Thursday, January 01, 2009
Movie: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
I don't think I have babbled on much about Paul Newman on this blog. I love him. LOVE him. I was sad when he passed away this year, but not too sad as he lived a long and fulfilling life, was known for being a family man, and was an amazing actor. My mom bought me a collection of Tennessee Williams plays (he is one of my favorite playwrights) for Christmas. This jogged my memory that I really enjoyed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof when I watched it a while back, so I picked it up at the library to give it a good re-watching. Newman and Liz Taylor are breathtakingly gorgeous and the story itself breaks my heart. Let's review:
Brick (Paul Newman) and his wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) are home at Brick's parents house, awaiting health news of his father (Big Daddy, played by Burl Ives) and preparing to celebrate his 65th birthday that evening. We soon discover that Brick and Maggie have a cold and unloving relationship. She is manipulative and he is an alcoholic. Through the course of the evening, it is revealed that Big Daddy is dying of cancer. Much time is spent arguing between Maggie and sister-in-law Mae about who will inherit the thousands of acres of successful cotton farm and the $10 million that Big Daddy is worth. In the meantime, Big Daddy and Brick have it out about why he is an alcoholic and why he won't sleep with his wife Maggie. Amazingly, all problems are resolved through a good bit of yelling and crying.
Brick - Apparently, Paul Newman (and Liz Taylor) were on the brink of super-stardom at the time they shot this film. This film was the vehicle that catapulted them both forward. It was a very mature role for Newman to be playing. He was amazing. His anger and bitterness and shame weren't enough to hide how beautiful he is to look at, but it was enough to believe it anyway.
Maggie - This kind of acting doesn't really exist anymore. Women don't do this over the top Southern thing like they used to (see Vivien Leigh...), but at the time it was considered top notch acting. And I am pretty sure Elizabeth Taylor nailed it (but I can't properly judge since I don't see it enough to know). Even though she is rather manipulative, both with Brick and with Big Daddy (for his money), you just feel sorry for her. She has a horrible marriage, she is poor and lonely.
I discovered after this second viewing that Tennessee Williams was very unhappy with this production and that it veered wildly from the original play (some parts were censored, and some just changed). So I sat down with my new book to see the difference. I have to say it was quite different. In the movie, Brick blames himself for the death of a close friend, Skipper, who he incorrectly believes to have had an affair with Maggie. The truth comes out that she was faithful and Brick was able to realize he had taken out his grief on her, when he was really disgusted with himself for the suicide. Conversely, in the book, while Brick does blame himself for Skipper's death, there is a whole gay layer to the relationship. It is quite clear that Skipper was in love with Brick, so he does sleep with Maggie to prove he is not in love with Brick. When this doesn't work, he kills himself. The question is whether Brick felt the same, and it seems he did but wouldn't admit it.
In the movie, things are tied up nice and neat. Brick lets Big Daddy have it by telling him he never loved any of his children or his wife. So Big Daddy acts nice to everyone, like he learned his lesson. Big Daddy asks alcoholic Brick if he wants and drink, and he says no. Maggie lies to the family and says she is pregnant (which can not be since they sleep separately), so Brick decides he is done with the deceit and moves to the bed, where things are all patched up. It was a nice ending, but certainly not how Williams wrote it. He wrote stuff that was more real and human than that.
The play ends with more manipulating, lying and deceiving. Big Daddy isn't any nicer to anyone, Maggie seduces Brick, but mainly because he is so pumped full of alcohol he doesn't have a choice.
OK I am clearly analyzing this stuff a lot. But I just spent 3 days watching the movie and reading the book. I am kind of saturated with it. If you don't mind (or care) that the movie deviates so much from the play, then watch it. The acting is great (some of the characters are extremely annoying: Mae, Big Mama, the children, but that is how they are written). Did I mention that Paul Newman is gorgeous??