Committing Idolatry: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

25 Mar

In  honor of Elizabeth Taylor, who passed away earlier this week, I just had to watch Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was another option, but it seemed a bit too acerbic and not too uplifting since the film is largely a two-hour sparring match, pitting Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor against each other and saying such vicious and incorrigible things to each other it’s difficult to believe anyone could recover from such ugliness. There’s a bit of that going on in Cat, but the underlying sense of love, and hurt as the source of the anger, is there from the get go.

IMDB’s summary of the film is, “Brick, an alcoholic ex-football player, drinks his days away and resists the affections of his wife, Maggie. His reunion with his father, Big Daddy, who is dying of cancer, jogs a host of memories and revelations for both father and son.” Really, that’s just scratching the surface.

The film, an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play, heaps layers upon layers of insinuation and double meaning. So often, I think plays and musicals can translate poorly to film, proving over dramatic and almost caricature. Not so here. Cat is the perfect mix of melodrama, sarcasm and heart. When Maggie, played by Taylor, wails her first of many, “No’s”  to Brick, played by Paul Newman, it’s a deep and gutteral, three dimensional opposition – you’re ready to stick this out, fight the fight with her to get her marriage back and watch just how long Maggie the cat can stay on that hot tin roof.

Not that you’re unsure – I think Brick’s love for Maggie is obvious from the minute they appear onscreen together, but when Brick locks himself in the bathroom and clings to Maggie’s nightgown hanging on the door: you know for sure all love is far from lost between them. This is a love story with a lot to it. How could this couple have drifted so far apart but still agree to exist together, Brick pretending not to love Maggie and Maggie pretending to be okay with it? Layers. I love it.  

Then there’s Maggie. Maggie the Cat. At first glance, she’s set up to play the classic vixen. In the film’s opening, she pushes ice cream into an innocent, albeit annoying as sin, child’s face. What kind of woman does that? An honest one, that’s who. What’s really being said with that acid tongue of hers is genuine, originating from a well thought out, well-intentioned place, though it doesn’t always seem it, especially if you buy into what everyone else in the film is saying around her. If you really listen, which you must do throughout the film, Maggie is all about getting what she wants and you can’t really blame her.  

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof hits me on many levels. The insinuations, what’s really going on, what’s not going on portrayed in the action and relationships and dialogue are simply awe inspiring. “I’m not living with you, we occupy the same cage – that’s all!” Maggie spats at Brick. Everytime I hear that line it causes me to draw in a breath. Why can’t I write lines like that? When I die, I want to come back as Tennessee Williams.

I recommend everyone watch Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at least once in their lifetime. I know, I know – many people hear the words ‘old’ and ‘classic,’ and they’re already onto something ‘new’ and ‘modern.’ But this one stands up, I promise. It’s engaging, fast paced and not a three hour mosey along epic like Gone With the Wind – another classic must see, but that’s a conversation for another day. Point being, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is one of those timeless classics that still works today. Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor are stunning and amazing, have great chemistry and create onscreen sparks if ever there were some. The movie may be an oldie, but it is certainly a goodie.

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