Sunday, September 28, 2008

'You're Not The Same Woman Now'

The first of Paul Newman's extraordinary 10 Academy Award nominations was for his superb portrayal of Brick Pollitt, the alcoholic former football star and underperforming husband, in the screen version of Tennessee William's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

I hadn't realized until Newman's passing at age 83 on Friday that of his many roles, this had become my favorite over the years, in part because of the powerful interplay between Brick and wife Maggie "The Cat" Pollitt, played by Elizabeth Taylor. But there is another reason, as well: I am deeply fond of Williams' dramatic works and have spent many hours reading the typescripts of the original Broadway play.

The manuscripts are annotated in the playright's own hand. Williams, who was notorious for rewrites of his plays, was making changes to his story of a day in the life of a dysfunctional Southern family in crisis on the evening of its Broadway opening. It is especially fascinating to see how the turbulent relationship of Brick and Maggie -- destinated to be played by Newman and Taylor -- developed and took wing.

Not surprisingly, Williams hated the film version of Cat because MGM Studios removed all references to homosexuality, as well as all four-letter words, and changed the ending.

Following is a snippet of dialogue between Brick and Maggie:
MAGGIE: Why are you looking at me like that?

BRICK: Like what?

MAGGIE: Like you were just looking.

BRICK: I wasn't conscious of looking at you.

MAGGIE: I was conscious of it. If you were thinking the same thing.

BRICK: No, Maggie!

MAGGIE: Why not?

BRICK: Will you please keep your voice down?


BRICK: I hope you know better than you think.

MAGGIE: I've seen that look before and I know what it used to mean. And it still means the same thing now.

BRICK: You're not the same woman now, Maggie.

MAGGIE: Don't you think I know that? Don 't you think I know?

BRICK: Know what, Maggie?

MAGGIE: That I've gone through this horrible transformation. I've become hard and frantic and cruel.

BRICK: Are you planning on meeting Big Daddy's plane?

MAGGIE: I get so lonely.

BRICK: Everybody gets that.

MAGGIE: Living with someone you love can be lonelier than living entirely alone when the one you love doesn't love you. You can't even stand drinking out of the same glass, can you? Would you like to live alone?

BRICK: No! No, I wouldn't.

MAGGIE: Why can't you lose your good looks, Brick? Most drinking men lose theirs. Why can't you? I think you've even gotten better looking since you went on the bottle. You were such a wonderful lover.

BRICK: You'll be late!

MAGGIE: You were so exciting to be in love with. Mostly, I guess, because you were. If I thought you'd never make love to me again I'd find the longest, sharpest knife and stick it straight into my heart. I'd do that.

BRICK: How long does this have to go on, this punishment? Haven't I served my term? Can I get a pardon? Your finishing-school voice sounds like you were running upstairs to say, "Fire!" Is it any wonder?

MAGGIE: You know what I feel like? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof.

BRICK: Then jump off the roof, Maggie.
The film, one of the top 10 box-office hits in 1958, received five other major Academy Award nominations in addition to Newman's for Best Actor: Best Actress (Taylor), Best Director (Richard Brooks), Best Adapted Screenplay (Brooks and James Poe), and Best Cinematography (William H. Daniels), but failed to win any awards.

Burl Ives was nominated and won an Oscar in 1958 as Best Supporting Actor in The Big Country rather than for his powerful performance as Big Daddy in Cat.

No comments: