Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Cinematic Experience - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958

Happy Weekend Lovelies!

Last week I sat down and watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  I have owned this film for years and just thought that I had forgotten it.  Turns out, I'd never actually seen it.  And I now know that I wouldn't have forgotten this film.  Don't misunderstand...not because it's a great film.

This film is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name by Tennessee Williams.  Before I go any further, I'm going to point out that Williams did not approve of the screenplay, even telling people waiting in line to see it that the toned down movie would "set the industry back 50 years. Go home."
watch the trailer here
There are some fantastic aspects to this film and I typically enjoy play adaptations for the big screen, but for that to work, you have to give your audience characters they can care about.  Sadly, this one does not.  Not one.  Towards the end of the film, Elizabeth Taylor's Maggie and Burl Ives' Big Daddy begin to exhibit redeeming qualities, but truly that's it.  Because this is based on a play, the entire film takes place over the course of one day.  Some could argue that looking at a person's actions on just one day doesn't fully represent them.  And that's true.  Unfortunately, that argument doesn't make for an enjoyable or interesting cinematic experience this time around.

The film opens with Paul Newman's character,Brick, attempting to jump hurdles at the local high school at 3AM.  Unsuccessfully because he is drunk.  The next scene shows Elizabeth Taylor's Maggie the Cat arriving at an opulent estate belonging to Brick's father.  Brick's brother Gooper is sitting in the courtyard where his five misbehaved children are running amok while Gooper's wife Mae, or 'Sister Woman' as she is often referred to in the movie, is trying to put the finishing touches on Big Daddy's 65th birthday celebration.  We quickly get an idea of just what type of children these are when one of them puts both her hands into a tub of ice cream and then throws a handful on Maggie's legs.  

Maggie goes up to the room she is sharing with her husband Brick and begins ranting (an understandable reaction) to him.  
"One of those no-neck monsters hit me with some ice cream!"
"Now why did you call Gooper's kiddies no-neck monsters?"
"'Cause your brother's children got no necks, that's why. They're not visible. Their fat little heads sitting on their fat little bodies without a bit of connection."
"That's too bad."
"Especially when you can't wring their necks if they got no necks to wring."

This conversation takes place while Maggie is changing her ice cream-soiled stockings which Brick doesn't so much as notice.  The level of his dismissal of her is the first indication that there are some big problems here, because really, how could you NOT notice Elizabeth Taylor?  She's absolutely stunning!  "I think it's mighty fine the way that fella on the doorstep adores and still takes in my shape with what I consider deserved appreciation."  Too bad she's not talking about her husband.

We quickly learn just how cold and heartless Brick is, how callous he is with Maggie.  Conversely, we see just how desperate Maggie is for Brick to love her.  "Living with somebody you love can be lonelier than living entirely alone when the one you love doesn't love you."  Desperate.  Lonely.  Heavy.  And 100% true. She goes on in arguably the most famous monologue in the film, "If I thought you'd never never make love to me again, why, I'd find me the longest, sharpest knife I could and I'd stick it straight through my heart. I'd do that...Oh Brick, how long does this have to go on, this punishment? Haven't I served my term? Can't I apply for a pardon?...You know what I feel like? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof!"  Brick's response?  A cold, "Then jump off the roof Maggie. Jump off it...What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?"  "Just stayin' on it, I guess. As long as she can."  Maggie later declares "I don't mind making a fool of myself for you."  And that's the motivation for everything that she does...the desperate need to be loved by this one man, no matter the obstacles.  On a certain level, I feel bad for her...on another level, my inner feminist wants to take her by the shoulders and try to shake some sense into her.

Unrequited love is also at the center of Big Mamma's relationship with Big Daddy.  "Oh Big Daddy, in all these years, you never believed I loved you. And I did. So much. I even loved your hate, your hardness."

The story itself is simply relationships playing out at Big Daddy's birthday celebration.  That morning he comes home from spending six weeks at a clinic where he is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  This information brings out all the ugliness in Gooper's family, namely his wife, Mae.  She is saccharine sweet to Big Daddy and Big Mamma, trying to get in their good graces, so that the 28,000 acre plantation and power of attorney will be left to Gooper.  She unashamedly uses her five children to aid her in that endeavor.  It's absolutely disgusting.  I searched high and low to find a clip of the revoltingly irritating 'no-neck monsters', but I came up empty handed.  Though I did find a photo.  I'm hoping you can pick up on just how terrible this party was.

It seems that there are issues with everyone's interpersonal relationships.  Brick and Big Daddy.  Big Daddy and Big Mamma.  Big Mamma and Gooper. Gooper and Mae.  Gooper and Big Daddy.  Big Mamma and Maggie.  Maggie and Mae.  But the most severe problems lie in the relationship between Brick and Maggie. The ghost of his best friend, Skipper's, suicide haunts Brick to the point of paralysis.  Maggie pleads with Brick, "The laws of silence won't work about that, not about Skipper and us. It's like locking the door on a fire, in hopes of forgettin' the house is burnin'. Not lookin' at a fire doesn't put it out...Why won't you face the truth just once? About Skipper, about me, about yourself?"  And that is the crux of the problem - the relationship that Brick had with Skipper.  Brick's homosexuality, or bisexuality perhaps, is something that isn't that subtle, but Tennessee Williams felt that the movie downplayed that relationship to the point of ruining his play.  And still it was enough to justify Brick's alcholism.  At one point, Big Daddy asks Brick why he doesn't just kill himself.  Brick replies, "Because I like to drink."

In my opinion, Brick's inner turmoil does not excuse his actions toward Maggie.  Nor does anyone's issues or interpersonal relationships warrant the fact that they're all dicks (Gasp!  LANGUAGE!  I know, but truly, they are).  And this is my problem with this film...while the acting is really remarkable and the film exquisitely cast, these are still characters who I can barely stomach and do not want to spend any more time with.

Perhaps I'm missing something, this classic film is VERY well reviewed, critics and audiences alike seem to love everything about it.  While the film did not win any Oscars, it was nominated for several - Best Picture, Best Actor (Newman), Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay, and lastly, Best Actress (Taylor).  That last nomination and her performance is even more incredible when you consider that her husband, Michael Todd died in a plane crash shortly after filming began.  Like I said, the acting is amazing, and both Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman are achingly beautiful, but the story and the script negate the positive aspects for me.

How many of you have seen this film?  What are your thoughts?

Here's hoping our next cinematic experiences are fabulous!


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