Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)


The dysfunctional family of a wealthy Mississippian, Harvey “Big Daddy” Pollitt (Burl Ives, East of Eden and The Big Country), who may or may not be dying of cancer, gathers together to celebrate the old patriarch’s 65th birthday.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof.”

All transitions from the stage to the big screen are a real challenge. Such adaptations’ effectiveness relies on transforming a piece from a medium based on dialogue to a medium that is primarily visual. This adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s play Cat on the Hot Tin Roof is no exception. Luckily, director-writer Richard Brooks (Elmer Gantry) finds the perfect middle point — he manages to create a film that is visually satisfying yet still remains full of great expository dialogue and powerful performances.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a film with a web of mini-plots that form a compact whole that commands our attention as it unveils a shattering and unforgettable climax. The story unfolds in almost real-time (a long night of bitter revelations and recriminations), yet it is a very exciting movie to watch. You get so involved into the story that you tend to forget that the entire movie takes place in just a few rooms.

Although censors forced director and writer Brooks to delete some key elements from the play, he actually ends up improving the story. By removing some of the more controversial ideas, Brooks puts more focus on the story’s main theme: the impact and consequences of “mendacity.” As these dissipated characters look for answers, only more questions can be found. Their struggle suddenly takes universal resonance, and the fragility of the human condition is completely exposed.

The project was originally designed as a vehicle for actors James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause) and Grace Kelly (The Country Girl), but Dean’s sudden death, and Kelly’s retirement, forced the producers to recast the film. It’s hard to imagine the movie without Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor; they are magnificent!

Taylor, who was an emotional basket because of the death of husband, producer Mike Todd (of Around the World in 80 Days fame), is superb. Plus, she is stunningly photographed in color (by William H. Daniels, Ninotchka). Taylor has never looked sexier! You immediately believe that there must be something really wrong with Newman for him not wanting to sleep with Taylor.

As for Newman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the film that made him a movie star. Like Taylor, Newman was nominated for an Oscar. Interestingly, he had replaced James Dean on both Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) and The Left Handed Gun (1959), so one could say that Dean’s sudden tragedy was Newman’s good fortune. After Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Newman went from success to success with apparent ease.

Folk-singer-turned-actor Burl Ives is memorable as Big Daddy (he originated the role on Broadway). As a matter of fact, you won’t find one false note in the entire cast. Jack Carson (Mildred Pierce), Madeleine Sherwood (Sweet Bird of Youth) and Dame Judith Anderson (Rebecca) offer strong support as Ives’s firstborn, Sister woman and Big Mama, respectively. The cast also includes Larry Gates (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) as Dr. Baugh and Vaughn Taylor (Psycho) as Deacon Davis.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was a big critical and commercial success when it first premiered in theaters in 1958. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Today, the film looks a bit slow and viewers used to action-oriented movies will find the movie talky. However, I think it is one of Hollywood’s outstanding films. Highly recommended! Color, 108 minutes, Not Rated.

10 responses to “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

  1. Eric, this is a goodie! I haven’t watched it in ages. I want to revisit it again. Paul Newman is my hero and I agree, Elizabeth exudes carnal heat better than anyone including Marilyn Monroe. Awesome review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this film. Both leads seethe with emotion. There’s nothing more erotic in cinema than Taylor’s change of stockings, or the ‘lock the door’ scene at the end. .

    Liked by 1 person

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