Burl Ives did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Harvey "Big Daddy" Pollitt in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Ives, like in The Big Country, plays a patriarch although this time in a modern setting opposed to the old west, and Big Daddy is certainly a different man from Rufus Hannassey. We first meet Big Daddy in the film as he arrives back to his large estate after an apparent health scare, and he believes himself now safe to live out his life for a while longer and deal with the problems in his family. Ives is magnificent in the part and certainly puts the big in the Big Daddy and that's not referring to his large frame. No Ives has an incredible presence as Big Daddy and he commands every scene that he is with such an ease. The way he stands in frame has even a certain magnetic quality to it, and simply through the way he carries himself Ives is able to instantly establish Big Daddy simply as the man capable of all the great accomplishments that everyone seems to describe him as.
Ives's has a terrific grasp on Big Daddy as a character and is particularly effective in portraying the rather cynical edge the man has. Big Daddy only respects a few things and a few people, and does not mind showing his disrespect in one way or another. Ives knows how to deliver every vicious line with a great proficiency and is rather tremendous in reinforcing the way Big Daddy takes over every situation he is in. Ives is just as great though when Big Daddy must listen to those he does not respect such as his wife or his older son and his wife who do not hide their desire for Big Daddy's estate. Ives is able to pack just as much of a punch just in his expression as Big Daddy chooses to ignore and attempt to avoid the interaction. He expresses this distaste in Big Daddy almost in a wholly silent fashion yet with just the same brutality as when he chooses to verbalize it himself.
Big Daddy though does see promise in his younger son Brick (Paul Newman) and his sultry wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor), although he also sees an obvious problem when somehow Brick fails to conceive with such a wife. Ives is excellent in his scenes with Newman because he never allows them to become just a simple story of a cold father and a son wanting love. Ives brings so much more to these scenes than that. There is certainly the distance as Ives brings the fierce discipline of the father as Big Daddy basically forces the injured and alcoholic Brick to move with out a crutch and not drink as tries to find out the problem with Brick. Although there certainly is a certain coldness in Ives's performance there is behind it a hear though as well as deep within Big Daddy treatment of Brick Ives suggests that he is doing it honestly to try help his son. Ives makes it the imperfect combination it is but a completely genuine relationship he creates.
The last part of his performance though is a rather extreme change brought on by Big Daddy learning that he is in fact dying after all. Ives's portrayal of Big Daddy ailment is well handled, and he eases back properly on that dominance he exuded so well beforehand. Here in these scenes Big Daddy becomes far more reflective of his own past as well as his connection with his son. Ives is quite moving in these scenes by showing a greater urgency and earnestness in Big Daddy as he attempts to find some way to fix his house before he dies. Ives by subtly giving off that slight sense of warmth before very naturally changes Big Daddy making it so the better qualities of the man he suggested before grow stronger. His best scene though is when Big Daddy reflects on the death of his own father. Ives is very moving as he powerfully shows what his own father meant to him. In the way Ives looks in the moment you can see Big Daddy reliving the past as well seeing himself in his father.
Burl Ives's work is easily the highlight of the entire film. Any scene with Ives has such an energy that is sometimes somewhat missing in some of the other scenes in the film. Ives truly makes the film with his performance as he realizes Big Daddy with the needed complexity for such a part. In lesser hands Big Daddy could have been a one note character as perhaps just a boisterous old man or just a cruel father who fails to understand his son. Ives mediates exceptionally well giving a very interesting portrait of a man trying to maintain his well earned legacy any way that he possibly can. Ives completely controls the film and absolutely makes the part his won. Although The Big Country is definitely a very strong performance in its own right and was not at all a bad representation of Burl Ives's talent as an actor, the best representation of that talent in 1958 was found through his great performance in this film.