Filmsite Movie Review
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Again pledging his attachment to alcohol, Brick affirms his means of dealing with adult responsibilities by leaning on the dual crutches of "clicks" and "whiskey." Brick's refusal to reconcile with his estranged wife triggers Big Daddy's fears that his favorite son will produce no heir to inherit the Pollitt plantation and carry on the family name. By default, everything in the inheritance will pass on to Gooper's brood of offspring. Although Big Daddy loves his son, he doesn't want to turn his property over to Brick - in effect, he refuses to subsidize an alcoholic:

Brick: Oh, yes sir. (Lifting his glass) You can live with this.
Big Daddy: That's not livin', that's a-dodgin away from life.
Brick: I want to dodge away from it.
Big Daddy: Then son, why don't you kill yourself?
Brick: 'Cause I like to drink.
Big Daddy: I can't talk to you.
Brick: I'm sorry.
Big Daddy: You expect me to turn over twenty-eight thousand acres of the richest land this side of valley Nile to a fool on the bottle?
Brick: No sir.
Big Daddy: I like you son, but why should I subsidize worthless behavior? Rot? Corruption?
Brick: Then turn it over to Gooper and Mae.
Big Daddy: I can't stand Gooper and Mae and those five screamin' monkeys.

Now that Big Daddy feels less pressure about deciding his will and inheritance because death seems further away, he doesn't feel such an urgent, driving need to straighten out his family affairs - both on personal and business levels. He feels he can adopt a "wait and see" attitude rather than feeling compelled to give the Pollitt estate over to Gooper by default. Yet he still wants to search for what went wrong in his younger son's life:

You know, I don't have to turn it over to any of ya. This day, I ain't made no will. And now I don't have to. The pressure's off. I can just wait and see if you pull yourself together or if you don't... (tenderly) Let's don't leave it like this, like all them other talks we've had. We always seem to talk around things. We seem to leave things unsaid and unspoken. But now we gotta talk straight.

After relentless questioning and his refusal to accept Brick's "ninety-proof bull" excuses for his drinking, Big Daddy touches Brick's vulnerable spot by recalling that his tormented son started drinking at the time of his friend Skipper's death:

You started drinkin' with your friend Skipper's death. (A loud thunderbolt claps)

Having his detachment to life broken through, Brick becomes fiercely defensive of his noble, incorruptible, idealized relationship with his deceased friend [a veiled defense of innuendo regarding his homosexual relationship]. Brick disavows any "shameful" or "filthy" interpretation:

Brick: Skipper and I were friends. Can you understand that?
Big Daddy: Gooper and Mae said that Skipper...
Brick: (interrupting) Skipper is the only thing that I've got left to believe in. And you are draggin' it through the gutter!
Big Daddy: Now just a minute!
Brick: You are making it shameful and filthy, you...!

Brick lashes out at his father and misses - and falls to the floor. His sincere, affectionate devotion to his friend was just a friendship, he claims, but he appears to protest too much:

Big Daddy: You and Skipper played football together. Made a few touchdowns. Does that make him God Almighty?
Brick: I could depend on him.
Big Daddy: On the football field?
Brick: At any time, anywhere, anyplace, I could depend on him.
Big Daddy: Are you sure of that?
Brick: Yes sir. Sure.
Big Daddy: Bull. Why did your big strong man fall apart? Why did Skipper crack up?
Brick: All right. You're askin' for it. We're gonna have that talk. That straight true talk. It's too late to stop now.

To Brick, Skipper was a necessary crutch: "He was someone for me to lean on, in school and out of it." Naturally, Brick's marriage to Maggie was altered by his unnatural affection for Skipper (a "great and true friendship"). Big Daddy suggests that Skipper's suicide occurred when he cracked up:

What did she do? Chase him out of the 11th story window of that Chicago hotel? Did that little-bitty girl shove your hero out all by herself? Why? What was goin' on between Skipper and Maggie?

Maggie is summoned during Big Daddy's investigation of his son's problems. She is asked to remember the role she played in her husband's relationship with Skipper when they played pro football together on the Dixie Stars team. Playing pro-football kept Brick in an immature, semi-adolescent frame of mind - he never grew up, faced the responsibilities of his marriage, or entered a stable business career. Brick depended on his "hero" to keep him from growing up or facing the realities of adult life - the relationship stunted his emotional growth and kept him a boyish-athletic hero beyond his time.

