Friday, March 31st, 2023

The 1958 movie version of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

MaggieTheCatCat on a Hot Tin Roof

Directed by Richard Brooks

Written by Richard Brooks and James Poe

based on the play by Tennessee Williams

Released September 20, 1958
108 min. • Find on imdb

Review by Stephen O. Murray

The 1958 film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Richard Brooks (Elmer Gantry) was well cast, although Paul Newman doesn’t seem quite weak and dependent enough, but otherwise everyone is perfect.

I can see Maggie as a desperate queen (along with Blanche DuBois and Alexandra del Lago, and the repressed Alma in Summer and Smoke, too), but Elizabeth Taylor has capital-L Life-force indeed. (She also conjured am imaginary child later in her greatest performance: as Martha, of course, in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).

Opening up so imploding a family drama is dangerous, but it seems to me to work (another parallel to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). And Big Daddy (embodied by Burl Ives) snarling at the “odor of mendacity” has affected me for life, whether credit goes to Burl Ives or to Tennessee Williams who wrote the lines and the part.


Williams was inexplicit about Brick’s sexual desire for his dead buddy Skipper, but the Hollywood censors demanded that this be further invisibilized (and their conventional family value pressure probably extended to increasing the extent of reconciliation between Brick and Big Daddy).

Burl Ives
Burl Ives in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958.

Ives won a 1958 best supporting actor Oscar, but for The Big Country rather than for the greatest and most remembered performance of his career. Newman was nominated for many Oscars before finally winning one. Taylor received another one in another adaptation of Williams the next year (for Suddenly, Last Summer) before getting one she found dubious (for Butterfield 8, regarded by some observers as making up for her not getting one for her Maggie the Cat and others for surviving pneumonia only by having a tracheotomy performed.)

And what was chosen best picture? Gigi!

The cinematography of William H. Daniels was also nominated for an Oscar, more understandably overlooked for Joseph Rutenberg’s opulent cinematography for Gigi.

©1995, 2016, Stephen O. Murray

written 16 May 1995, probably later posted on

About The Author

Stephen O. Murray grew up in rural southern Minnesota, earned a B.A. from James Madison College (within Michigan State University), an M.A. from the University of Arizona, a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (both in sociology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley (in anthropology). He is the author of American Gay, Homosexualities, etc. and lives in San Francisco.