An adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play, this film is a clash of two characters, the rich widow Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn) and her niece (Elizabeth Taylor) over what happened to Sebastian, the son of the older woman when on holiday in Spain with his cousin. If nothing else this film is worth for Katharine Hepburn alone. She gives one of the performances of her career (and one for which she got an Oscar nomination), even before she appears on the screen, her voice being heard as she descends in the lift - you'll never be able to forget it.
Quite daring for its time, I still find it a powerful story, and it ranks high among my favourites. The performances from the two ladies and Montgomery Clift and a strong direction from Joseph L. Mankiewicz have managed to avoid it to age, despite the topics it touches (homosexuality and mental illness). The DVD presents the film in a rather good copy, although not comparable to more recent black and white releases such as the restored "Casablanca", with some extras of no consequence.
on 12 March 2011
I really enjoyed this movie. The story is set in 1930s America where a very wealthy widow approaches a failing cash poor mental institution with an offer of new facilities and lots of cash provided that they lobotomise her Neice who has apparently gone completely nuts after witnessing the Widow's Son's death in Europe on vacation. From the start there is an air intrigue, that all is not what it seems, maybe there is more to Sabastian's death than meets the eye.
A great movie which unravels little by little and holds the audience's attention whilst it does. Very gothic in many of it's themes. The dvd was good quality and the extras were well worth watching. Highly recommended.
on 13 May 2009
when Joseph Mankiewicz decided to direct this autobiographical play by Tennessee Williams he should have been warned about all the thorns in the road to artistic consummation but despite all the obstacles he has succeeded in creating an extra-ordinary masterpiece which exceeds the original from Williams and is the first mature look by Hollywood mainstream on the taboo subjects of closeted homosexuality ,cannibalism ,paedophilia and the extremely controversial subject of therapeutic lobotomy .
the bizarre tale involves an extremely wealthy and patronising American widow violet Venables who is grieving her dead son Sebastian who died an alleged accident somewhere in the mediterranean on a vacation suddenly last summer ,while accompanied by his gorgeous young cousin .
Mrs.Venables has hired a young neuro-surgeon with the sole purpose of having her distraught niece lobotomized for her incoherent and hysterical utterances regarding the circumstances of Sebastian's demise ,since she wants to protect her son's tarnished reputation which will be destroyed if the claims of her niece are regarded as the veritable truth .
the plot is almost borrowed from William's own life and GORE VIDAL rewrote the script where he gave the whole issue a very relevant and crucial tinge of truth while almost creating a literary script of immaculate superiority .
the sycophantic direction by Mr.Mankiewicz combined with the revolutionary musical score by BUXTON ORR ,the haunting black and white visuals by Jack Hildyard and the almost surreal art direction comprising the sequences from the exotic tropical house-garden of sebastian ,the lunatic asylum where the young woman is imprisoned and finally the harrowing sequences from the mediterranean seaside resort are ground breaking cinema .
Montgomery Clift as a the rather sceptical surgeon empathising with the hysterical but brilliantly neurotic Elizabeth Taylor in her first great performance on screen are hypnotic to watch ,particularly as taylor delivers her exquisitely penned dialogue with sheer contempt of any authority as if she is in a surge of passionately artistic creativity unparalleled in her latter life .
the Venables woman is played with a contempt for the rest of humanity by an enchantingly aloof yet elegantly chilling KATHERINE HEPBURN ,who will go to any length to protect her son's past reputation even if she has to destroy the lives of those close to him to annihilate the truth and her dramatic outbursts are nothing less than superb from the entry to exit in every minute detail as she dresses like a diva and walks her deadly walk leading the rest of cast like a predator out on a hunt and the calm venomous biiter grieving woman is one of hepburn's great achievements .
there are more memorable sequences here than in any dramatic adaptation of a stage play ever with Taylor and Hepburn vying in a state of art text book display of acting prowess and that alone makes this utterly memorable for eternity as great art and also a tribute to the writing expertise of gore Vidal and the master class execution by Mankiewicz particularly of the great predatory hunt through the streets of a sun drenched mediterranean town in the wordless final montage .
the fact the making is steeped in the most controversial shooting circumstances involving any movie ever made with Clift's homophobic persecution by the producer Sam Spiegel and Taylor's and Hepburn's on and off screen love -hate relationship while mutually protecting their mutual gay friend Montgomery clift on the sets has made this into a great legend which will be remembered as long as cinema is liked and it lives as an art form on planet earth itself .
