Oscar Vault Monday – Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, 1958 (dir. Richard Brooks)

This is one of my favorite classic films. It’s a masterful adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play of the same name. Like many a Williams play, it is hot and steamy and filled with tension. Richard Brooks is such an amazing director and he hits every note of the film perfectly. Somehow this masterpiece lost the Best Picture award to the overblown, boring musical adaptation Gigi. I watched Gigi recently I was aghast that it had won nine Oscars. I thought it was absolutely one of the most boring, overwrought films I’d ever seen. Then to add insult to injury I discovered it beat Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. This is definitely a case of pomp winning over substance. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof was nominated for six Academy Awards, but didn’t win a single one: Best Actor – Paul Newman, Best Actress Elizabeth Taylor, Best Color Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director – Richard Brooks and Best Picture. Aside from the two acting categories, it lost all the awards to Gigi. The other nominees for Best Picture that year were Auntie Mame, Separate Table and The Defiant Ones.

Richard Brooks is one of my favorite classic directors. He was nominated for  eight Academy Awards throughout his career – three times as Best Director and five times for his work as a writer. He only won once, for his screenplay to the 1960 film Elmer Gantry. Of the various films he either wrote or directed, eleven performances were nominated for an Academy Award, with four performers winning. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, sadly falls under the “nominated only” category.

After watching many a Paul Newman film this weekend (thank you oh so much TCM for your Summer Under The Stars marathons) I’ve noticed that with just about every one of Newman’s performances he’s like a slow-burning fire; the fire is always there, sometimes just creeping, and at other time raging at full force. His performance as Brick is the perfect example of this. This was Newman’s first of ten Oscar nominations – nine in the lead category, one as supporting. He lost to David Niven in Separate Tables. In fact, Newman didn’t win a competitive Oscar until 1987 for The Color Of Money – a year after having been awarded an Honorary Oscar for his body of work. He would go on to be nominated two more times before dying of cancer in 2008. If I had to pick out essential Newman films, and boy would that be hard, this film would most definitely make the cut.

Elizabeth Taylor is absolutely perfectly cast as Maggie the Cat. She is insanely sultry in this film. When I think of Elizabeth Taylor, it is her performance as Maggie in this film that first springs to mind. She received her second Academy Award nomination for this film, in a string of four nominations in as many years. She lost to Susan Hayward in I Want To Live! She was nominated for five altogether – winning twice. Taylor is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable stars of the golden age of Hollywood and her performance as Maggie is one of the most iconic in film history.

As strong as their performances are separately, when Newman and Taylor are on the screen together they are positively electric. Although there is friction between the two characters they play, the two have such amazing on-screen chemistry. These two are some of old Hollywood’s greatest stars and this film showcases their talent exquisitely.

Burl Ives dominates the screen every time he appears. He gives perhaps the best portrayal of the over-bearing southern patriarch as Big Daddy in this film. Strangely, he was not nominated for his performance in this film. He did, however, get nominated for his performance in another film that same year for The Big Country – an won. I haven’t seen that film, so I’m not sure how to feel about him not getting the nom, let alone not winning, for his performance as Big Daddy. He steals the film.

If you’re interested in purchasing this film, you can do so here.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on August 23, 2010, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Man, 1958 was weird. Gigi for bp? The oscars for that year (in 1959 was the one were the oscars ended early and Jerry Lewis infamously tried to do standup. (laugh).
    Anyway, the five nominees for that year was SO WRONG. What was missing?: Orson Welles’ “TOUCH OF EVIL” & Alfred Hitchcock’s “VERTIGO”, the latter being the ONE THAT SHOULD HAVE WON…had it been nominated.
    But based on the 5 noms, I agree. “CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF” was the MOST DESERVING o/BP.

    • exactly. I mean, I enjoy Auntie Mame – but mostly just for Roz’s performance. It’s definitely not as great a film as Vertigo. There are some years were the Academy gets it so right, at least with the nominees. And then there are years like this one that make you just go “huh?”

  2. I just wondered: why DIDN’T “VERTIGO” get nominated? I mean nowadays, most “If i voted…” comments all over the Internet for 1958 have “VERTIGO” for Best Picture AND Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock).

  3. I join you in considering Richard Brooks a top director. In researching the book “Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks,” to come out next spring, I found that Brooks faced quite a challenge in adapting the Tennessee Williams play. When the play debuted on Broadway in 1955, Brooks’ movie “Blackboard Jungle” was drawing big crowds at a theater nearby. As popular as “Cat” was, the Production Code office (the censors) deemed the play unsuitable for the movies. The problem was the gay subtext (was that the real reason Brick wasn’t in Maggie’s bed?). In those days what was called “sex perversion” couldn’t be depicted in an American movie, not even the suggestion. So, with the urging of producer Pandro S. Berman, Brooks came up with a father-son clash that helped explain Brick’s problem to the satisfaction of the PC office. Sure, it broke with Williams’ original intention (and peeved the playwright), but it made the play palatable for the movies. While “Cat” missed out on Oscars, it did win big at the box office; for a few years it was one of the top 25 moneymakers in Hollywood history. Williams, who had a share of the box office as well as $500,000 for the movie rights, stayed peeved all the way to the bank. As for Richard Brooks, the success of “Cat” allowed him to go independent and pursue his dream projects, film adaptations of “Elmer Gantry” and “Lord Jim.”

  4. danyulengelke

    Great review!

    We’re linking to your article for Academy Monday at SeminalCinemaOutfit.com

    Keep up the good work!

  5. I agree with what. You said about Cat in a Hot Tin Roof.

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