Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


A doctor visits a woman in an insane asylum to determine if she requires a lobotomy to forget the horror of seeing her cousin murdered, or if her aunt is pushing for the procedure to cover the truth. Tennessee Williams wrote the play, Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) directed the film, and the three leads are played by none other than Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Katharine Hepburn.

Of the three stars, Taylor gives the most dynamic performance — caught in a delicate balancing act of trying to convince people of what happened while not sullying her credibility with the sordid details. Hepburn is almost a caricature here. I never doubted her ultimate motivations, when maybe I should have. She’s still amazing to watch, though. Clift is left playing perhaps the hardest, most thankless role, the listener to both women’s stories, but he gets to exhibit moments of passion in scenes with his father and during the film’s emotionally tense climax.

That climax is a bit overwrought — drawn out in long fashion with Williams’ not-so-subtle poetic imagery and metaphor. It’s a hell of a moment for Taylor, though — as she delivers it in a seldom interrupted soliloquy. Also overwrought is the long climb toward that soliloquy’s revelation. Suddenly, Last Summer isn’t sudden at all in getting to the bottom of things. It could probably use a 15 minute trim.

It’s still very much a film worth seeing. I latched onto Taylor’s character as her family turns against her, seeking she be lobotomized (!!!) rather than believed. She’s compelling when she tries to repress her grief and hysteria to prove her own sanity. She makes it a natural progression toward one of the film’s highlights, a suicide attempt where she contemplates plunging head-long into a pit of lobotomized zombies.

Mercedes McCambridge co-stars as Taylor’s mother, and there’s a mightily impressive jungle-like garden set that opens and closes the movie.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Actress (Taylor), Best Art Direction

Share Button