The oddest thing is that sebastion the gay protagonist who is the focus of drama here is never shown in the movie and in a very inventive manner the dirctor has substituted his presence with the camera itself and that is a unique achievement in cinema .
script -GORE VIDAL
PLAYWRIGHT -TENNESSEE WILLIAM
MUSIC -BUXTON ORR
CAST -KATHERINE HEPBURN -MONTGOMERY CLIFT -ELIZABETH TAYLOR
on 14 May 2006
"Suddenly Last Summer" (1959) is a strange, dark movie, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and based on a play written by Tennessee Williams. This film touches many subjects that where highly controversial at the time it was made, for example mental illness, homosexuality and cannibalism. Truth to be told, a lot is to be inferred, and not much is shown. However, the fact that the characters hardly ever mention things that so obviously have to do with what happens makes those themes stand out even more.
The central question in this movie is, of course, "what happened last summer?", and the spectator will be immediately drawn into the mystery. Unfortunately for us, the only witness to what happened is Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor), a beautiful and traumatized young woman who became mentally unbalanced after witnessing the death of her cousin Sebastian Venable. Her aunt, wealthy Mrs. Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn), thinks that Catherine should be lobotomized. That is the reason why she urges neurosurgeon Dr. John Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) to perform the operation. However, Dr. Cukrowicz believes that his patient may not be mad, after all, and that Mrs. Violet Venable might want the lobotomy in order to destroy Catherine's mind. But what does Cathy know? What happened last summer?
On the whole, I think that you will like this movie, if you don't mind the somber tone that pervades it. Recommended!
In 1959, the year of the release of The 400 Blows and the shooting of Breathless, a film like Suddenly Last Summer must have seemed quite far from the cutting edge, with its theatrical presentation and artificial, closed-in feel. The Hays Code meant that reference to its central theme, the homosexuality of Sebastian, could never even be mentioned directly. Yet this very constraint ends up by adding to its power, as so often where limitations are imposed in art. It resonates even more than it would otherwise, as the characters suffer from the same taboos inhibiting the film itself. Elizabeth Taylor (Catherine) witnessed her cousin Sebastian's death the summer before, and has since then been mentally unstable; Sebastian's mother wants her to undergo a lobotomy to silence her, as his death was the direct result of his abusing boys, or at least exploiting them, while on holiday with Catherine, who was used to lure them into his orbit. He was a shy poet, but not that shy, it seems ...
To add a further note of malice, the mother, played by Katharine Hepburn, wants to pay for a new wing of a hospital to be built as a legacy to her son's memory, so the hospital finds itself under pressure to perform the operation. The doctor in charge of the case is brilliantly portrayed by Montgomery Clift in another of those roles, a bit like his Father Logan in I Confess, where he has to juggle what he can and can't say, and shows immense discretion as well as a protective feeling towards someone in trouble. These three actors all give superb performances and the script, by Gore Vidal from a play by Tennessee Williams, is riveting. At times it does seem a bit static, and the lurid nature of the story might be better suited to the kind of treatment Powell and Pressburger give to Black Narcissus, or at least an expressionistic use of colour film. But in the last twenty-five minutes Mankiewicz's style comes into its own, with a narration by Catherine, whose face is seen at the side of the screen - dominated by a pair of glossed lips - against numerous superimpositions, creating a dizzying intensity and texture. It really does reach a most shattering climax, and fully transcends the bleakness of the vision of life it seems to support as a general principle.
Millionairess, Violet Venable is obsessed with her now dead son, Sebastian. Sebastian met his untimely end whilst on vacation with his cousin Catharine, an end that has sent Catharine almost to the edge of insanity. Violet, very concerned about Catharine and her hurtful ramblings, enlists brain surgeon Dr Cukrowicz to see if he will perform a lobotomy on the poor girl, but as Cukrowicz digs deeper, motives and facts come crashing together to reveal something far more worrying.
