There are two things that disappointed me about the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” First: there isn’t a single cat in the entire movie.
What it lacks in cats, however, it makes up for in psychology and melodrama. This is a mature film about family strife, regret, and unhappiness.
Tennessee Williams explores one of the grimmest truths of humanity: how easy it is to feel all alone in this world even when you are surrounded by your loved ones.
The story takes place during one sweaty night at the sprawling Mississippi plantation of Big Daddy Pollitt (Burl Ives). Big Daddy built an agricultural empire out of nothing and he’s mighty proud of it.
The whole family is meeting at the palatial plantation house for Big Daddy’s 65th – and final – birthday. He has been diagnosed with terminal, painful cancer.
The most impressive aspect of the movie is Burl Ives’s soulful performance. Big Daddy has more earthly accomplishments than most, but he laments all the precious time he wasted.
Big Daddy boasts that he still has passion for women (meaning he doesn’t mind that Viagra won’t be invented for another 40 years) but he knows that his lust is just a frustrating dead end.
Big Daddy tells his son that he wants to find a woman and shower her with expensive gifts so that she will spend time with him. What an honest, depressing take on the aging male mind. His ultimate fantasy is to pay a young woman for affection, and he knows as well as we do that it’s not even going to happen.
Big Daddy’s slightly more realistic goal is to make amends with his angry drunken son Brick (Paul Newman). Since his best friend died, Brick has become cold, distant, and downright selfish. He won’t even touch his long-suffering wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor).
The most interesting aspect of the film is the relationship between Brick and Big Daddy. They clearly love each other and favor each other above all others. They don’t even have any particular grievance or grudge. They just can’t communicate. And the years without talking has pushed them further and further apart.
I wonder how many parents and adult children out there are like that: loving each other intensely and yet unable to forge a positive relationship.
And that brings me to the second thing about “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” that disappointed me: the way-too-happy ending.
[Spoiler Alert] In the final act, Maggie and Brick reconcile, Big Daddy and Brick are communicating freely, and Brick even turns down another glass of bourbon. The ending is totally inconsistent with the rest of the film in substance and tone.
It is true that rich, great-looking Brick had no real problems and that the anger and isolation was all in his head. But in real life, when your brain is making you depressed, it is not easy to break the cycle of negative thoughts and snap out of it.
Despite the Hollywood ending, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is more interesting and better acted than I was expecting and well worth watching. I still would have liked to see a few more cats, though.