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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: The Play Vs Film Adaptation

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Words: 1855 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Apr 11, 2022

Words: 1855|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Apr 11, 2022

Tennessee Williams' 1955 play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof explores the concepts of truth and illusion through a troubled Mississippi family and the tensions that exist between the characters when faced with family crises. Richard Brooks’ 1958 film adaptation simplifies, clarifies and obscures Williams’ ideas and thoughts on modern American society. Williams heavily critiques mendacity and the social restrictions of the 1950’s, especially those placed upon women. Brooks’ adaptation holds overt similarities to Williams’ play, however in order to adhere to the conservative audience of the 50s, multiple themes and ideas are discarded or dulled. Brooks simplifies the role of women, and in doing so he sexualises Maggie and her relationship with Brick. Furthermore, his Hollywoodised ending clarifies that the American Dream is attainable, deviating from Williams’ open to interpretation ending and critique of the American Dream. In order to conform with the Hay’s code restrictions, any aludes to Brick’s homosexuality are obscured from the film, instead focusing on the martial issues between Brick and Maggie.

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The role of women is simplified in Brooks’ film adaptation, villianising Mae and sexualising Maggie, to appeal to the conservative audiences of the 50s. The representations of femininity and even masculinity are considerably changed from the play to the film. Williams introduces Maggie through unvarnished dialogue delivered as she ‘shout[s] above the roar of water’, displaying masculine features not seen in women at the time. Contrasting Maggie’s ‘catty’ nature is Brick, who holds a ‘cool air of detachment’ and is significantly more submissive and indecisive than Maggie. This gender text reversal demonstrates how Brick, as the man in the relationship is unable to measure up to his ideal thus allowing Maggie to fill that role, deviating from societal expectations. However, this is not reciprocated in Brooks’ film adaptation. Rather than exert masculinity, Elizabeth Taylor portrays Maggie as desperate and more submissive. This is demonstrated by Taylor’s exaggerated acting, clinging desperately to Brick. In the film, Maggie is more reliant on Brick to help mend their marriage, conforming her to fit social ideals and expectations of the time. In the film, Maggie is informed by Brick of the news of Big Daddy’s terminal cancer, stripping all power that she had in the same scene in the play, where she was the one who broke the news to Brick. As this information is withheld from her, Maggie is depicted as trying to reach the masculine plateau that she had already achieved in the play. Moreover, Brick and Maggie’s relationship is heavily sexualied in the film, causing the audience to focus on their romance rather than Maggie’s character, hence lessening her role. Brick’s ‘hate’ for Maggie is a surface level romance conflict to appease audiences of the time. This sexual tension is furthered by the jarring input of sultry jazz in between scenes of heightened tension and interaction dulling Maggie’s catty nature which is highly potent throughout the play. This sultry music, coupled with soft lighting placed upon Maggie, especially in her intimate scenes with Brick, eliminates any alludes to her having masculine qualities. Hence, simplifying Maggie as a character, focusing more on her relationship and sexual tension with Brick rather than her complexities as a character. The casting choice of Taylor as Maggie, obscures the masculine, stubborn character that she is trying to play, as the audience is distracted by her beauty, portraying her as a more femenine and sexual figure. The costumes emphasise this, as they are very typical of 1950s fashion; dainty and feminine. Taylor’s costumes are very figure hugging and the slip is very scandalous for its time. Newman is often seen standing, placed in the foreground which places him in a position of dominance compared to Taylor who is positioned in the background. This further emphasises Brick’s masculinity and places Maggie in a more subservient position reflecting the expectations and role of women in the 50s. Moreover, Maggie is often seen wearing white, the colour of purity, presenting her as a figure of femininity. Furthermore, in Brooks’ adaptation, Mae is villainized and presented as an irritating figure. Brooks highlights Mae’s irritation by Goopers constant but subtle dismissal of her and unattractive her pink dress with a large, protruding bow in contrast to Maggie’s attractive, slim outfits. This contrasts with the play, as in the play Gooper does not show much irritation towards his wife and they are seen working closely together to prevent Big Daddy placing the estate in ‘irresponsible hands’. Madeleine Sherwood’s loud shrill voice in her portrayal of Mae, exaggerates her irritation as a character. Hence, Mae is simplified by Brooks’ to fit the Hollywood archetype of the villian. Overall, Brooks simplifies his female characters to fit more archetypal roles and present them as feminine figures to suit conservative audiences.

