As he moves through the picture we sense his transformation as he comes to grips with the realities of his life and stops lying to himself and this is what we want to happen because Newman has made us care for him.

I am one of the people who was never privy to Elizabeth Taylor the actress, I only knew Taylor as the old glory hound who seemed more trouble than she was worth. Having now seen her act I can see what all the fuss was about. She has a raw sensuality about her that you can’t manufacture. Every time that Brick pushes Maggie away you scream at him to stop being an idiot, don’t you see what type of woman she really is? Taylor plays Maggie over the top at times, but she does so to serve a purpose, she is trying everything in her power to awaken her husband form his stupor. The script wants to try and trick you, to make you think that Maggie is abhorrent in some way, but Taylor will have none of that, even in moments where it appears that she is being manipulative she leaves you with the impression of a woman doing all she can to get back the love of her life. When she finally does get Brick the audience is happy, happy that he work has finally paid off, that her suffering has ended and that now finally she can have the life she always wanted. None of this would have been possible without the performance of Taylor, she is worth the hype, I now know this.

What about the rest of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof? The themes and messages are handled rather well and there are times when scenes are framed in splendid fashion. The dialogue is for the most part very good, but there are times when the dialogue feels the need to tell us something we have already picked up on visually. Early on Maggie takes a drink from Brick’s glass, he takes it back but won’t drink from it. We know what this implies, yet the dialogue feels the need to tell us what that moment meant after it has passed. Still, as I said, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof is a movie about its characters and thus everything else is pushed to the back burner.

You can’t go wrong with Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Its flaws are minor and its positives loom large. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is an actors movie where the actors who need to deliver do deliver in grand fashion. Maybe Paul Newman was better, maybe Elizabeth Taylor was better, but together in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof they were something to see, so go ahead and see it.




3 responses to “Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958)

  1. I read the play a few months back and enjoyed it a fair bit. I’ve never seen the movie but I read your review and thought it was interesting. I’m intrigued with how you argue that film is mostly driven by its performances as opposed to plot or themes. I guess that quality is derived from the fact that it was originally a play, where dialogue and performance are of utmost importance. Those kinds of films are indeed tricky because when the acting isn’t working, well, the movie ain’t no good. But with Paul Newman as one of the leads, how can this thing be bad? I’m convinced that I need to see this now.

  2. I recently watched this film and have discovered the amazing acting of paul newman. i knew who he was before this but i never really took an interest in his work – now i’m hooked!

  3. Edgar – You definitely need to see it, Newman is really great in this one.

    Colorful – Good to hear, he’s a great actor, one of the many I would consider a favorite, it’s very hard to find a bad performance from Paul Newman.

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