Erin of Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs and I have been trading classic movie suggestions this summer.
Last time Erin suggested Streetcar and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (this came about when we were discussing our old movie star crushes. Erin’s is Marlon Brando and mine is Paul Newman), and I chose Streetcar first, so I watched Cat On A Hot Tin Roof for this time around because I thought I had never seen it.
However, as I watched it, I remembered I had seen part of it before, and like before I did not exactly enjoy it but didn’t hate it. I liked it, but I did not enjoy it. I’m not sure if that makes sense. Before I launch into my thoughts about the movie, I will warn you that I will be offering some spoilers, so if this is a movie you have never watched, you might want to skip this particular post. Also, Erin watched The Thin Man, the first of the Thin Man movie series with William Powell and Myrna Lloyd for her post today.
Going back to my comments on not enjoying the film: it isn’t that I didn’t like the acting or the masterful storytelling based on Tennessee William’s play. What I didn’t enjoy was just how awful all the people in the movie and play are. They are all liars and cheaters, with maybe the exception of Brick, played by Paul Newman. Brick is a sad, lost man throughout the movie and he’s the only one I have sympathy for. The only one Brick is lying to is himself, according to some reviews of the play, which say Brick was actually gay and couldn’t face it. The movie, however, doesn’t lean toward that subject being the reason behind Brick’s constant bad mood, which angered Williams, Newman, and fans of the original play.
There is a lot of debate online about what Brick is so broken about, but it appears the confusion comes from the fact that the movie was changed from the original play.
In the play, Brick is supposedly so upset because he’s suppressing his homosexuality. This, however, is not the issue in the movie. In the movie, he’s upset because he ignored the calls of his close friend who cared about Brick (in a more romantic way) when Brick didn’t feel that way toward him and he’s also upset because his wife slept with the friend to try to prove that the friend was as good of a guy as Brick thought. She thought by proving that she could get Brick to love her more. The plan backfires and he ends up hating his wife.
One commenter on a forum said that in the play Brick may have been gay, but in the movie he is not. Another commenter said they felt that Brick was struggling with the fact his father did not love him, he had a close friend who died who loved Brick, but Brick didn’t love him back, and that he was ashamed of his failure at anything his father wanted him to succeed at.
To me, (good or bad) Williams seemed to have an obsession with characters being closeted gay people, most likely because that was his story. It’s understandable because a lot of writers share parts of themselves in their works.
Aside from Brick’s issues about his sexuality, there is also an underlying theme of the idea of love being something that can’t be shown in material items (“All I wanted was for you to love me,” Brick tells Big Daddy in the climactic scene. “I wanted a father, not a boss.”), what is real masculinity (Brick’s brother has fathered six children, Brick none), the idea of the patriarchal rule of the American south and American society in the 1950s, and the idea of people who want money and power even though they don’t really deserve it because they’re vindictive and focused on appearances more than anything.
Also, in the end, (as far as the movie goes) I do think there is a part of Brick who feels horrible for how he lashes out at his father (called Big Daddy) and reveals a horrible secret in the process and also how he has treated Maggie. There is a suggestion by some who have watched the play and movie that Brick finally decides to sleep with Maggie to give her the baby she wants not because he loves her but because he feels, in a way, he owes it to her, and I think that may be the case. As angry as he is at her and at himself, he shows in the movie version that he does have compassion for her and guilt for how he has treated her. She, however, is liar and simply a pretty pathetic person — hence the reference to her as a cat on a hot tin roof — she hangs in there no matter how hot it gets because she digs her claws in.
Overall this was a good movie and I’m glad Erin reminded me of it. It isn’t a movie I would watch over and over because some of the characters are just so unlikeable (Mae, Brick’s sister-in-law makes me want to reach through the screen and slap her, probably because I’ve known more than one woman like her in my lifetime) and because the subjects are so heavy. The wonderful acting more than makes up for the difficult subjects and characters, however, which is always the case with any movie based on Williams’ work —even if the theme of his play was changed to sanitize topics for the time frame the movie was made in.
If you would like to read more about the various interpretations of the play and movie versions of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, you can read this article in The Guardian.