Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tom Hanks’ “A Hologram for the King” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

I’ve got to hand it to Maggie Pollitt (Elizabeth Taylor): She doesn’t take any guff, no matter who you are. When one of the five “no-neck monsters,” as she calls the offspring of brother-in-law Gooper (Jack Carson) and his wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) throws ice cream at her, Maggie gives it right back to the bratty little girl—by shoving a handful in her face. They don’t call her Maggie the cat for nothing.

Shoved in the face is actually a very good metaphor for the happenings of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” so the movie, based on the stage play by Tennessee Williams, sets the stage very well. The family, which includes the aforementioned folk as well as youngest son Brick (Paul Newman), has returned home to the estate of Big Daddy Pollitt (Burl Ives) and Big Momma Pollitt (Judith Anderson) to celebrate Big Daddy’s sixty-fifth birthday. For a normal family, this would be cause for them to gather around, tolerate each other for a day, blow out some candles, and that’s it.

As we soon discover, the Pollitts are no normal family, and this is no normal day. The personal struggles and family dynamics set up by Williams are rife with high drama. Brick and Maggie are struggling in their marriage. Brick’s an alcoholic, and Maggie is unsatisfied. There are rumors that Big Daddy has cancer. Gooper, the oldest son and a lawyer, seeks to inherit the family fortune when Big Daddy passes away. Brick also has a strained relationship with Big Daddy. Mae is a nosy busybody, and Big Momma comes down on Maggie for not producing children since she and Brick have been married for three years.

No one catches a break in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and this is where the metaphorical face shoving comes in to play. Instead of ice cream, words are used. Brick is keeping things from Maggie and Big Daddy. A fair number of scenes are comprised of Maggie and/or Big Daddy challenging Brick and getting him to tell the truth about his alcoholism and lack of interest in Maggie. They are very blunt and very direct. Brick has a talent for placating people, especially Big Daddy. He tries to get Big Daddy off his back without revealing anything. We can see how this tactic may have worked in the past, but it’s not working on this day. Big Daddy wants to have it out, once and for all.

Big Daddy and Big Momma are also not immune to getting the truth shoved in their faces. Each acts differently to cold hard facts, but both reactions are keeping within the character of who these people are. Tennessee Williams was a great dramatist because he understood human nature. This understanding gave him a good sense of character. He knew who the people were in the world he created, why they got there, what would get them to change, and how they would reassess and bring forth new character traits once they did change.

The cat metaphor is strong with Maggie. She is akin to a cat in heat with her lusting after Brick. There are reminders sprinkled along the way too, such as when Brick tells her that her “claws are showing” or when Maggie describes herself “scratching” (rather than knocking) on a door.

Much of the drama centers around Brick, his history, his alcoholism, and his conflicts with Maggie and Big Daddy. Once all is said, done, and revealed, a perfectly reasonable conclusion is reached for why Brick acts the way he does. However, Brick’s character can’t be properly discussed without touching on the homosexual themes brewing under the surface. What amazes me is how close they are to coming up. Brick’s loathing of Maggie has to do with events that transpired involving a close friend and fellow football player named Skipper. Brick all but says that he loves Skipper, and whether he says it or not, it’s clear that he does.

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” was one of the biggest films of 1958 and garnered six Academy Award nominations, including one apiece for the two leads, one for director Richard Brooks, and one for Best Picture. The fact that this classic film is seeing a Blu-Ray release today goes to prove that high caliber family drama speaks as loudly and clearly to audiences today as it did almost 60 years ago. Buy it on Amazon: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958) [Blu-ray].

Also Out This Week

A Hologram for the King

“A Hologram for the King” is the movie equivalent of a half-baked pie. It’s sliced up to go in all different directions, and while part of it may be done and solid, the rest is a soggy mess.

The main thrust of the story is sound: sales executive Alan (Tom Hanks) flies to Saudi Arabia to meet with the king and present to him a new, interactive conferencing tool developed by his company. He of course gets the run around, which prolongs his stay, and he meets quirky and interesting people, like native taxi driver Yousef (Alexander Black) and native female doctor Zahra (Sarita Choudhury).

The main problem with “A Hologram for the King” is that it goes off on way too many tangents that never come close to fully developing. We get flashbacks to an ex-wife and a bitter divorce, and there are some moments with his daughter Kit (Tracey Fairaway). Tom Skerritt has a thankless, underwritten role as Alan’s father, who was laid off when Alan made a decision to move a factory to China years prior.

Speaking of China, there is commentary on the global economy, the loss of manufacturing jobs in the US, its impact on workers, and how China is taking a lot of that business. This is all well and good—timely and relevant in fact—but it’s not right to wedge it in as an afterthought. That’s how all of these tangents feel—like afterthoughts. Either put them in the script and explore them, or leave them out entirely. But don’t do what this script does and pay mere lip service to them, leaving them feeling unfinished.

But what can be expected of a movie that abruptly removes Yousef, who for most of the movie is a major supporting character, from the story without any type of farewell? I also have to seriously question the decision to wrap up the main story about the deal with the king, and then continue the movie on for another fifteen minutes to flesh out a ho-hum forbidden romance story. Maybe it was an experiment by writer-director Tom Tykwer to see what happens when the “A” story is completed, but you then let the “B” story linger and wrap it up last. Normally, “B” is wrapped up before “A.” This is basic screenwriting. If that was the experiment, then it’s a failed one—big time. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Basket Case 2” and “Basket Case 3,” bad sequels to a decent first entry, these almost play like parodies of the original; “Baskin,” about a group of cops who unwittingly travel through a gateway to hell; and a movie titled “Violent Shit,” as well as a movie called “Addicted to Fresno,” with Natasha Lyonne on the cover holding a dildo. For those who deny that our culture is in decline, I’d like to make these exhibits A and B that we are nearing the bottom.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

Cron Job Starts