Blogathons, Drama

The Elizabeth Taylor Blogathon: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Elizabeth Taylor blogathon

Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Elizabeth Taylor. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

Elizabeth Taylor was someone famous who I always felt like I knew. I felt this way because I think that Elizabeth was so open about her life; her personal issues, her passions, and her tragedies were very well known to those of us who never actually knew her. Due to her openness, it often felt like you did know her in a way.

Her life was led very much in the public eye and pretty much everything she did was reported on. Elizabeth was one of the biggest film stars there has ever been, yet she didn’t become aloof or self centred, she was actually a very generous and kind person. Elizabeth also did so much for charity and she also helped to raise public awareness of AIDS and addiction.

People liked Elizabeth and they felt like they could relate to her in some way.  Despite the fact that I never met her, I certainly did feel that in a way I had lost someone special when she died in 2011. 

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Elizabeth as Maggie. Screenshot by me.

Elizabeth was also one of the most beautiful women of the 20th century. Sadly it was her looks which were often focused on more than her acting talents were. There was so much more to Elizabeth than just physical beauty. She was a very interesting person and was also a very good dramatic actress.

I’ve decided that I’m going to write about a film that I consider to feature one of her very best film performances. That film is Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

1958 really was a key year in Elizabeth Taylor’s life. In March of that year her third husband Mike Todd was tragically killed in a plane crash. Elizabeth was left utterly devastated by his death.

At the time that Mike was killed, Elizabeth had been in the middle of filming Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. She had to then finish filming her scenes while she was still in the process of grieving for Mike. Elizabeth and Mike had planned for this to be her last film. Their plan was that she could have then retired from acting.

I’ve no doubt that making Cat On A Hot Tin Roof must have been an extremely difficult experience for Elizabeth; however her performance in this film certainly helped to show audiences how much of a skilled dramatic actress she was capable of being.

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Maggie comforts her husband. Screenshot by me.

Elizabeth had had some dramatic roles before this of course, but I think this was really the first film in which we saw just what dramatic heights she could actually reach.     

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is directed by Richard Brooks. The film is based upon the acclaimed play by Tennessee Williams. The film tells the story of the wealthy Pollitt family. The film doesn’t fully manage to shake off its theatrical roots. Most of the action takes place in one room, and it’s one of those films where characters yell and shout a lot. If that doesn’t sound like it’s your thing, I’d say give it a try because the performances really make it worthwhile.

There is the handsome former football star Brick(Paul Newman). He is grieving the death of his best friend (who it is strongly suggested was also his lover). Brick is struggling with life and his biggest crutch is the regular doses of alcohol that he consumes.

Brick’s young and very beautiful wife Maggie(Elizabeth Taylor)is frustrated over his lack of physical passion for her. She loves him so much, but she cannot reach his heart, and she cannot help him with his grief. She won’t give up trying to reach him though

Brick’s long suffering elder brother Gooper(Jack Carson)and Gooper’s overbearing and shrill wife Mae(Madeleine Sherwood)make life hell for Brick and Maggie. Gooper and Mae are desperate to become the next owners of the family plantation. 

As the family gather together for the milestone birthday of their patriarch Big Daddy(Burl Ives), family frustrations and secrets are revealed; including the sad fact that Big Daddy is slowly dying of cancer. 

This painful revelation about his father forces Brick to step up and take charge of his responsibilities. 

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The tough Big Daddy. Screenshot by me.

There are three love stories in this Brick and Maggie, Brick and Big Daddy, and Brick’s love of the bottle(which is a form of healing and protection from real life for him).The most important of these is that between Brick and Big Daddy. By the end of the film both men have learnt something about the other, and both will develop mutual respect and understanding.  

I think that all of the cast shine here. Judith Anderson delivers solid support as the loving, loyal, but not particularly clever wife of Big Daddy, Anderson makes you really feel for her character.

