Friday, 2 April 2010

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof - an appreciation

I have to share my pleasure with you watching Cat On A Hot Tin Roof again after what must be 20 years. Part of the Paul Newman season at the British Film Institute on South Bank, the film was shown yesterday evening.
Just in case you haven’t seen the Richard Brooks-directed movie, which dates from 1958 and runs 108 minutes, I’ll refrain from any spoilers. It is a must for all lovers of popular cinema.
The theme of the film is mendacity – the tendency to be untruthful. It stars Newman as Brick, a self-loathing, alcoholic former American football ace and Elizabeth Taylor as his frustrated wife Maggie the Cat. The physical attractiveness of both was at its peak and would have been diverting were not their performances so powerful.
The film is almost stolen by Burl Ives as Big Daddy, Brick’s father and the bullying head of a rich Deep South family.
Tennessee Williams, who wrote the stage play original hated the film believing it had diluted the relationship between Brick and his now dead best friend Skipper out of existence. But for me given the heavy-handed film censorship of the time sufficient of the sexual themes remain strong enough to resonate today. The sight of Taylor in her white slip is so erotically charged that any of today’s actresses would have to be more than nude to equal.
I haven’t seen Cat in the theatre. It would be interesting to see how the interval works in terms of pacing the plot. In the cinema the drama is unrelenting and I felt emotionally exhausted by the end of the movie.
This is melodrama but of the finest order. Every character is on the edge; there is a good deal of shouting; the threat of physical violence is ever present; and the events are shoehorned into a 24 hour or so period.
It doesn’t matter that some of the symbolism is crude – Brick needs a crutch having broken his ankle until he finds someone to lean on and there is regular thunder and lightening to underline the chaos.
See the film in the cinema if you can but see it.

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