Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof


Dir: Richard Brooks (Blackboard Jungle; Sweet Bird of Youth; Lord Jim; In Cold Blood; $)

I actually think this film rivals A Streetcar Named Desire in terms of best Tennessee Williams screen adaptation. I know, provocative claim, but Streetcar's uncontained passion and power is matched in this film by quiet tension and subtle interpersonal dynamics. Hot Tin Roof is like a early 20th century novel, a play of manners and carefully constructed roles that explores the consequences of refusing to play by the rules.

If I may be a pig (and trite) for a moment, Elizabeth Taylor would not be in the predicament she is in would that I were her husband. My pick for most beautiful woman on film, Taylor is at her own most sultry in this offering. Newman as well (to be an equal opportunity objectifier) is gorgeous and troubled, the best kind of gorgeous. Their performances are justly famous and compelling.

But I would like to sing the praises of Burl Ives. Big Daddy is such a great character, and Ives so perfectly matched to it, that the film pulls off my favorite narrative trick; it makes me feel sympathy for a very bad person. If I understand why the person acts the way they do, then it is much easier to empathize with them, but certainly not forgive them. Big Daddy is a king, and Ives is not afraid of filling the screen, dominating every scene he is in. It is a great performance.

Themes of truth and falsity dominate the film. It is a pity that the writers could not have been more honest about Brick's character, in an unfortunate ironic element to the film. A more dramatic revelation of the relationship between Brick and Skipper would have been welcome, especially since the details we do get come out in the heat of passion and argument, when entendre and self censorship are hardly likely. The film's redemptive elements would also have made more honesty politically worthwhile.

Obviously, it's an essential film. One cannot understand the Taylor mystique without seeing it. Lots of genius comes together in this film. My highest recommendation.



Blogger ronvon2 noted on 5/18/2006 03:51:00 PM that...

Thats so funny that you post this today. I JUST got done looking at for my daily check of cinemtic birthdays...and the late Richard Brooks was born on this day and I said to myself that I need to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof...

Good luck with your courtship of Liz Taylor. You are truly a chivalrous man for the ages. It is funny that perhaps the most stable and sincere person in Hollywood finds himself in the same film as an eqaully talented but most unstable actress in the history of tinseltown.