Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Burl Ives, Jack Carson, Judith Anderson, Madeleine Sherwood, Larry Gates, Vaughn Taylor
Richard Brooks, James Poe, Tennessee Williams (play, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof")
Every sultry moment of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize Play is now on the screen!
A dying southern patriarch (Ives) surveys the prospects for his legacy in the hands of his sons, one a neurotic weakling (Jack Carson) and the other an alcoholic conniver (Newman), and finds them sorely lacking. The film glistens with remarkable ensemble cast performances highlighted by Tennessee Williams's searing dialogue.
Runtime: 108 min.
Release Date: 5/2/2006
• Audio Commentary with Biographer Donald Spoto
• “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: Playing Cat and Mouse” Featurette
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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Cat On A Hot Tin Roof: Deluxe Edition (1958)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 18, 2006)
For sheer movie star power, you’ll find it hard to top Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. Not only are they two of the big stars ever to come out of Hollywood, but they remain a pair of the greatest sex symbols as well. And have any other actors displayed such gorgeous eyes?
Only once did Newman and Taylor appear on screen together: in the 1958 film version of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The flick focuses on the strained relationship between Brick (Newman) and Maggie. Former sports star turned alcoholic Brick maintains a very aloof attitude toward Maggie in apparent punishment for an initially unspecified prior misdeed. She begs him to interact like they did in the old days, but Brick remains indifferent to her needs even though they’ve been married for only three years.
Into this setting steps Brick’s wealthy father Big Daddy (Burl Ives). All suspect he doesn’t have long to live, so a battle wages among Brick’s extended family to stake a claim to his wealth. Big Daddy comes to town for his birthday celebration and various conflicts ensue.
What Cat lacks in plot, it more than compensates with strong characters and situations. To be sure, you won’t find much of a story here. The movie uses the framework of Big Daddy’s birthday for its scenario but doesn’t attempt anything beyond that.
And this is perfectly fine with me. Cat could – and probably should – fall apart due to the potentially ridiculous nature of its events. So many direct confrontations and revelations emerge in this brief event that it seems rather absurd. Brick and Maggie, Brick and Big Daddy, Big Daddy and Big Mama… and the list goes on, all with the terminally ill patriach’s fortune in the balance. What kind of nutty birthday party is this, anyway?
Despite the over the top nature of the situations, Cat succeeds. All the twists, turns and revelations create fireworks, not inane melodrama. The movie shows its origins as a stage production – the characters are wont to stop the action for theatrical monologues – but it keeps us riveted with its events. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch it all unfold and allow us to catch up with all the characters’ years of problems.
To be sure, the excellent cast helps. Taylor offers the most overtly theatrical performance of the bunch in a turn that mildly evokes Vivian Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire. That doesn’t make her work problematic, though, and she presents enough fire and energy to make the role fly.
I like Newman and especially Ives best of all, though. For those of us who grew up with Ives as a jolly snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, his turn as the overbearing and borderline sadistic Big Daddy becomes a revelation. He digs into all elements of the part with gusto, and his interactions with Newman prove especially intense. Those turn into the movie’s highlights.
I’d classify Streetcar as a superior movie based on a Williams play, but Cat is no slouch on its own. The film maintains enough of its theatrical roots to maintain a connection, but it thrives on its own as well. This is a fascinating character study.
The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus C+
Cat On a Hot Tin Roof appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A few moderate problems made this a good but not stellar transfer.
For the most part, sharpness was fine. Occasional examples of softness occurred, and a couple of strangely blurry shots appeared. The majority of the flick displayed more than adequate definition, though. I saw no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement appeared. Source concerns were minor. A few specks showed up, and the movie looked a bit grainier than expected, but overall, things remained clean.
I found it a bit tough to judge the colors of Cat. Most of the movie seemed somewhat faded and pale as it favored a yellowish tint. I thought a lot of this was due to visual design, as scenes with brighter tones – like the party pieces – showed brighter tones. Still, I thought it was tough to accept the bland nature of so many shots as intentional. Blacks were deep and firm, and shadows looked clear and smooth. This ended up as a generally fine image.
I also felt pleased with the monaural soundtrack of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The mix didn’t excel, but it was more than acceptable given its age. Speech consistently seemed natural and concise, and the lines betrayed no edginess or other problems. Music tended to be a little thin but seemed acceptably vivid and bright. Effects were clean and demonstrated reasonable range, especially in the boom of thunder. I didn’t find anything here to applaud, but I liked what I heard nonetheless.
A few extras round out this “Deluxe Edition” of Cat. The main attraction comes from an audio commentary with biographer Donald Spoto. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion. Although Spoto touches on a few production elements, he prefers to investigate other subjects. On occasion, he talks about the cast and other participants, censorship issues, and comparisons between the film and the play.
However, most of Spoto’s chat deals with more introspective topics. Spoto digs into themes and interpretation of the movie’s story, situations and characters. He does so fairly well, though at times he seems to simply narrate the action. Spoto also goes silent too often, and this leaves the commentary with a fair amount of dead air; this becomes a particular problem during its second half. I admit that I’d have preferred a more nuts and bolts Rudy Behlmer-style commentary, but I think Spoto makes this a generally intriguing and informative piece.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we locate a featurette entitled Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: Playing Cat and Mouse. This 10-minute piece includes archival materials, shots from the flick, and remarks from Spoto, authors Drew Casper and Eric Lax, and actor Madeleine Sherwood.
“Mouse” looks at the production with a particular emphasis on actors Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. It discusses their careers prior to Roof and see how that film impacted on their lives and careers. “Mouse” doesn’t serve as a strong overview of the production, but it accomplishes its goals. It serves to educate us about complications behind the scenes with the main actors and works well in that regard.
Those actors help make Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a success. The film boasts consistently excellent performances and becomes a rich, involving character piece. The DVD offers pretty positive picture and audio along with a couple decent extras. This release’s appellation as a “Deluxe Edition” seems like a stretch for a disc with so few extras, but this package does enough right to earn my recommendation.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.75 Stars
| Number of Votes: 24