Plot: Big Daddy’s (Burl Ives) family is celebrating both his 65th birthday and his medical report, which shows his health problems have proven to be minor. He has two grown sons, Brick (Paul Newman), an alcoholic former athlete, and Gooper (Jack Carson), who is constantly trying to replace Brick as Big Daddy’s favorite. Gooper has five children, and Brick’s wife, Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) knows that no matter how much Big Daddy loves Brick, he cannot inherit Big Daddy’s property unless he provides an heir. Brick is angry at himself and at Maggie, and wants nothing more than to drink until he feels the “click” of peace when he is too drunk to feel anything else. But the “odor of mendacity” is too strong for Big Daddy, and all the lies come tumbling down like skeletons out of a closet.
Discussion: This movie, based on Tennessee Williams’ play, is about a family that has been damaged more by lies than by greed. They lie to Big Daddy about the results of his tests. Brick lies to himself about what really went on with Skipper. Gooper and his wife lie about their feelings for Big Daddy. And Maggie lies about being pregnant. It is worth discussing the different kinds of lies and the different motivations behind them, and the impact the truth has on the characters, when they are finally confronted with it. Compare this family’s method of accomplishing its goals with the methods of some other movie families, to see which interactions make families stronger and which tear them apart.
Questions for Kids:
· Why does Maggie compare herself to a cat on a hot tin roof? What is the roof, and what makes it hot?
· Why won’t Brick agree to get Maggie pregnant? Who is he mad at? Why?
· Why does Brick have such contempt for himself? What does Skipper’s death have to do with it?
· What makes Brick change his mind?
Connections: Compare this family to another classic Southern dysfunctional family, the Hubbards, in “The Little Foxes.” Other Williams plays adapted for the screen include “The Glass Menagerie,” “Period of Adjustment,” and “Sweet Bird of Youth.”
Activities: Read the play, and you will see that Tennessee Williams wrote two different endings. Take a look at the other ending, and read his comments on it before you decide which one you prefer.