As one expects from a Tennessee Williams adaptation, this picture is very talky, perhaps borderline annoyingly so? Yet it has to be said that for those willing to invest the time with it, the pay off is well worth the wait. Suddenly Last Summer is an odd mix of campy melodrama and Gothic horror leanings, a mix that personally doesn't quite hit all the intended spots. It could have been so different, tho, for if Gore Vidal and Joseph Mankiewicz had been given free rein back in this day of code restrictions, well the picture would surely have been close to masterpiece status. This adaptation only gives us little snippets on which to feed, we are aware of the homosexuality of the departed Sebastian, and other hints that come our way include incest, sadism and dubious class issues, but ultimately such strong material is never fully formed.
Elizabeth Taylor owns the picture as Catharine, sultry with heaving bosom, she does an excellent line in borderline nut case, all woe is me martyrdom and her final scenes are what pays the viewer off for their patience. Katharine Hepburn plays Violet and manages to chew the scenery and spit it out, it's an elegant performance but you really want more than we actually get! Montgomery Clift is the good doctor, not one of his better performances because he isn't asked to expand the character, just say his lines right, look baleful from time to time and play off Taylor's lead, job done really.
It's a recommended film to a degree, certainly one that simmers with an almost oppressive feel, but if the film is one to revisit often? Well that's up for debate and dependant on the viewer's inclination towards dialogue driven film's. 7/10
"Suddenly, Last Summer" was adapted by Gore Vidal from the one-act Southern Gothic play by Tennessee Williams. Southern Gothic is a genre of American writing which appeared after the civil war which choose to maintain the atmosphere of gothic writing but focus modern social concerns such as race, gender and sexual orientation. Southern writers such as Harper Lee, William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams all fall into this category. "Suddenly, Last Summer" deals with the issues of homosexuality and the attempts of Violet Venable (Katherine Hepburn) to cover up her sons homosexuality to point of trying to get her niece, Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor), lobotomised in order to prevent her from talking. Due to the production code of the period explicit references to homosexuality had to be implied and not spoken of directly which in a dialogue driven film can be difficult. Its not really until the end when Catherine states that women as companions were used for "procurement" does this become apparent.
Katherine Hepburn's character for me felt out-of-character in relation to her real life persona which I found at times difficult to reconcile although it was a great performance. Montgomery Clift's performance is good but really the star for me was Elizabeth Taylor who is wonderful however difficult it is to believe that she could be duped by Sebastian's motives. I would certainly recommend this film to fans of hers. It is a dark and creepy psychologically driven film although by no means a horror picture. For a further example of southern gothic see "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951, Kazan).
Directed by Joseph L Mankiewicz (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, 1946; A Letter to Three Wives, 1949; All About Eve, 1950)
Cinematography: Jack Hildyard (Henry V, 1944; The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957)
This being 1959, Williams' centerpiece theme of homosexuality is trimmed down (but not that much) even though cannibalism, madness, incest and decadence are only too obvious. The one plot contrivance that doesn't seem to work or convince is the romantic one involving Elizabeth Taylor's and Montgomery Clift's characters.
Other than that, she conveys her disturbance and rape trauma exceptionally well and Hepburn is out of this world in her adoration for her lost son while at the same time refusing to face the cause of his death, her role in his life, and God's in our all own's.
Despite all the problems surrounding the shooting of the film, this is one of those films just one step short of a minorpiece. No mean feat...
A gothic mystery written by Tennessee Williams focusing on a psychiatrist and surgeon who specialises in lobotomy who is asked by a wealthy widow recently bereaved by the death of her son to lobotomize her young niece who is suffering from madness following the death of her cousin whom she holidayed with the summer before. As time goes on, it becomes clear to the doctor that perhaps this young woman is not quite as mad as she seems and perhaps there is a reason for her madness as is a reason for the reason her wealthy aunt is so eager to see her quickly and efficiently lobotomized.
A very dark and very modern story (which I think is said supposed to be occurring somewhere around the thirties although the dress and styles suggest the fifties) about post traumatic stress and family secrets. A very captivating dialogue driven piece and Elizabeth Taylor's performance is simply breathtaking (especially at the climax, she was the most convincing I've ever seen). I think this is possibly one of her most incredible performances and any fan of old movies or Taylor's should definitely see this!
on 1 November 2013
The scene on the beach with Taylor in the white swimsuit deserves 5 stars!! should have been an oscar for 'best supporting bosoms'.