Friend to many, detriment to most.
It can be sipped and savored with friends, tossed around by co-workers and was religiously used by classic Hollywood movie stars as a way to
‘self-medicate’ decompress after a long day of shooting.
More often than not, alcohol is used as a plot device, with screenwriters using the liquid as a physical manifestation of the inner turmoil that the characters are suffering with.
There are two instances where Hollywood’s resident salad dressing salesman™, Paul Newman begins a movie he’s starring in drunker than a freshman at college tailgate party.
In Cool Hand Luke, Lucas Jackson was a free spirit. We see this when he gets sent to prison for drunkenly cutting off the heads of parking meters. When ‘Luke’ arrives at the labor camp he proceeds to “have a bit of fun” by ‘stirring the pot’ among his fellow prison mates and the guards.
Inmates like ‘Dragline’ played by George Kennedy, at first, found ‘Luke’ peculiar, wanting to put him in his place before he gets out of line. Eventually, the pair becomes allies as they join forces to fight against the tyrannical reign of the sadistic prison guards.
The question is, what led Luke down this path?
He was a decorated war veteran, presumably dealing with some sort of mental stress from being in such a high-risk environment, he had a face to die for with the charms of a KPop idol oozing out of every pore and he had the intrapersonal intelligence to make friends with everyone that came in contact with him.
Well, according to the film, ‘Luke’ had some family issues, specifically with his sick mother. This, combined with the added mental scars from his war days may have led ‘Luke’ to have a “happy go lucky” attitude about life. This explains why he was up at 3 A.M vandalizing parking meters without a care in the world.
He’d pretty much lost everything: his mom, his mind, and by the end of the movie, his will to live.
In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick’s situation is slightly different.
While ‘Luke’ didn’t care too much for other people’s opinions, Brick, on the other hand, cared too much.
This has him fall into a deep, alcohol-fueled depression where not even the advances of his very attractive wife Maggie, played by Elizabeth Taylor, can rescue him from the grasps of perpetual sadness.
Brick’s problem’s, unlike ‘Luke’, stems from his overbearing, classically Southern father ‘Big Daddy’ played by Burl Ives. At the climax of the film, ‘Big Daddy’ and Brick air their grievances with a 10-minute long conversation about the latter’s stubbornness. During the “talk” Maggie saunters in and explains to her father-in-law that it was the loss of his best friend Skipper that sent Brick into this state.
Maggie had always been jealous of their relationship. Brick spent every waking moment of his life with ‘Skip’, naturally that would make any woman upset. As payback, Maggie ruins their friendship, which probably contributed to Skipper’s suicide.
With that out in the open, the first scene of the movie where Brick drunkenly stumbles upon a track and field course and attempts to hurdle every last one of the barriers before being humbled by a broken leg makes sense.
Brick was trying to recapture his youth. He wanted to go back to a time where there were no family picnics, no responsibility, and no doting wives.
He blamed Maggie for his best friend’s death, is it any wonder why he didn’t want to sleep with her anymore; well, that and several other reasons.
In the end, alcohol was just a coping mechanism for deeper problems for each of these men- a side effect of the emotions they were both dealing with.
Paul Newman had a knack for picking good scripts. He certainly didn’t disappoint with these two and I am forever grateful.