One struggles to remember the lily white, heterosexual, puritan place that was America in the 1950’s, and how thoroughly the movie industry supported those limiting labels, but lest we forget, this film reminds us. In the original play, the alcoholic high-school football star mourns his friend Skipper because he loved him with the love that dared not speak its name, which adds extra dimensions to the hot tin roof on which Maggie the Cat dances. By eliminating the theme of homosexuality, and easing allusions to racial inequality, the film simplifies the story, and allows for a happy ending. Fortunately for us, the wonderful performances by the entire cast help us suspend our own aversion to the mendacity of the altered script.
The story takes place in the southern mansion of Big Daddy, who is returning from a medical examination to his 65th birthday celebration. His son Goober is there with his shrill, pregnant wife and their five uncharming children, scheming to take over the plantation when Big Daddy dies. Big Daddy’s favored son Brick is also up from New Orleans with his frantic wife Maggie, who is anxiously trying to rekindle the romance in their marriage. The beauty and tight performance of Elizabeth Taylor save Maggie from being pathetic. Even in the face of Brick’s unemployment, alcoholism, and avowed disgust for her.
Burl Ives’ Big Daddy is a blustering, demanding patriarch who confuses money and love, for reasons we learn in a soul-searching scene amidst the dusty clutter of new found wealth. His is the character who rails against mendacity, as his voice is the loudest. The voices of the other three characters, Goober, Sister Woman, and Big Mama, are all emblematic of their characters, as are their costumes. The contrast between Maggie’s tight-wasted white, whether a slip or a dress, and Mae’s frumpy, pink maternity dress is delightful. All in all, for its time, a worthy, if incomplete, rendition of the play.
By Cicely d’Autremont
Big Daddy Pollitt: "I’ve got the guts to die. What I want to know you got the guts to live?"
Brick Pollitt: "I don’t know."
Brick Pollitt: "What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?"
Maggie Pollitt: "Just staying on it I guess, long as she can."
Dixie Pollitt: "Why is Uncle Brick on the floor?"
Brick Pollitt: "Because I tried to kill your Aunt Maggie. But I failed, and fell."
Big Daddy Pollitt: "There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity!"
Brick Pollitt: "A family crisis brings out the best and the worst in every member of the family."
Maggie Pollitt: "You can be young without money, but you can’t be old without it."
Maggie Pollitt, again begging for love: "You’ve got to."
Brick Pollitt: "I don’ have to do anything I don’t want to! Now, you keep forgetting the conditions on which I agreed to stay on living with you."
Maggie: "I’m not living with you! We occupy the same cage, that’s all."
Brick Pollitt: "Careful Maggie, your claws are showing."
Marilyn Monroe wanted to play Maggie the Cat.
Elvis Presley, Robert Mitchum, Montgomery Clift and Ben Gazarra all refused to play Brick.
Paul Newman accepted the role because he believed the film would use the original script. He and Tennessee Williams were both very disappointed at the alterations used in the screenplay.
This movie was scheduled to be shot in black and white, as were all “art” films of the time, including previous Tennessee Williams plays. Richard Brooks decided to shoot in color because of the famously remarkable colors of both Elizabeth Taylor’s and Paul Newman’s eyes.
The play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955.
<br New York Times movie review by Bosley Crowther, September 19, 1958