Newman convinces as the brooding, pent up and reclusive Brick. He makes you want to yell at Brick, and he makes you want to tell him to snap out of his current state. For me though it is Burl Ives and Elizabeth Taylor who deliver the best and most memorable performances in this film.

Burl is excellent as the strong Big Daddy. He makes him a loud, sharp, clever and observant leader of the pack. He won’t show weakness, and he certainly won’t let people walk all over him.

Elizabeth superbly conveys the frustrations and desires of Maggie. She is all strength, anger, sensuality, desperation, sexiness, and passion. Maggie is not a woman who is content to sit at home knitting, she is clever, strong and fiercely independent. Her performance is all in her expressions and body language. I think this is one of the very best performances she ever gave.

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Maggie lets her feelings be known. Screenshot by me.

As I said earlier, Elizabeth’s performance in this film also showed off what a superb dramatic actress she could be. I just think it’s a shame that she didn’t get more meaty dramatic material like this to work with in her career. This film along with Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and The Taming Of The Shrew are real highpoints in Elizabeth’s career I think.   

I think that in the way Elizabeth plays Maggie here, she makes her become the strongest person in that family. Maggie keeps a cool head, she knows what’s going on, and she doesn’t care one bit for custom or tradition, she will do what she decides to do. I also love how she stands by Brick, even if she doesn’t fully understand what ails him, she’ll stick by her man and won’t leave him alone.

I also love how Maggie doesn’t stand for the rubbish way Mae’s kids treat her. Those kids are rude and spoilt, and Maggie doesn’t stand for their bad behaviour.

The ice cream throwing scene is a great favourite of mine. Maggie can’t believe that this obnoxious kid has just ruined her outfit by throwing ice cream at her. Maggie soon takes matters into her own hands and dishes out some punishment. That brat was flat out asking for it and Maggie squished that ice cream right in her face! Haha! 🙂  My screenshots below show Maggie getting her ice cream revenge. 🙂

When you think of this film, I will bet that it is Elizabeth’s performance and character that comes instantly to their mind. Elizabeth makes Maggie such a strong, sexy, passionate, desperate and tender woman, who it is impossible to forget. I also like how Elizabeth shows us that despite feeling left out, lonely, and despairing; Maggie still has some hope that she and Brick can actually get back together again and find a lasting happiness.

Maggie is patient with Brick, she lets her presence be known to him, and she doesn’t let him push her away from him. She is willing to wait for him to come to her, she bides her time and waits. This situation may get her down, but she doesn’t accept that the situation can never change or get better. Maggie always has hope. Maggie is a survivor of this situation and family. In that respect I think she is quite similar to Elizabeth.  

This film is a real high point in Elizabeth’s career. She gave this role everything she had, and I really think that shows through in her performance. 

What do you think of this film? What are your thoughts on Elizabeth’s performance as Maggie?

The following are my favourite Elizabeth Taylor films.

1- Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

2- Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

3- Little Women

4- The Taming Of The Shrew

5- Cleopatra

6- The Sandpiper

7- Elephant Walk

 

 

 

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14 thoughts on “The Elizabeth Taylor Blogathon: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958)”

  1. Glad to see someone besides me likes “Elephant Walk”! I also really like “Cleopatra”, which I think is absurdly underrated. “The Sandpiper” I find pretty goofy but fun to watch. “Woolf” is fabulous. I also appreciate “The Last Time I Saw Paris” and “The Comedians”. “Ivanhoe”. “National Velvet”. I’m old enough to remember that as a kid she was on every magazine cover, all the time, for years. Good review, Maddy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review Maddy! And informative! Your introduction made me realized that I don’t know her that much after all. I agree with you that Cat is worthy especially for its performances. It seems that Liz Taylor was great at playing Tennesse Williams’s characters as she also does a trememdous job in Suddenly, Last Summer. I was wondering if you had seen this one since it wasn’t in your top??

    Liked by 1 person

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