Brooks clarifies that the American Dream is possible, contradictory to Williams’ criticisms on the attainability of the American Dream. At the conclusion of the play, Brooks presents an overall Hollywoodised ending, in which the characters reconcline, with the exception of the ‘villian’, Mae, who is defeated. By adding Hollywood glam and drama, Brooks was able to appeal to film audiences of the 50s. The film's ending has an optimistic tone despite the knowledge of Big Daddy’s cancer. The reconciliation of the characters to mend their broken relationships overshadows this leading to an overall positive, Hollywood ending. In the play, Big Daddy is not present as all for Act 3, and his departure from Act 2 is very unpleasant. He leaves in an unresolved argument with Brick about mendacity and Skipper, when a child enters with a firecracker causing Big Daddy to pursue the child and slap him, leaving Brick ‘motionless as the lights dim’. At the end of the play a ‘long drawn cry of agony and rage’ is heard from Big Daddy, leaving readers hopelessly aware of his impending death. However, in the film, Big Daddy is present in the final scenes, altering the ending entirely. After Big Daddy and Brick reconcile in the basement they proceed to help each other up the stairs; Brick abandoning his crutch. Moreover, Brick does not drink at all after he emerges from the basement with Big Daddy symbolising that he is mending his relationships and is no longer internally ‘broken’. The storm present in the climax of the film recedes, which parallels the union of the family. In the film, relationships are reconciled when previously at odds in the play text. Big Daddy and Brick mend their broken relationship through an added scene in the basement. Big Daddy also reconciles with Big Mama, departing from the drawing room hand in hand, gazing into each other's eyes affectionately. Despite both Gooper and Mae’s villainous actions, Gooper manages to redeem himself and mend his relationship with Brick. A close up high angle shot of Gooper and Mae scrambling to pick up documents from the floor highlights Big Daddy’s looming presence as Gooper is staring up at him, signifying their defeat. However, Gooper later mends his relationship with Brick, stating that he knows Brick did not ‘rip him apart’. Mae however, as the film's titular villain does not reconcile with anyone, instead is seen on the steps of the staircase, defeated. At the film’s closure, Brooks’ manipulation of the mise en scene - dimmed lighting, rosy undertones, sultry jazz music and unfocused camera shots creates an overall sensual and romantic atmosphere around the reconciliation of Brick and Maggie. Williams’ play forgoes a traditional resolution, drawing out the essence of mendacity and isolation until the end as Brick remarks that ‘wouldn’t it be funny’ if Maggie’s love was ‘true’. The bedroom setting elevates the significance of lies in what should be an honest environment cause the characters to feel secluded in an intimate setting. Thus eliminating any prospect of the possibility of the American Dream, as the characters are still unhappy. Brooks affirms that the American Dream is possible through the overall unity of the family unit and Maggie’s will to conceive as well as the powerful portrayal of men. Williams, however, offers an open ended interpretation where the characters are successful but unhappy. The play is left unresolved in terms of the relationships between the characters, and Brick still remains a broken alcoholic.

Brooks’ removes Bricks homosexuality from the film, focusing instead on Brick and Maggie’s marital issues. Brick and Big Daddy’s monologues remain similar within both texts however, due to the political climate of the 1950s and the Hays Code, the film rejects the homosexual subtext of the play. Within the film, the idea of ‘mendacity’ purely surrounds the actions of the family and the presumed infidelity between Skipper and Maggie. In the play Brick’s mendacity monologue is further impacted by his relationship with Skipper and Big Daddy’s assumption that Brick homosexual. In Williams’ play, Brick and Big Daddy’s conversation include more overt references to Brick’s homosexuality, with Big Daddy calling him ‘not exactly normal’. However, in Brooks’ adaptation, this section of the conversation is removed, only retaining Brick’s comment to Big Daddy about him ‘dragging’ his relationship with Skipper ‘through the gutter’. The film takes out Williams’ allusions to Brick homosexuality, refocusing their conversation around Brick’s guilt over Skipper’s death rather than his disgust with their relationship when he was alive. Furthermore, in Williams’ play, Big Daddy and Brick have this intimate conversation alone, focusing on Bricks alcoholism and homosexuality. However this is drastically altered in Brooks’ film adaptation, as when Brick and Big Daddy are reaching the crux of their conversation regarding Skipper, Maggie is brought in and asked to reveal the truth. As a result, the conversation is centred around the accusation of adultery and Brick and Maggie’s marital problems shifting the focus from Brick and Skipper’s friendship which exhibited ‘a tenderness which was uncommon’. The acting choice of Paul Newman as Brick, presents Brick as the archetype of masculinity, allowing for the emphasises of Brick’s heteronormativity through the sexual tension and romance between Brick and Maggie. The sultry jazz music and soft camrea lighting focuses on the heterosexual relationship, making the film palatable to a 1950s audience. Hence, the premise of the film is altered, as allusions to Brick’s homosexuality are eliminated. This drastic change in thematic elements highlights the conservative and traditional society of the ’50s, where although the theatre community were far more willing to accept abnormalities in society, a wider audience would expect to see their lives mirrored in the easily accessible film media form. By relying on martital difficulties as the main catalyst for mendacity, the film’s disregard for unfiltered dialouge about homosexuality disparages the ramifications of the play.

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Richard Brooks’ film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof published in 1955 and adapted to film in 1958 simplifies, clarifies and obscures several themes and ideas present in William’s play. Although Brooks’ film demonstrates many parallels to Williams’ play, the overall message and aspects of the characters are altered to fit protocols of 50s society. By simplifying the role of women, emphasising the possibility of the American Dream and eliminating Brick’s homosexuality Brooks’ dulls the play’s key messages and themes, creating a hollywoodised film, suitable for a conservative 1950s audience.  

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Cat On A Hot Tin Roof: The Play Vs Film Adaptation. (2022, April 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 28, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof-the-play-vs-film-adaptation/
“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof: The Play Vs Film Adaptation.” GradesFixer, 11 Apr. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof-the-play-vs-film-adaptation/
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof: The Play Vs Film Adaptation. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof-the-play-vs-film-adaptation/> [Accessed 28 Feb. 2024].
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof: The Play Vs Film Adaptation [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 11 [cited 2024 Feb 28]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof-the-play-vs-film-adaptation/
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