According to Brick, the emotional relationship between Skipper and Brick aroused Maggie's jealousy - she was a jealous intruder in their close friendship that monopolized much of her husband's life. Ill-advised, she tried to keep Skipper from coming between her and her husband. She was with Skipper in a Chicago hotel room following a disastrous football game loss:

Brick: ...That's what you hated. Bein' shut out.
Maggie: Not by the crowds, baby. By you, by the man I worshipped. That's why I hated Skipper.
Brick: You hated him so much that you got him drunk and went to bed with him.
Big Daddy: (After a long pause) Well, is that true?
Maggie: Oh Big Daddy, you don't think I ravished a football hero?
Brick: Skipper was drunk.
Maggie: So were you most of the time. I don't seem to make out so well with you.
Brick: Are you? Are you trying to say that nothing happened between you and Skipper?
Maggie: You know what happened!
Brick: I don't know what happened. I don't know, Maggie. Now I wasn't there. I couldn't play that Sunday. I wasn't in Chicago. I was in the hospital...
Maggie: But Skipper played. Oh, he played all right. Played his first professional game without Brick...Without you, Skipper was nothin'. Outside - big, tough, confident. Inside - pure jelly. You saw the game on TV. You saw what happened.
Brick: But I didn't see what happened in Skipper's hotel room. That little episode was not on TV. Go ahead, tell Big Daddy why you were in Skipper's room.

Maggie reveals the circumstances of Skipper's last night before his suicidal death. She encouraged Skipper to leave the adolescent world in which he and Brick co-existed:

He was sick, sick with drink and he wouldn't come out. He busted some furniture and the hotel manager said to stop him before he called the police. So I went to his room. I scratched on his door and begged him to let me in. He was half-crazy, violent and screamin' one minute and weak and cryin' the next. And all the time, scared stiff about you. So I said to him, maybe it was time we forgot about football. Maybe he ought to get a job and let me and Brick alone. I thought he'd hit me. He walked toward me with a funny sort of smile on his face. Then he did the strangest thing. He kissed me. That was the first time he'd ever touched me. And then I knew what I was gonna do. I'd get rid of Skipper. I'd show Brick that their deep true friendship was a big lie. I'd prove it by showin' that Skipper would make love to the wife of his best friend. He didn't need any coaxin'. He was more than willin'. He even seemed to have the same idea.

To end the strong affection between Skipper and Brick [and to test her suspicions about an unnatural (homosexual) relationship between them], Maggie thought she could lead Skipper to sleep with her to arouse her husband's anger at his best friend [and to prove that her suspicions were untrue - that Skipper was indeed heterosexual] - but then she had second thoughts:

Maggie: I was tryin' to win back my husband. It didn't matter how. I would have done anythin' - even that. At the last second, I-I got panicky. Supposin' I lost you instead. Supposin' you'd hate me instead of Skipper. So I ran. Nothin' happened. I've tried to tell him [Brick] a hundred times but he won't let me. Nothin' happened.
Brick: Hallelujah - Saint Maggie! (He raises his drinking glass)
Maggie: I wanted to get rid of Skipper but not if it meant losin' you. (To Big Daddy) He (Brick) blames me for Skipper's death. Maybe I got rid of Skipper. Skipper went out anyway. I didn't get rid of him at all. Isn't it an awful joke, honey? I lost you anyway.

Big Daddy presses Brick for the rest of the story, learning from Maggie that Brick was the last person to speak to Skipper on the phone. Skipper's suicidal jump came shortly after Brick hung up on him, but Brick won't tell Maggie why he rejected his friend:

When they put his [Skipper's] poor broken body in the ambulance, I rode with him to the hospital. And all the time, he kept on sayin', 'Why did Brick hang up on me? Why?' Why Brick?

