When literature is transformed into film, it goes through a process known as cinematic mutation. This process could not be more noticeable in the production of Tennessee William's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This playwright and later blockbuster film is based on the inner conflicts of honesty, love, and greed. There is a great deal of narrative refraction in the screenplay by Richard Brooks and James Poe. Some major thematic modifications in the film include: Brick Pollitt's sexuality issue, a trans creation of Big Daddy's character, and the addition of visual dimension.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof involves various crises during a time era where lack of communication leads to a lonely embarrassed society. The play plunges into a forbidden subject when main character Brick Pollitt is forced to deal with sexuality issues. Brick Pollitt is an ex-football star drowning his self-pity in alcohol. He constantly repels his wife and everyone else for a number of obscure reasons.
In the book, it is strongly implied that Brick had sexual relations with his deceased friend Skipper. He is disgusted with himself because he believes that anyone who is a pro football player should be masculine, and heterosexual. In the book, Brick has a long conversation with his father, Big Daddy, concerning his newfound love for liquor since his best friend, Skipper, committed suicide. Big Daddy discretely implies that Brick and Skipper had sexual relations. He tries to show sympathy towards the situation, but Brick immediately lashes out at him. Brick resorts to a heartless act, revealing that the family has been lying to Big Daddy about his terminal illness.
Once Big Daddy realizes he is going to die and that the family has deceived him, he bolts from the room crying. He no longer appears in the play. In the screenplay by Brooks and Poe, the issue of Brick's sexuality is much less discussed. In 1958, Hollywood would not allow sexual subjects sensitive to prejudice. Many of the key lines have been eliminated from the film, causing a lot of narrative refraction. The theme changes quickly when Brick can no longer be confronted about his dark secrets.
He and Big Daddy have a talk about their father-son relationship. Brick explains that part of his drinking problem is that Big Daddy does not love anyone. The final scene in the film caused a severe shift in the theme. Instead of attempting to sleep on the couch, Brick suavely takes his wife, Maggie, to bed. This scene demolishes almost all skepticism about Brick's sexuality, a question that Tennessee Williams intended to leave open for a crucial reason. He was trying to capture the realism in Brick's problems.
In the Note of Explanation, Tennessee Williams states, "I don't believe that a conversation, however revelatory, ever effects so immediate a change in the heart or even conduct of a person with Brick's state of spiritual despair". This change in script seemed like a poor attempt to produce a happy ending. To adapt to the film's theme, Big Daddy's character was forced to go through a number of changes. Big Daddy is a crude, wealthy, stubborn bully in Williams' original version of the play. He has a much shorter role, and leaves his conflicts less resolved. The conversation between Brick and Big Daddy is private, shorter, and more open to the tender subjects at hand.
They confront Brick's secret desires for Skipper, although he denies they existed. In the movie, Big Daddy is a much rounder character. A conversation similar to the one in original play takes place, but is followed by much more. Big Daddy flees to the basement angry with his family and himself. Brick appears later and tells Big Daddy that he has never felt any love from him. Big Daddy had tried to buy the love of his family with the green American dream.
When Big Daddy hears this he questions his motives in life, hoping to find something positive. He even pretends to tolerate the love of Big Mama towards the end of the film, and says he will take care of all those on his monstrous plantation. These drastic changes in the screenplay fabricated many more resolutions than those experienced in the book. Also, the new scenes created more options for scenery in the film. A few new scenes were created in the film adding some visual dimension. These added scenes nicely compliment the new script, bringing more visual texture to theme.
Scenes such as the high school track, the car in the mud, and the drama in the cellar were key elements in the production of the film. First, the establishing shot at the high school track was an exceptional attention getter. It introduced Brick's character wonderfully. The cheers in his head provided great irony when talked about later in the film by Maggie. Another example may be the scene where Brick flees from his father's painful allegations, getting into a car during a thunderstorm. This complemented the climax of Big Daddy's grim news beautifully.
The storm symbolized the bottled up emotions that were finally being released. Soon after, Brick finds himself stuck in the mud, symbolizing how helpless he is in the situation. Most importantly, the scene in the cellar was added. It was interesting that the men's deepest emotions were discussed in the deepest, darkest room in house.
The addition of the cellar helped reduce the repetition of Brick and Big Daddy's many conversations, something that may have otherwise caused a problem in the film. The original play and screenplay versions of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof were two very different productions. Both productions contained a great deal of realism and satire. It mocks the lack of communication during an era where individuals are often too consumed with themselves to make life enjoyable for those around them. It also confronts issues that to this day are controversial and haunt people's lives. The film version has a stereotypical happy ending, but still manages to keep most of the themes intact.
The original play is a true masterpiece with very few things to criticize. It follows Aristotle's Principles of Unity precisely, and forces readers to analyze the actions of a troubled society. Tennessee Williams intended to deliver personal insight while raising some moral questions. He did a magnificent job.