Picks and Pans Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

updated 08/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Showtime (Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2 p.m.; 2 a.m. ET)

Tennessee Williams wrote industrial-strength soap operas filled with more tension and tawdriness than a year of All My Children. His Cat is about six family members who can't stand one another but who stick around their Southern plantation just to make everyone else miserable. Tommy Lee (Coal Miner's Daughter) Jones plays Brick, an alcoholic former football player who won't sleep with his wife—Jessica (Tootsie) Lange as Maggie—because she once slept with his best friend; the friend, it seems, had homosexual desires for Brick and killed himself after sleeping with Maggie. Inhale. Rip (Cross Creek) Torn, as Brick's father, Big Daddy, is dying of cancer, but his other son, David (George Washington) Dukes, keeps the prognosis from Torn: First Dukes wants his dying Daddy to sign a will that leaves the plantation ("28,000 acres of the richest land this side of the valley Nile") to Dukes instead of Jones. Exhale. The writing is so formal and cool that it almost camouflages the heated hatred. Take, for instance, two of Lange's lines to the down-and-out, drunken Jones: "You have that certain sort of charm that you usually find only in the very old or hopelessly sick." And: "I am going to tell you I love you...and maybe you will be drunk enough to believe me." Or listen to Jones telling Torn the truth about his fatal disease and about his other son's conniving: "Mendacity is the system we live in, Big Daddy. Liquor is one way out, death is the other." There's water boiling under the surface and it's up to the actors to release the steam. They do. Big Daddy could be a cartoon cracker of a character, but Torn plays him deliciously, like a smooth shot of sippin' whiskey. Jones is quietly sour. Lange gets carried away with her Southern accent (so did Elizabeth Taylor in the 1958 film version), but nonetheless plays Maggie with sympathy and terrible sadness. All the action takes place in one room on one day—Big Daddy's birthday—but it's hardly lacking in action. Cat is a dazzling, if depressing, special.

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