After Maggie leaves the scene, Big Daddy hammers away further in the interrogation of his son, accusing him of being an irresponsible, immature thirty-year old man. Brick admits that he feels responsibility for Skipper's despairing death because he rejected his friend and ruthlessly hung up on his anguished call. That night, a drunk and scared Skipper phoned, revealing his abject emotional dependence on Brick and shattering Brick's idolizing image of his adolescent-hero:

Big Daddy: What are you runnin' away from? Why'd you hang up on Skipper when he called you? Answer me. What did he say? Was it about him and Maggie?
Brick: He said they'd made love.
Big Daddy: And you believed him.
Brick: Yes.
Big Daddy: Then why haven't you thrown her out? Somethin's missin' here. Now, now why did Skipper kill himself?
Brick: 'Cause somebody let him down. I let him down. When he called that night, I couldn't make much sense out of...There was one thing that was sure. Skipper was scared. Scared! It would happen that day on the football field, that I'd blame him, scared that I'd walk out on him. Skipper afraid - I couldn't believe that. I mean inside, he was real deep-down scared. And he broke like a rotten stick. He started cryin': 'I need you.' He kept babblin': 'Help me! Help me!' Me help him? How does one drownin' man help another drownin' man?
Big Daddy: So you hung up on him.
Brick: And then that phone started to ring again. And it rang and it rang and it wouldn't stop ringin'. And I lay in that hospital bed. I was unable to move or run from that sound and still, it kept ringin' louder and louder! And the sound of that was like Skipper screamin' for help. And I couldn't pick it up.
Big Daddy: So that's when he killed himself.
Brick: Yep. 'Cause I let him down. (Tears well up in his eyes) So that disgust with mendacity is really disgust with myself. And when I hear that click in my head, I don't hear the sound of that phone ringin' anymore. And I can stop thinkin'. I'm ashamed, Big Daddy. That's why I'm a drunk. When I'm drunk, I can stand myself.

It is not, as Brick contends, the general level of "mendacity" in the world around him that causes his suffering. Instead, he drowns himself in self-pity, drinks heavily, and suffers disillusionment because of his own self-disgust for passing the buck. He indulges himself in self-deception to avoid facing the truth - he projects onto Maggie his own guilt about Skipper's death. He rejects his own manhood and alienates himself from her in their marriage.

Brick is unwilling to listen to his father and wants to run away. As Big Daddy pursues Brick (who hobbles on his crutch in the rain to the garage to get into his convertible and drive off), he delivers a lesson on truth - his boy must relinquish his adolescent world and face life's problems squarely. Brick hung up on his friend (and life) because he had lived in a illusionary world with Skipper where they could hold off the painful process of growing up:

But it's always there in the morning, ain't it - the truth? And it's here right now. You're just feelin' sorry for yourself. That's all it is - self-pity. You didn't kill Skipper. He killed himself. You and Skipper and millions like ya are livin' in a kid's world, playin' games, touchdowns, no worries, no responsibilities. Life ain't no damn football game. Life ain't just a bunch of high spots. You're a thirty-year old kid. Soon you'll be a fifty-year old kid, pretendin' you're hearin' cheers when there ain't any. Dreamin' and drinkin' your life away. Heroes in the real world live twenty-four hours a day, not just two hours in a game. Mendacity, you won' won't live with mendacity but you're an expert at it. The truth is pain and sweat and payin' bills and makin' love to a woman that you don't love anymore. Truth is dreams that don't come true and nobody prints your name in the paper 'til you die...(He draped his coat over Brick) The truth is, you never grow'd up. Grown-ups don't hang up on their friends...and they don't hang up on their wives...and they don't hang up on life. Now that's the truth and that's what you can't face!

After Big Daddy continues to harangue Brick and accuses him of not facing the truth with his friend, Brick feels cornered and goaded beyond reason and wishes to leave. In spiteful revenge, he turns the tables on his father by telling him the "truth" about his medical condition:

Brick: Can you face the truth...?
Big Daddy: Try me!
Brick: or somebody else's truth?
Big Daddy: Bull. You're runnin' again.
Brick: Yeah, I am runnin'. Runnin' from lies, lies like birthday congratulations and many happy returns of the day when there won't be any...

