I don’t mind making a fool of myself over you.

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor

 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

OK here we go… I hope I can produce something more coherent than a rambling squeal of, “Oh my gosh, Paul Newman is sooo handsome!” I first saw this movie when I was in high school, and fell in love with the romantic ending and the thrill of learning new words like “mendacity” and “avarice” (yes, I’m a nerd). But after re-watching, I find myself appreciating the multiple layers and the incredible writing so much more… not to mention the amazing performances by all cast members. So glad I picked this movie to kick it all off.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof covers so many topics that it’s hard to figure out where to start. There’s an excellent depiction of alcoholism: “I’m waiting for that click in my head that makes me feel peaceful.” There’s an important lesson about dealing with the difficult things in life, facing the truth, and letting go of the past to live in the moment. There are so many poetic moments – I love the parallelism of Brick recalling his last conversation with Skipper (“How does one drowning man help another drowning man?”), and that scene near the end where an injured, hobbling Brick and his ailing father help each other up the cellar stairs – one drowning man helping another. And there’s the overall metaphor of a summer storm, starting out bright and sunny (the family joyously celebrating Big Daddy’s birthday and clean bill of health), then abruptly the skies open up with rain and thunder and tensions boil over inside the house. Finally, after a deluge of self-discovery and hard truth, the storm passes and we begin the process of brushing ourselves off and straightening the toppled furniture. Hopefully the experience has left us better prepared for the next storm to come.

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor

But most importantly, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is all about relationships. The relationship between parent and child, how trying to raise a child in an environment opposite of the one you were raised in can often lead to resentment and rebellion. The relationship between Big Mama and Big Daddy, who have grown so accustomed to each other after so long that they simply take each other for granted. The bond between friends and family members, which can be tenuous at times but easily strengthened by communication and empathy, as long as we don’t let ourselves be overcome by bitterness or bogged down by material wealth. Speaking of bitters, it’s time for our first cocktail!

Cocktail #1: Ramos Gin Fizz

This was supposedly Tennessee Williams’ favorite drink. Here’s a recipe from an awesome mixology app called Speakeasy Cocktails, currently available from the Apple App Store.

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 2 drops orange flower water
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 oz heavy cream
  • 1 oz chilled soda water

Dry shake* all ingredients (except soda water) in an empty cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and shake for a minute more. Strain into a highball glass and top with soda water.

* Dry shake: shake vigorously for 10 to 30 seconds, without ice. Basically you’re emulsifying and breaking down the proteins in the egg white before you dilute the drink with ice, to help make the final product frothier.

Thoughts on Big Mama:

I started out not liking this character. She seemed too subservient, too content with being bossed around and yelled at by Big Daddy. But then I realized that she’s just as tragically flawed and stubborn as her husband. She continues to show her affection for Big Daddy, even when it’s clear he doesn’t feel the same way about her. She favors Brick over her older son Gooper (what kind of name is Gooper?), when Gooper’s always been the obedient, responsible one. When she finds out the truth about Big Daddy’s illness and is working through her shock and grief, she rapidly alternates between begging Maggie to reconcile with Brick so they can inherit the estate when Big Daddy passes, and vehemently forbidding anyone to give Big Daddy any morphine because he’s not sick. I was thoroughly confused by this behavior at first, but perhaps it’s all part of the “hi-pocrisy” that Big Daddy was complaining about. Either way, I have more respect for her now. Maybe her denial is not so much denial, but more of a strength of will – the unique kind required to survive in a family such as this.

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor

Thoughts on Maggie and Brick:

First of all, have you ever seen two more beautiful looking people? I certainly haven’t. Celebrity worship aside, this is a beautiful portrait of a man who blames his wife for his best friend’s death, and a woman who is utterly devoted to her husband but resentful of anything that takes him, or his time, away from her. In the movie, we eventually find out that Brick blames himself for not being there for Skipper in his time of need, and is taking it out on Maggie because she happened to be there. Or does he think that after Maggie and Skipper supposedly slept together, Skipper then killed himself out of remorse?

After doing some poking around on the Internet, I found out that the original play hints at a deeper, non-platonic relationship between Brick and Skipper. Perhaps Skipper revealed his feelings to Brick over the phone, who didn’t know how to handle the situation and hung up on his friend and shut him out. This makes more sense, as it explains why Brick never kicked Maggie out, if he secretly believed that they never slept together at all, or even if they did, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Plus, given the setting of the Old South, homosexuality seems like a better reason for Skipper’s suicide than simple adultery, or the fact that he lost the football game. I guess I’ll just have to read the play to find out for sure. And in honor of Maggie, here’s our second cocktail!

Cocktail # 2: Maggie the Cat

Inspired by the Mint Julep – a classic Southern concoction. It’s as cool and refreshing as Elizabeth Taylor in a white dress, but with an added gingery kick and vibrant red color to represent the “life inside of her”. Enjoy!

For the original Mint Julep recipe, check out this cool video from Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Now I just need to get myself one of those sweet-looking julep cups!

  • 12 – 20 mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 tsp ginger simple syrup*
  • 2 oz bourbon

Muddle mint, pomegranate, and syrup in a julep cup. Fill with crushed ice and add bourbon. Garnish with mint sprig.

* You can make ginger simple syrup by bringing equal parts water and sugar to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add thin slices of fresh ginger and bring down to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let steep for 30 minutes, or longer for more ginger flavor. I like mine strong! Strain, discard solids, and store in the refrigerator.

My boyfriend has one of those canvas bags that you can put ice cubes in, and then smash the hell out of them with a wooden mallet (or in our case, a hammer). Et voila, crushed ice! It’s a total stress reliever. Or you can pulse the ice cubes a few times in a blender or food processor, as per the video. Well, that’s about it folks. Roll credits. And don’t forget, “When a marriage goes on the rocks, the rocks are there… right there.”

Elizabeth Taylor