The story of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof follows “one day in 1954 in the life of the Pollits, one of the Mississippi Delta’s wealthiest cotton-growing families” (2). It shows us a troubled marriage (Maggie and Brick), touches upon issues of sexuality and homosexuality and it deals with familial relations.
It is ironic that Tennessee Williams’s personal ambiguities about sex and sexuality make this movie the ultimate Guilty Pleasure flick. Williams’s sexuality (or rather homosexuality) gave way to an “ideal adult movie” (2). In Williams’s texts “it is almost always the men who are the sex objects” (1). In the movie itself we get to see Williams’s attraction to Brick: he “worships him, lusts after him” (1) which makes it so easy to reciprocate those feelings.
The reason why Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) can resonate as a chick flick with modern 21st century audience may, in my opinion, again be assigned to Williams’s reluctant treatment of sexuality because he “had to transfer to his often grasping hot-blooded female characters his own intense attraction to men” which made Brick “the desirable partner” and Maggie “sexually aggressive” (1). As a part of the female audience it is easy to identify with Williams in this respect: I am Maggie the Cat and I want Brick – stuff Guilty Pleasures are made of.
Two gorgeous, superb actors sharing immeasurable chemistry, coupled with the humid air of the American South, where life moves at a languid and sweaty pace, only add to the Guilty Pleasure the movie provides.
Today, adaptations of books/comics to the big screen are all the rage and they are still observed with the highest regard of adherence to the original text. Is Tom Cruise too short to play Jack Reacher? How can Constantine have dark hair? are just some of the more trivial issues fans have with adaptations. The evaporation of homosexuality in the movie adaptation of the Cat is another reason for it being the epitome of Guilty Pleasure. However, even though the movie displaces the original text, I still consider it a masterpiece.
Richard Brooks made the movie by identifying Brick’s problem as “his reluctance to grow up” (1), completely taking Brick’s sexual ambivalence out of the equation. Through his take, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof appeals to the widest of audiences and humours the American society of the 1950s. Still, it gives the 21st century viewer a feeling that it must have been scandalous back in the day, because watching through the prism of the 1950s, a sexually assertive female is seen as something controversial.
The first flaw lies in the conclusion, when the movie surrenders to the patriarchal mores. We see Brick taking back his “masculine” role, becoming the sexual aggressive, while “in the original version, Brick agrees reluctantly to Maggie’s demands” (1). If Richard Brooks transferred this to the movie we would still have the outrageous, sexually aggressive woman and the male sexual object. This way he gave us back status quo, putting everything in order, not only between Maggie and Brick, but also between all the members of the Pollitt family.
What of Tennessee Williams? What did he want to say with this play? Some critics manage to agree that Williams, especially before coming out of the closet, is skittish in his treatment of sexuality and was often unable to make a definitive point. Maybe that’s why he agreed to revise his play to accommodate Elia Kazan’s desires when directing the play on Broadway. What we do know, however, is that the movie was “somehow not quite what [Tennessee] meant to say” (2).
Having watched the movie several times before reading the play, something kept gnawing at me, I kept feeling that something was missing, that it was somehow dishonest, because “no matter how strenuously it is avoided, the subject of homosexuality intrudes on the bustling comedy melodrama surface” (1).
Richard Brooks tried hard to harvest only certain parts of Williams’s homosexual motifs. However, he was not successful in his selectiveness and, to paraphrase Tennessee Williams, we somewhat got to see what he meant with his play. This deficiency in the movie, this unanswered question is what prompted me to read the play, to find what I was missing. If that was Brooks’s intention, I would say kudos to you Mr Brooks.
In the end I have to partly agree with M. Thomas Inge (2), because Richard Brooks “turned the play inside out and converted what was a tragedy of existential despair” into a 21st century chick flick.
1. Hirsch, Foster. Portrait of an Artist. Plays of Tennessee Williams. Port Washington N.Y./London: Kennikat Press Corp, 1979.
2. Bloom, Harold, ed. Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof-New Edition. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2011.