Big Daddy stands shocked and devastated by the revelation of his own imminent death - he refuses to believe he will soon die: "I'll outlive you. I'll bury you. I'll buy your coffin." When he realizes that the false report from the clinic is a sham, the pain he experiences adds further proof of his ill health: "This pain - keeps grabbin' at me. It's death, ain't it? Answer me! The truth!" Brick causes his father enormous pain when he tells him that he has been lied to:

You said it yourself, Big Daddy, mendacity is a system we live in.

The broken old man, with a drenched shirt, walks slowly into the house (past Maggie). Brick attempts to drive off, but his car's rear wheels spin in the mud and he becomes mired there. Maggie rushes to his side as Brick notes his broken crutch in the car's door: "Look at us, Maggie. The great Pollitt Enterprises, stuck in the..." - and then he admits his cruelty to his father: "I hurt him, Maggie. I hurt him really bad."

Meanwhile, Big Daddy retreats to the mansion's cellar - a musty, cobweb-filled storage area. After offering morphine and a syringe to him as a painkiller, the doctor tells him: "It's no use pretendin' anymore. When that pain hits, it'll hit hard. Make it easy on yourself." Family members gather around Big Mama who doesn't know the truth, but believes: "There ain't nothin' wrong with Big Daddy but nerves...He's as sound as a dollar, and now he knows he is. That's why he ate such a supper. He had a load off his mind, knowin' he wasn't doomed to what he'd thought he was doomed to."

To comfort his mother when she is told of her husband's condition, Maggie pleads with Brick to come downstairs:

Maggie: Oh please, Brick, I just can't stand the way that Mae and Gooper...
Brick: What? Try to grab off this place for themselves. Well, let 'em. Let 'em have it all. And if you want to fight for a piece of the old man's carcass, why you go right ahead, but you're gonna do it without me.
Maggie: All right, I deserve that. But not this time, this time you're wrong. What I can't stand is not losing this place, it's-it's Big Mama. I know what it's like to lose somebody you love.
Brick: Careful Maggie, your claws are showin'.

Surrounded by the family, Gooper asks for the doctor to tell Big Mama "the complete truth about the report we got from the clinic." Maggie describes the "truth" as deceitful:

Truth! Truth! Everybody keeps hollerin' about the truth. Well, the truth is as dirty as lies.

Big Mama slowly senses that something is being kept from her: "Is there something I don't know, Doc?" The news of her husband's "hopeless" diagnosis is revealed. Big Mama agonizes: "Why didn't they cut it out of him, huh?" As she gasps, she cringes from Mae: "You get away from me, Mae, get away from me." Big Mama cries out for Brick - she expresses partiality toward her absent, second-born son. Big Mama commiserates with Maggie: "Nothin's ever the way you plan, is it?" Both Gooper and Mae avariciously argue that Big Daddy's holdings should be turned over to them. Although Maggie comes to Brick's defense, Mae and Goober maliciously slander her husband during their greedy argument as Gooper reminds everyone that he is the eldest son and not merely a football player:

Mae: Gooper is your first born. Why, he always had to carry a bigger load of the responsibilities than Brick. Brick never carried a thing in his life but a football or a highball.
Gooper: ...The point is, I'm not gonna see this place run into the ground by a drunken ex-football hero.

Having endured a life-long resentment of favoritism toward his younger brother, Gooper admits that Big Daddy has shown partiality toward Brick. To protect his own interests and the implied threat against his share in the estate, he has diligently worked to please his father, establish a law practice of his own, and keep the plantation running. With the imminent death of his father, he intends on rewarding himself for his own hard work and loyalty:

For him, it was always Brick, always. From the day he was born, he was always partial to Brick. Why? Big Daddy wanted me to become a lawyer. I became a lawyer. He said: 'Get married.' I got married. He said: 'Have kids.' I had kids. He said: 'Live in Memphis.' I lived in Memphis. Whatever he said: 'Do!' I did all right. I don't give a damn whether Big Daddy likes me or don't like me, or did or never did or will or will never. I've appealed for common decency and fair-play. Well, now I'm tellin' ya. I intend to protect my interests. I'm not a corporation lawyer for nothin'...

