Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

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Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams from a play by Williams
1959/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation/Horizon Pictures/Academy Pictures Corporation/Camp Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Mrs. Venable: My son, Sebastian and I constructed our days. Each day we would carve each day like a piece of sculpture, leaving behind us a trail of days like a gallery of sculpture until suddenly, last summer.

I don’t know how or why I avoided this film all my life.  It has my new favorite Katharine Hepburn performance.

Dr. Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) is a young psychiatrist and neuro-surgeon from Chicago.  He is at the State Hospital in New Orleans to perform his specialty, lobotomies.  The condition of the hospital and operating room is deplorable and the asylum’s director (Albert Dekker) is desperate for an infusion of cash.

The eccentric and immensely wealthy Violet Venable (Hepburn) lost her son Sebastian suddenly last summer while he was on a European vacation with cousin Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor).  Now Violet is desperate to shut Catherine up about the circumstances of his death.  A lobotomy is just what she wants the doctor to order.

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Violet sweetens the pot with a million dollars for the hospital if Dr. Cukrowicz will perform the surgery.  The doctor inconveniently needs to determine if drastic action is actually necessary,  He visits Catherine and decides that what she really needs is to dredge up her repressed memories of last summer.  These will prove more horrifying than anyone could imagine.

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If I had known this would be at bottom a pitch-black comedy, I might have seen it long before this.  Hepburn captures the essential tone of the piece beautifully.  I had a grin plastered on my face each time she appeared.  I am surprised they were able to get away with the homosexual sub-text in this.  While not actually saying so, the images and words made it abundantly clear that Sebastian’s primary interest in the women in his life was to attract a better class of young men.  Taylor is pretty terrific herself.  Recommended.

Suddenly, Last Summer was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actress (Hepburn); Best Actress (Taylor); and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.

Trailer

2 thoughts on “Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

    • When you add poetry to the weirdness, you get a winner! It may end up on my 10 favorites list although, as you say, this is a year packed with good movies.

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