Adapted from Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winning play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a character driven drama that gives its actors a real chance to shine. Released in 1958, the film was a big hit; audiences flocked to the theater to see the steamy interactions between Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.
Set in rural Mississippi, the story centers on a family that have gathered together on a rambling mansion to celebrate the 65th birthday of the, secretly terminally ill, patriarch Big Daddy (Burl Ives). Best described as highly dysfunctional, the family consists of Big Mama (Judith Anderson), who wants nothing more than to please her husband, but seems unable to do anything right; eldest son Gooper (Jack Carson), his wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) with their clan of foul, unruly children and their eye on Big Daddy’s will; younger son Brick (Newman) and his wife, Maggie “the Cat” (Taylor), are childless.
Much of the narrative focuses on Brick and Maggie’s relationship, which is obviously stagnant. Once a sports star and commentator, Brick’s glory days are long past. Depressed, he leaps the hurdles on a track field in an attempt to recapture some of his former glory. Instead, Brick breaks his leg, forcing him to hobble around the big house on a crutch. Now left alone, injured, and a bottle of liquor in hand, Brick seems to be stewing about his issues with Maggie. Alcoholism is killing his sex drive. I mean, why else would a man like himself reject the unquestionably sexy Maggie?
However, because Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is multilayered, answers are never that easy. A turning point comes when the truth about Brick’s relationship with his dead friend Skipper comes to light. There are more twists, turns, and uncertainties. While the original play had a major homosexual element, here it’s ambiguous. If Brick is guilty of anything, he’s guilty of rejecting a friend’s sexual advances because he is ‘weak.’ As if to make the point crystal clear, Brick strokes Maggie’s nightgown in the bathroom, ‘showing’ he wants her.
Acting in films since she was 12 years old, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof gave the 26-year-old Elizabeth Taylor her first real chance to prove she could succeed in a real adult role. She was so determined to do well, that she refused to leave the film even after her husband, Michael Todd, died in a plane crash shortly after filming began. Maggie would turn out to be one of the best roles of her career, earning her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Though almost too gorgeous to play a convincing drunk, Paul Newman when snarling insults at Maggie, and is particularly good in the second half during confrontational scenes involving Big Daddy. In an era when being a rebel without a cause was the rage, Brick was a man-child who just wanted his father to show him love.
Burl Ives, who first achieved fame as an amiable folk singer, reprises his stage role where he effectively played against type. Loud and arrogant, his Big Daddy begins to gain sympathy as he comes to terms with his terminal illness. The cast is rounded out by strong supporting performances from Madeleine Sherwood, who reprises her stage role as the nagging, insufferable Mae/Sister Woman as well as the great stage actress Judith Anderson and always reliable Jack Carson.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer looks great. Shot in Technicolor, the colors are bright, and bold throughout, adding to the melodramatic feel of the film. Grain is present and well distributed, giving the image a proper filmic appearance. Other than a small scratch or two, there are no anomalies to interfere with viewing enjoyment.
The DTS-HD 2.0 audio track represents the mono mix of the film. Dialogue is presented cleanly, and clearly with no apparent distortion.
English SDH, French, German SDH, Japanese, Spanish, Czech, Korean, Polish, Romanian, and Turkish subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Tennessee Williams Biographer Donald Spoto: In this informative commentary, Spoto discusses the history of the play, the production of the film, the actors involved, as well as Tennessee Williams’ thoughts on it all. He provides a lot of interesting details.
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: Playing Cat and Mouse (SD, 10:03) A brief look at the personal and professional lives of Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman during the films production.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:20)