In the cellar of the mansion filled with cobwebs and discarded possessions, Brick finds his father doubled over in pain. Although he has come to apologize to Big Daddy in the midst of their love-hate discussion, Brick is told that his apology is unnecessary: "I hate apologies, especially for the truth." Big Daddy demands a cigar and a drink: "I've got a million clicks in my guts. Knives sharpenin' themselves. You know about clicks, don't ya, boy?" While looking at the discarded relics and property of his life in the cellar, Big Daddy philosophizes about his financial and human worth - despite his wealth, he cannot buy his life when it is nearly finished:

Close around ten million dollars in cash and blue-chip stocks. Besides, with twenty-eight thousand acres of the richest land this side of the valley Nile...But there's one thing you can't buy in a Europe firesale or in any other market on earth. And that's your life. You can't buy back your life when it's finished...The human animal is a beast that eventually has to die. And if he's got money, he buys and he buys and he buys. The reason why he buys everything he can is because his crazy hope is one of the things he buys will be life everlasting - which you never can be.

And then Big Daddy notices that his son no longer calls him Big Daddy. Some of the reason for Brick's inability to grow up stems from Big Daddy's failure as a parent to instill emotional strength in his son. The plantation owner has been successful by virtue of his own hard work and accumulation of things - not because of his paternal strength and love for the family. Brick smashes symbols of the affluent Pollitt life, an environment that was spiritually and emotionally impoverished:

Big Daddy: I suddenly noticed that you don't call me Big Daddy anymore. Ah, if you needed a Big Daddy, why didn't you come to me? You wanted somebody to lean on, why Skipper and why not me? I'm your father! I'm Big Daddy. Me! Why didn't you come to your kinfolks - the peoples that love ya?
Brick: You don't know what love means. To you, it's just another four letter word.
Big Daddy: Why you've got a mighty short memory. What was there that you wanted that I didn't buy for ya...
Brick: You can't buy love! You bought yourself a million dollars worth of junk. Look at it. Does it love you?
Big Daddy: Who'd you think I bought it for? Me? It's yours. The place, the money, every rotten thing is yours!
Brick: I don't want things! (He pushes down and smashes vases, an old athletic trophy and other accumulated objects)...Waste! Worthless! Worthless! ...(He destroys a life-sized poster of himself throwing a football and then breaks down in a fit of uncontrollable tears)
Big Daddy: Don't son. Please don't cry, boy. That's funny. I never saw you cry before. How's that? Did you ever cry...?
Brick: Can't you understand? I never wanted your place or your money or any-...I don't wanna own anything. All I wanted was a father, not a boss - I wanted you to love me.
Big Daddy: I did and I do.
Brick: No. Not me, and not Gooper, and not even Mama.
Big Daddy: That's a lie. I did love her. I give her anything, everything she wanted...
Brick: Things. Things, Papa. You gave her things. A house, a trip to Europe, all this junk, some jewelry, things. You gave her things, Papa, not love.
Big Daddy: I gave, I gave her an empire, boy...
Brick: The men who build empires die, and empires die too.
Big Daddy: No. No it won't. That's why I've got you and Gooper.

Brick entreats his father to realize his preoccupation with material possessions, the unrealistic aspirations that he can never meet, and his father's unloving attitude toward his family:

Brick: Look at Gooper. Look at what he's become. Is that what you wanted him to be? And look at me. You put it very well indeed. I'm a thirty year old kid and pretty soon, I'm gonna be a fifty year old kid. I don't know what to believe in. Now what's the good of livin' if you've got nothin' to believe in. There's gotta be some, some purpose in life, some meanin'. Look at me, for the sake of God, look at me before it's too late. For once in your life, look at me as I really am. Look at me. I'm a failure. I'm a drunk. On my own in the open market, I'm not worth the price of a decent burial.
Big Daddy: You and Gooper and the rest of ya, blamin' me for everythin', huh?
Brick: Nobody, just...We've known each other all my life, and we're strangers. Now you own twenty-eight thousand acres of the richest..., you own ten million dollars, you own a wife and two children, you own us but you don't love us.
Big Daddy: In my own way, I've...
Brick: No sir. You don't even like people. You wanted Gooper to have kids. You wanted me to have kids. Why?
Big Daddy: 'Cause I want a part of me to keep on living. I won't have an end with the grave.

