Starring: Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Burl Ives
Director: Richard Brooks
Running Time: 108 mins
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is an American film about an alcoholic ex-footballer who alienates his wife, but soon begins to open up when his father, who is dying of cancer, returns home.
Based on the play by Tennessee Williams, who also penned A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is a captivating and impressively genuine theatrical drama. It may seem a little melodramatic at times, but the core of the drama is entirely honest, while the performances are equally grounded despite a few moments of theatrics.
The first thing I want to get out of the way is that Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is nowhere near as good as A Streetcar Named Desire. The story doesn’t quite have the emotional intensity of Streetcar, and this cinematic adaptation lacks the potent atmosphere of the film version of Williams’ best-known play.
Saying that, however, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof isn’t the same as A Streetcar Named Desire, and shouldn’t really be put up against it just because it’s from the same playwright. Both stories and films share similarities, mostly a theatrical nature as well as a contained setting, but there’s more to say about Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.
While it certainly isn’t an exhilarating emotional rollercoaster, this film does manage to deliver gripping character drama without ever going overboard. Being based on a play, it can be easy to let stage theatrics creep in where they’re not always welcome on the big screen, but Cat On A Hot Tin Roof does well to balance both its theatrical origins and its function as a film.
In that, we see striking theatrical performances from the cast – Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman in particular – balanced with an eye for the more genuine heart of this story. It’s a tale about a dysfunctional family struggling to cope with tragedies in the past and in the future, and the film always manages to keep that theme of family front and centre.
Though secondary arcs about romance, redemption and recriminations do come into play, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is first and foremost a drama about family, and in keeping the story contained both in its physical and narrative scope, it remains fully focused on the real drama at hand.
As a result, the movie is very dialogue-heavy, and doesn’t lean on atmosphere quite as much as A Streetcar Named Desire. That might be a good or bad thing depending on your view, but for me, it’s one of this film’s weaknesses.
Although things do ramp up in the latter stages as the sweaty, humid Southern night steps in, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is at times rather unvarying throughout, never quite taking the most dramatic moments of its story to the heights they arguably deserve.
Striking the balance between genuine and melodramatic is difficult, but there are moments when this film does play things a little too safe, and arguably misses out on what could have been a much sweatier, more intense familial drama, with a rollercoaster of emotions bubbling strongly beneath the surface.
That means that Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, at least in the first half, isn’t quite as exhilarating as it could have been, although the drama in the latter half brings in a more palpable atmosphere and intra-family tension that makes things all the more gripping.
Overall, I liked this movie. It’s not quite on the level of the best film adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play (Streetcar is a masterpiece), but it does still have gripping drama and fantastic performances throughout.
Genuine where it needs to be and taking care to avoid unnecessary melodrama, it’s a well-made and measured take on a very theatrical story, although it arguably lacks the palpable atmosphere and intensity that its plot deserves. So, that’s why I’m giving Cat On A Hot Tin Roof a 7.5.