A memorable drama, with superb performances by Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, and Burl Ives. The undercurrent of Taylor and Newman’s wrecked marriage energizes the plot; they “occupy the same cage” as Taylor’s Maggie puts it. She relentlessly tries seduction, but Newman could care less.
As others have pointed out, Brick’s brother is presented as a hen-pecked mediocrity, his family fairly trashy, while Brick and Maggie are the ‘cool couple.’ Actually, Gooper is a solid citizen, and Brick is a bitter alcoholic. It’s amusing how Ives’ Big Daddy shows no respect for Gooper’s family, dropping sarcastic bombs all over them. Nonetheless, he’s even more upset by Brick’s non-conformity.
It would be interesting to have a sort of prequel in which Brick’s relationship with Skipper is shown, instead of just referred to. That would’ve been impossible in the 50s. In fact, it’s surprising that the gay theme was explored in such depth, even if inferentially. Big Daddy is consumed by Brick’s inclination; he can’t understand it, for him it’s a problem that should have a solution.
Still, he shows considerable sensitivity to Brick. He never insults Brick, as he does everyone else, Maggie excepted. “We even love your hate” as Big Momma aptly puts it. He goes through a huge effort to shoo everyone away when he wants to talk to Brick. “Now that I’m straightened out, I’m gonna straighten you out!” Big Daddy tells him. Brick’s alcoholism is the buffer between the way he is, and the way he’s expected to be.
The thunderstorm breaks, literally, just as they bring up Skipper. While Skipper was losing control, just before his suicide, Maggie wanted to go bed with him in an ironic attempt to keep him away from Brick by trying to ‘fix’ him. Interestingly, Big Daddy shows concern for Skipper, realizing that Brick is partially responsible for Skipper’s death. Big Daddy has sensitivity, but lacks love.
After Big Daddy discovers that he will die, the family argument over the estate rivals Brick and Bid Daddy’s earlier argument for its intensity. It succeeds in pointing out Gooper’s greed and shallowness. The climactic cellar scene telescopes the show’s themes adroitly; Brick and Big Daddy finally do understand each other, and each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The last scene, however, seems artificial, as though Brick can change his nature through an act of will.
Cat On a Hot Tin Roof is an excellent movie, very passionate and very intelligent. 9/10.