Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

(On DVD, December 2017) There’s something oddly satisfying, in theatrically-inspired movies, in seeing the way the script piles on a series of interpersonal conflict in the first half, only to detonate them all in the second. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof does it better than most, helped along by terrific dialogue from playwright Tennessee Williams, the dramatic intensity of Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in the lead roles, and some able assistance from Burl Ives as the patriarch whose impending death forms the catalyst of all conflicts. Despite some surprisingly comic moments, this is a fairly heavy film, especially when all the emotional bandages are removed at the big conflicts within the small cast of character are allowed to explode. Despite some glaring coyness (the homosexual themes of the relationship between the lead male character and his mourned friend hay not be expressly mentioned, but they’re glaringly obvious), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof hits its dramatic peak in time for its third act, punctuated by a thunderstorm. Taylor is in fine form here, showing the extent of her dramatic range even as illness and personal tragedy befell her during the film’s shooting (her husband died in a plane crash midway through production, which had to be halted to accommodate her grief). The result is still worth a look sixty years later as a good example of what fifties dramas could be, even when hobbled by the Hays Code and social conventions of the time.

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