Comparison of the Versions of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"

by Bronwyn White

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" has been produced in various stage, film and television versions. The original play by Tennessee Williams, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1955, premiered in New York. The 1958 film starred Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Burl Ives, who reprised his Broadway role as Big Daddy. The screenwriters changed some aspects of Newman's character to pass the studio's censors.

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Overview

The story revolves around the discovery and impact of Big Daddy's cancer. The tragic news causes the family to focus on the relationship between Brick, an alcoholic and Big Daddy's favorite son, and Brick's wife, Maggie. Their marriage has been rocky for awhile, and they haven't been able to conceive a child, which causes family disappointment. Brick refuses her physical advances, and Maggie says that being trapped and unloved has caused her to become bitter and harsh, like a cat on a hot tin roof.

Revelations

Tennessee Williams' work was meant to shock the society of the 1950s by bringing then-controversial ideas to the forefront. For example, in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," Brick believes that his friend, Skipper, committed suicide because he felt guilty for sleeping with Maggie. Williams makes clear that Maggie tried to seduce Skipper to break up a homosexual relationship between Brick and Skipper. Brick blames Maggie for his friend's death and abuses alcohol to cover his unhappiness and his closeted homosexuality. In the film version, however, Brick refuses Maggie because he believes, incorrectly, that she cheated on him with his best friend and that Skipper committed suicide because of guilt. Now, Brick drinks to distract himself from his friend's death and his wife's brush with infidelity. The film studio's censors forced the screenwriters to delete any hint of homosexuality.

Redemptive Endings

Elia Kazan, director of the play's New York premiere, wrote a more hopeful ending for the play, which was expanded in the film version. Kazan's version ends with an emotional conversation between Brick and Big Daddy. The ending is left open but hints at a reconciliation between Brick and Maggie. The film version reveals that Maggie did try to seduce Skipper while he was drunk, but began to feel guilty and left before following through. Because he was drunk, however, Skipper thought that Maggie had indeed cheated on Brick with him and called Brick to confess. When Brick hung up on him, Skipper jumped out a window to his death. Once this truth has been revealed, Brick and Maggie make up, even hinting that they might have a child.

Original Ending

The original ending of the play paints a sorrowful, melodramatic scene. In order to secure their place in the will, Maggie tells Big Daddy that she is pregnant. This is untrue, so she tries to bribe Brick with alcohol to conceive a child with her. Brick ignores her attempts and leaves to drink alone. Brick, unable to accept his desire for Skipper and his sorrow at his friend's death, withdraws even further from the world.

About the Author

Bronwyn White resides in New York and has been writing since 2006. She holds a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance from the University of Texas at San Antonio and is currently pursuing a Master of Music in vocal performance and opera studies from the State University of New York-Purchase.

Photo Credits

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