Suddenly, Last Summer

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1959

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Produced by Sam Spiegel

Screenplay by Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams

Based on the play “Suddenly, Last Summer” by Tennessee Williams

Elizabeth Taylor is an actress who I’m just now finding who new levels of respect for. Oh, sure, I’ve seen “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” “Cleopatra” “Butterfield 8” and “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” but it wasn’t until this past summer when I watched “Reflections In A Golden Eye” and SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER back-to-back that I realized that this chick really could act her well-shaped moneymaker off. You’ve probably read my review of “Reflections In A Golden Eye” so you know how twisted that movie is. Well, believe it or not, SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER is even more twisted.  In fact, for my money, this movie qualifies as a full-blown, all out deep fried Southern Gothic Horror Movie that should be watched every Halloween.  Don’t believe me? Then what else would you call a movie whose major themes are insanity, lobotomies, implied incest, pedophilia, cannibalism and ritual murder/sacrifice? A movie that takes place mostly in an asylum?

Dr. John Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) is fed up with the poor working conditions at the state hospital and he’s ready to quit. But then a lucrative offer is dangled in front of him by the hospital’s alcoholic, sleazy administrator (Albert Dekker) This offer involves Dr. Cukrowicz meeting with the obscenely wealthy and eccentric Violet Venable (Katherine Hepburn). Violet Venable will finance a brand spanking new wing of the hospital with state of the art equipment if Dr. Cukrowicz will do a favor for her.  Seeing as how he’s a brilliant surgeon who is considered the leading pioneer in the field of lobotomy, Violet will come across with the filthy lucre if Dr. Cukrowicz will lobotomize her niece Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor)

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Quite naturally, Dr. Cukrowicz wants to know why such a radical procedure has to be done. Especially after he meets the extraordinarily beautiful Catherine.  It’s his opinion that she has suffered from a severe emotional shock but she’s not lobotomy material.  But it cannot be denied that Catherine’s cousin Sebastian died under highly mysterious circumstances while he and Catherine were on vacation in Europe last summer. Circumstances so frightening that Catherine suffered a nervous breakdown and has blocked the memory of what really happened.

In fact, after having some really bizarre conversations with Violet, Catherine’s mother, Grace (Mercedes McCambridge) and Catherine’s brother George (Gary Raymond) Cukrowicz discovers that they all have reasons to want Catherine to be lobotomized so that the truth about Sebastian’s death can never be known.

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Why did Sebastian suddenly leave his mother behind last summer and take Catherine along with him on that fateful vacation?  During her talks with Cukrowicz, Catherine hints of a possible incestuous relationship between Violet and Sebastian and that Sebastian used his mother on previous vacations to procure underage boys for him to satisfy his pedophiliac lust.  A job that Catherine suggests Violet was a more than willing participant in. A job that Sebastian hoped Catherine would be willing to take over.

Dr. Cukrowicz finally decides to use a combination of truth serum and hypnosis to unlock Catherine’s suppressed memories of what happened the day Sebastian died.  Cukrowicz assembles the family members in an almost Agatha Christie-like gathering where he puts together the clues he’s gotten from all of them and along with the frightening story that Catherine at last remembers and tells he is able to solve the mystery of what happened to Sebastian.

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SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER to me qualifies as a Horror Movie because of not only the subject matter but halfway through the movie I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to know what had happened to Sebastian Venable. And trust me, when I finally did find out what happened to Sebastian, I wish I hadn’t.  His horrific fate is revealed in a tour de force scene described by Catherine that Shirley Jackson herself would be proud of.

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The acting in SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER is absolutely first rate. After all, we’re talking about Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Katherine Hepburn here. The only one that let me down in this movie is Mercedes McCambridge.  But that’s only because I’ve seen her play kick-ass women in movies such as “Giant” “Johnny Guitar” and “All The King’s Men” and I really don’t like seeing her play such a wimpy character. But otherwise, you couldn’t wish for better.  Especially Elizabeth Taylor who demonstrates fully the range of her acting ability and more than holds her own in her scenes with Katherine Hepburn.

Take my advice and put SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER on your list of movies to watch. For the first twenty minutes it may not seem like a horror movie but keep watching and by the time you get to the last twenty minutes, I think you’ll agree with me that it is.

114 Minutes

2 thoughts on “Suddenly, Last Summer

  1. Amen to that. SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER has a horrific sting in its tail, and you won’t be able to stop watching once you start.

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