Big Daddy sentimentally recalls his own "tramp" father, the love he was given, and the rich legacy that was left to him:

Look. This is what my father left me. A lousy old suitcase. Now on the inside was nothin'. Nothin' but his uniform from the Spanish-American War. This was his legacy to me. Nothin' at all. And I built this place from nothin'.

Big Daddy's father "died laughin'," probably because he "was happy," according to Brick. "Happy at having you with him. He took you everywhere and he kept you with him." Big Daddy's father also left his son love.

When he is seized by pain from his terminal illness, Big Daddy refuses to take pain medication:

I'm not gonna stupify myself with that stuff. I wanna think clear. I wanna see everything and I wanna feel everything. I won't mind goin'. I've got the guts to die. What I want to know is, 'Have you got the guts to live?'

Both wounded (Brick's injured ankle and Big Daddy's terminal spastic colon), they assist each other out of the cellar, out of the past, and out of the depths of the house. They rise from their gut-level talk.

Big Mama rejects legal papers that Gooper has drawn up to run the estate and take control of Big Daddy's holdings. Maggie announces that "nobody's gonna take nothin', not 'til Big Daddy lets go." When Big Daddy rejoins the family's 'stormy' discussion, and sees "important lookin' documents" strewn all over the floor, Mae and Gooper deny their plan to take over as they scurry to pick up the papers. Big Daddy notices a smell of mendacity in the room:

What's that smell in this room? Didn't you notice it, Brick? Didn't you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?...There ain't nothin' more powerful than the odor of mendacity...You can smell it. It smells like death.

To help win Big Daddy's favor and inheritance for Brick (and because of her genuine concern for Big Daddy and Brick), Maggie shocks the assembled gathering around Big Daddy by announcing her surprise birthday present for him. She has cunningly fabricated the lie that she and Brick have reconciled and she has conceived Brick's child - there is the coming of new life that Big Daddy had hoped for. She helps bring a reconciliation between the dying man and his estranged son:

I have an announcement to make....An announcement of life beginning. A child is comin'. Sired by Brick out of Maggie the Cat. I have Brick's child in my body and that is my present to you.

Big Daddy accepts Maggie's "bald faced lie" (an accusation made by Mae) - it is one of the few lies in the film that has a chance of coming true: "Yes indeed. This girl has life in her body. And that's no lie." He orders Gooper to summon his lawyer in the morning, and then tells Brick that he going to "look this place over before I give it up - the place and the people on it." He asks Ida to accompany him as he exits, now confident that he can rely on Brick as a responsible successor and heir.

The jealous Mae despicably tries to discredit Brick - thinking that he swayed Big Daddy against Gooper in their frank cellar discussion ("You ripped him apart, your own brother"). With new-found self-knowledge, a new perspective on his past relationship with Skipper, and with promising moves toward reconciliation with Maggie and toward greater responsibility for himself, Brick tells everyone: "Family crisis brings out the best and the worst in every member of the family." Maggie is taunted by Mae for making up the lie about her pregnancy ("You want to talk about the truth? - You're not pregnant!...Don't you try to kid us, Maggie!").

Sobered up by the realities of life and finding a new lease on life following the discussion with his father, Brick backs Maggie up and confirms for Mae that Maggie is going to bear his child: "She's not kiddin' you." Mae continues to insist that due to her eavesdropping on their non-existent love-making through thin adjoining walls, Maggie is assuredly not pregnant ("We hear the nightly pleading and the nightly refusals!"):

Brick: Why you heard what Big Daddy said? 'That girl's got life in her body.'
Mae: That's a lie.
Brick: No. No, truth is somethin' desperate and Maggie's got it. Believe me, it is desperate and she has got it.
Mae: (to Gooper) Why don't you say somethin', honey?
Gooper: All right, honey. SHUT-UP!
Brick: Maggie?
Maggie: Yes?
Brick: Come on up here.
Maggie: Yes, sir.

Brick commands her to join him in the bedroom, where he has put on some music and dimmed the lights. At the door to the bedroom, she thanks him for backing her up: "Thank you for keepin' still, for backin' me up in my lie." Brick tells her that they will make the lie come true:

Maggie, we are through with lies and liars in this house. Lock the door!

The film fades out on their embrace and kiss as he tosses his pillow from the couch onto their bed - the one that they will now share.

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