Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
USA, 1958. Avon Productions. Screenplay by Richard Brooks, James Poe, based on the play by Tennessee Williams. Cinematography by William H. Daniels. Produced by Lawrence Weingarten. Music by Charles Wolcott. Production Design by William A. Horning, Urie McCleary. Costume Design by Helen Rose. Film Editing by Ferris Webster. Academy Awards 1958. Golden Globe Awards 1958.
Here’s a rare example of Hollywood censorship actually improving a film. Tennessee Williams’ original play is about a Peter Pan-syndromed young football hero who is being forced by his overbearing father to admit the homosexual nature of his relationship with his recently killed best friend and accept that it was okay that he loved him “in that way”. The play is really just the usual overload of Williams dealing with his own sexual guilt, so naturally when it became the next in a long line of the great southern writer’s works to reach the big screen, changes would need to be made. In Richard Brooks’ adaptation, Paul Newman (at his most irresistible) is now mourning his best friend and it is keeping him from growing up and taking responsibility for his life, or so says his southern plantation owning Big Daddy (Burl Ives). These responsibilities mainly include being a good husband in every sense of the word to his gorgeous wife, played in a show stopping performance by Elizabeth Taylor (who was also at the height of her attractiveness). Despite the original themes being mostly excised (let’s face it, traces remain; you’d have to be totally gay to not sleep with a wife who looks like Elizabeth Taylor, even if she’s your wife), Brooks’ screenplay is better structured than the original play and more dramatically powerful. Best of all it gives Taylor’s Maggie a much better part to play (she was originally a marginal character), and there has rarely been a better Maggie ever since. Richly enjoyable Southern Gothic drama of the highest order.