Watched this movie a couple of months ago for the first time and loved it. Very powerful intense stuff. Have not read-seen the play but would like to. As I often do, read up on it post factum with wiki, IMDB etc. and the back story to the film is fascinating (I think). How Tennessee Williams (and by extension Paul Newman) fought (and lost, alas) with the Hays production code-board of the day to keep the strong homosexual element that comes through in the play, also in the movie. Not exactly a shocker but the board did NOT want a star actor cast as a homosexual. This is 1958 not 2013 with reasonably friendly LGBT hollywood. Tennessee Williams picketed the opening feeling that this set back gay liberation (he didn’t phrase it-call it that) a great deal.
In searching for a few movie posters-photos to insert in the blog post, I was amused how many trumpeted Elizabeth Taylor in the movie. To my mind, she should get 4th billing. Yes she plays a major, important role but I think Paul Newman (Brick), Burl Ives (his father, Big Daddy) and even the dead “Skipper” (object of Paul Newman’s desire, the lousy football player) are more crucial to the whole play-film than dear old the late great Liz. Her sexuality is not the issue, not the focus, theme at all. This is such a classic case of misdirection if you will.
She doesn’t need to purrrrrrrrrrrrr in the movie. Brick doesn’t want to share the nuptial bed with her because she is not alluring enough but rather because he is still grieving, processing, coming to grips with the suicide of his very good friend which he feels responsible for, that he was NOT there for Skipper in his hour of need, emotional anguish. Brick’s actions only truly make sense in my mind, if you believe that he did have more than a comradeship, camaraderie with his friend. Yes people mourn at their own pace, come to grips with mortality (their own mainly, and others ) in a unique way, but just close your eyes and ponder how Newman acts and as soon as you state that he-Skipper were lovers, his actions seem so much more comprehensible.
Funny that the title is referenced by the Paul Newman character exhorting Maggie the cat (Liz) to “jump” when it is Brick who needs to ‘jump’, not literally but psychologically to process his relationships with; the dead as a doornail terrible football player Skipper , his wife Maggie the Cat and most crucially of all his Father, “Big Daddy’ played wonderfully by Burl Ives. What a revelation Ives is here. Check it out! I found the long drawn out scenes of Newman-Ives to be fantastic. The father and son going at it with searing dialogue. The energy, intensity simply jumped off the screen to me. Interestingly, Tennessee Williams objected to the long third act reconciliation scene of Newman-Ives which I thought worked so strongly. The movie ends with Newman-Taylor reconciled with a strong hint of lovemaking to come between them. That the censors of the day did not object to it seems. To me, it felt their relationship was blocked, on hold because of the ghost of Skipper in Brick’s psyche and loins. I never got the impression that Brick married Maggie as some kind of 19th c. old fashioned ‘cover”, that he is secretly a gay man who needs a wife to be in polite society. What would be a whole other story (probably fascinating) would be to pick up the action in the middle if you will, (as the ancients loved to do with their myths, stories, ” in media res”) with the love triangle of Brick-Maggie-Skipper. That is alluded to in the movie, that Maggie tried to seduce Skipper as a way to win back Brick. But she did not follow through on that fiendish plan.
Anyways my intention is not to state that everyone is secretly bi and if only they could have romp in bed with Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor they would be. (Although, on second thought, maybe they would be, who knows!) It is more, that being bi is just so off the radar, just such a non starter for so many people, so often when exposed to it in the dramatic arts. How many people watching this movie would at the end conclude Brick is bi? 1%? If that. My guess is some kind of breakdown between (not sure the % of each)
a) he is really a homosexual.
b) straight, just upset at losing his best friend.
Honestly I am not the sexual identity equivalent of a red baiter from the 1950s, looking for communists under every rock, trying to insert bi themes where there is none. It is art which means it is subjective. My challenge to you dear reader and cineaste is to watch this fabulous movie with open eyes and ask yourself the query “Is the Paul Newman-Brick character bi?” It is not a trick question. I answered the question positively, with a big yes and then all the grief and sexual frustration between the married couple fell into place.
For your answer you may lie, cheat, consult with your 20 closest friends or google and report back.
One tremendously powerful tiny moment in the movie is when Maggie-Brick fight and Newman escapes to the bathroom and against the door is Maggie’s robe and Brick buries his face into it in awful anguish, not quite in tears but close to it. Is he thinking of Skipper or how his love for Maggie that he just cannot resolve-express, come to grips with. I felt it was one of those “both-and” answers.
The Italian movie poster is my way of having fun with the blog.