Wow. What was the thermostat set at during production of this Tennessee Williams adaptation? The way the actors go from limp to irate and back again – all while dripping with sweat – you would think that director Richard Brooks had it set at 98 degrees. The performances are sweltering.
This isn’t a good thing. Yes, it’s fitting for the setting – a humid, suffocating Louisiana mansion where the family of an ailing tycoon (Burl Ives) connives to inherit his fortune – but the overall result is like watching a melodrama in a sauna. It’s just too much.
Suffering the most are Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. An alcoholic ex-football star and favored son of the tycoon, Newman’s Brick holes up in an upstairs bedroom nursing whiskey and a bitter hatred for his undersexed wife (Taylor). The pair has chemistry – heck, a still photo of these two in 1958 has chemistry – but their scenes together are disastrously overwrought. Taylor goes from cooing to screaming in the blink of an eye, while Newman remains stoic except for the occasional violent lunge.
The whole movie plays this way, especially during a climax in which the extended family starts hollering at each other. Such hysterics can work, but when they do, it’s usually because the hysterical behavior is coming from teens (Splendor in the Grass). These are adults acting like children – who are overacting in a community theater production of a Tennessee Williams play.