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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Blogathons, Coming Of Age, Page To Screen, Romance

The June Allyson Blogathon: Little Women (1949)

june-banner-1Simoa over at Champagne For Lunch is hosting this blogathon about June Allyson. This year is the centenary of June’s birth, and I think it’s lovely to be marking this event with this blogathon. Be sure to visit Simoa’s site to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read all the entries myself.

June Allyson was a very radiant actress. She had one of the brightest smiles of anyone that I’ve ever seen. June was also a very bright and bubbly person. She had a very distinctive voice and she is an actress who always makes me check out films if I see that she is in them. Although I don’t consider myself to be a major fan of June’s, I do like her very much and I greatly admire her acting talent.

My favourite of her film performances is as Jo March, in the 1949 film adaptation of the novel Little Women. This version and the one from 1994 are my favourite screen versions of this lovely coming of age story. These two versions capture the warmth and intimacy of the novel for me. I don’t like the 1933 film version, as I think the actors in it(especially Katharine Hepburn)overact their roles something fierce and this spoils watching that one (for me anyway). 

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June as Jo March. Screenshot by me.

In the 1949 film, June brings the character of the tomboyish Jo to life so well. June completely becomes this frustrated, warmhearted, outgoing, adventurous and passionate young woman. She also captures Jo’s passion for writing and the joy that it brings her.

As the film goes on, Jo matures and grows into quite the young lady, and June really captures that change so well (watch her body language, emotions and mannerisms.) Compare how she acts in the first half of the film to how she is in the second half of the film.

June shows us that as Jo gets older she finally becomes more comfortable with being a woman and acting as her sisters do (properly, as was expected for the time period). Jo also finally accepts that it is okay to actually want to fall in love and be a wife, and she doesn’t mind that change entering in to her own life as much as she did when she was younger.

Jo is still very much herself in the second half of the film, but she doesn’t seek to shock or raise eyebrows with her behaviour as before. Jo still speaks her mind, but she becomes more tactful and respectful of tradition/custom when doing so. June conveys all of this to us through emotion, body language and expressions alone. It truly is a remarkable performance and is one that I never get tired of watching. I firmly believe that she gives one of her best performances as Jo March.

The 1949 film was directed by Mervyn LeRoy. The film features strong performances from all the younger members of the main cast: June, Janet Leigh, Margaret O’Brien, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Lawford and Richard Stapley. Rossano Brazzi, Mary Astor, Lucile Watson and C. Aubrey Smith all provide solid support as the various adults in the sisters lives.

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The sisters listen to their mother read a letter from their father. Screenshot by me.

The story follows the lives of four sisters, from their childhood to their adult years. The film is set in New England. The March family consists of four sisters; there’s the practical and beautiful Meg (Janet Leigh), the tomboyish and big hearted writer, Jo(June Allyson), the shy and gentle Beth (Margaret O’Brien) and the vain and funny Amy (Elizabeth Taylor).

The girls live with their mother (Mary Astor) and their loyal housekeeper Hannah (Elizabeth Patterson)while their father (Leon Aymes)is away fighting in the Civil War. Their only other relative is the wealthy and crotchety Aunt March (Lucile Watson).

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Jo can’t accept Laurie’s proposal. Screenshot by me.

The sisters are befriended by the lonely Laurie (Peter Lawford)their young neighbour who hates the restrictive life he leads with his grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith). 

Laurie becomes a great friend and source of comfort to the March family. As they grow up, Laurie falls in love with Jo, but she doesn’t return his feelings.

Jo is against change, she hates it with every fibre of her being and she just cannot see why things can’t stay as they are. Meg finds love with Laurie’s tutor, John Brooke (Richard Stapley) and the two get married. I love watching their relationship develop, they also go on to have a very loving marriage where they are equals (which was rare I think for the time period).

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Jo and the Professor. Screenshot by me.

Jo’s refusal of Laurie’s proposal later in the film breaks his heart. Jo goes to work as a governess in New York. While she is there, she finds herself falling in love, but with someone totally unexpected, the much older Professor Bhaer (Rossano Brazzi).

When Jo and the Professor fall in love, Jo realises that this change in her life is not as unpleasant as she thought it once would be.

A personal tragedy leads Jo to write a novel about her life with her sisters. It is published to great acclaim and Jo’s hard work as an author finally pays off.

While Jo is undoubtedly the star role here, I think that the actresses playing the other March sisters all get their chance to shine throughout the film. To me Leigh, Allyson, Taylor and O’Brien all feel like an ensemble, and I don’t think that they ever outshine one another too much.

Janet Leigh is terrific as the eldest sister, Meg. She makes you see that Meg would love to be pampered just once in her life. She has had to grow up before her time though in order to help her mother around the house.

Elizabeth Taylor is absolutely hysterical as Amy, the self centred, food lover of the family. Amy may be self centred but she loves her family deeply. She would do anything for her family and friends. Taylor steals every scene she is in.

Margaret O’Brien (one of the best and most natural of the classic era child stars)is heartbreaking as the fragile Beth. She is the sister beloved by all who meet her. She may be young, but she is very wise too.

Peter Lawford is very good as Laurie. He shows us how Laurie comes to life through his friendship with the March family and becomes as outgoing as they are. Lawford is heartbreaking in the scene where be admits his feelings for Jo, only to have his hopes dashed.

Rossano Brazzi (swoon!)  🙂  is utterly loveable as the patient, gentle and kind Professor. Watching him slowly falling for Jo is so sweet. Brazzi lets us see how much this man cares for Jo and how he also respects her as a woman and as a writer.

Mary Astor is almost saintly as the loving mother of the sisters. Astor plays her as the mother everyone deserves to have. She is kind, honest and wants her girls to be true to  themselves above all else.

The great character actor C. Aubrey Smith steals every scene he is in, as Laurie’s gruff, old fashioned and stern grandfather. Mr. Lawrence is actually quite a softie underneath that hard exterior. The scene where Beth thanks him for giving her the piano moves me to tears every time I watch this. Smith died shortly after filming his role in this and this was to be his final film.

I love the set design in this film especially for the interiors of the March home; that house really has the look of a lived in space, filled with personal items and it has a very warm and cosy look about it. The costumes are also beautiful, especially the ladies gowns. I especially love the yellow dress Amy wears when she visits Jo in New York. The films music by Adolph Deutsch is the prefect accompaniment to the story we are watching.  

A lovely coming of age story, filled with strong and memorable performances. June is the films heart, and her performance in this is unforgettable.

My favourite scenes are the following. The girls buying Christmas gifts for themselves and then taking them back to exchange for gifts for their mum. The Professor singing in German and explaining the meaning of the words to Jo. Amy comforting Beth after they hear some horrible gossip about their family. Mr. March returning from the war and hugging each of his family. Laurie’s proposal to Jo. Mr. Brooke proposing to Meg. Beth thanking Mr. Laurence for his gift to her of a piano. Jo and Laurie dancing. Jo revealing she has cut her hair short and sold it. Amy letting Beth have her last cake. Meg telling Jo off for her improper behaviour in public. Amy and Aunt March visiting Jo in New York.

This is a beautiful film about family, love and about being true to yourself. This is a comfort film/story for me and it is one I return to again and again. In terms of personality I see myself as a mix of Jo and Beth, and I can certainly relate to some of the choices these two sisters make and to their respective personalities.

I’d love to get your thoughts on this film. What do you think of June’s performance as Jo? Please leave your comments below.