Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958) Directed by Richard Brooks
Cat On a Hot Tin Roof's origins are of the stage play variety, so it does not make this film very cinematic, the direction is pretty static. Tennessee Williams' obvious gay text has been toned down to make the film acceptable to 50's audiences. So the fact that Brick (Paul Newman) is obviously a gay man and they work their way around mentioning this in any other way they can without actually using the word gay is a fascinating subtext when watching this film.
One reason Brooks doesn't direct much is he trusts his actors, with Newman and Elizabeth Taylor both outstanding. So, this is a great film, a classic if you like where the performances are worth the admission price alone. Tied to Williams' great lines, this makes for very strong cinema.
Watching this again, I was amazed that the stunning Taylor is often blown off the screen in the good looks department by the totally brooding sexiness of Newman. Has there ever been such an amazing profile in cinema. Paul Newman is so hot in this movie, he is raw sex appeal. His body language, anger, bitterness, glare are what gives this picture it's edge. Yummy!
It has taken me a long time in life to begin to appreciate the beauty of men. Especially blond blue-eyed men I have passed as boring orange-juice-and-omelette types. As a woman growing up under huge pressures to be beautiful and thin and always so impossibly something that was unattainable, I have had very little time to think of men. Until very recently, I have been watching the women in movies with much more precision. This all said, the aesthetics of masculinity have quite unexpectedly began to unravel in my eyes. So hello Paul Newman.
Newman steals Cat On A Hot Tin Roof from all others, even from Tennessee Williams (who probably purrs happily). He wears pajamas, crutches, sadness, anger and drunkenness as though they were the sexiest things states and feelings. He is implosive, high-strung, potentially dangerous, full of unexpressed emotion. Add to this list that Newman's character is married unhappily to the most perfect womanly woman possibly in the form of Elizabeth Taylor.
The play by Tennessee Williams is full of dazzling lines and dialogue. It's all mean snapping, cruelty and smart put downs. Williams truly knows how to portray the desperation of a marriage where one is hopelessly in love with her partner and the other is...well, clearly gay. But it's 1958 and this is a Hollywood production, so somehow the fact that Maggie (Liz) did not actually have sex with Brick's (Newman) best friend who commited suicide after Newman failed to be there for him (he married a woman you know) makes everything ok in the marriage that was on the rocks. During this film Brick is not only cured from homosexuality, but also his alcoholism vanishes.
It was impossible to make a film openly discussing homosexuality in 1958, although Cat On The Hot Tin Roof is not hiding the subject matter very much. But Paul Newman's Brick is a football-playing all American hunk. His character exudes the kind of rough-around-the-edges masculinity that still today, is not what we first think of when discussing the stereotypical gay man. Maybe it will be, though.