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Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Reviewed on 2007 October 12

Gotta love the Tennessee Williams concept of family. Squabbling relatives, feral hellbeast children, and lots of money somewhere, all backed up with zinging lines delivered with a mint julep drawl. There have been several productions of this play but I think this version is the gold standard.

Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman) is a drunken ex-football player that for the first few reels acts like his name begins with the wrong consonant. We can’t really fault him for that, though. He’s chafing because he’s home for a big dinner for the wealthy family patriarch, Harvey “Big Daddy” Pollitt (Burl Ives). His wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) tries to comfort him but he angrily brushes her off. There’s a lot of bad blood in the house and a lot of bad memories flooding back just from being home, and it doesn’t help to be stuck in the huge Pollitt estate with his family reminding him he’s a failure.

The mere disapproving presence of Big Daddy and Ida “Big Momma” Pollitt (Judith Anderson) do that silently. Brick’s brother Gooper (Jack Carson) and his shrewish wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) do it with snippy dialogue and trotting their horrible children in front of Big Daddy and Big Momma. They’re gunning for a chunk of the family estate, and remind Big Daddy that Gooper is the firstborn, and after all, the money should go to the grandchildren. Why, Maggie hasn’t even given him one heir! (I think after too much time with her nieces and nephews, Maggie’s tubes may have hermetically sealed themselves shut.) Maggie is no saint — she doesn’t want to see Brick cut out of the family fortune either, but she seems genuinely very fond of Big Daddy, who is getting fed up with all the familial nonsense.

What I love about this play is the way it unfolds and reveals the family secrets a bit at a time; though at times it feels like the film equivalent of eating one potato chip. When you’re impatient to know what’s really going on, the movie is either moving too slowly, or the story is so good you can barely wait for more bits of it. The latter is what’s going on here. The acting in this is phenomenal, somewhat saccharine Southern accents notwithstanding. The adults are perfect — Madeleine Sherwood is everyone’s nightmare of a sister-in-law, and when Newman opens his mouth you can almost smell bourbon — but the kids are amazing. For the few bits we see them, they’re more obnoxious than Damien.

Four chocolate morsels.

Shukti

morsel morsel morsel morsel

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