Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Script: Gore Vidal & Tennesse Williams
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Katherine Hepburn, Albert Dekker, Mercedes McCambridge, Gary Raymond, Mavis Villiers, David Cameron
Running time: 114 minutes
Adapted from the play of the same name, by Tennesse Williams, Suddenly, Last Summer remains quite shocking, even to this day. But don’t let that put you off because this slow-burn thriller holds the attention throughout and is a showcase for some tour-de-force performances by the likes of Taylor, Clift and Hepburn.
Mrs Venebles (Hepburn) is an eccentric recluse who offers financial assistance to a surgeon, Dr Cukrowicz (Clift) if he will take on board her niece (Taylor), as a patient, and perform a lobotomy on her, to cure her of her violent outbursts and all-round angst. Clift initially agrees, primarily to help save the small under-funded hospital he works at, but as he gets to know the niece, Catherine, he begins to realise that there’s so much more going on here than at first meets the eye, and to simply give the young woman a lobotomy would be the wrong thing to do. As Catherine slowly reveals more as to why she is the way she is, the good doctor realises he must make both Mrs Venebles and Catherine confront their inner demons if there’s to be a positive outcome to the whole horrible situation.
I’m not going to reveal any more of the story since I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t already read the play or seen the film or play. However, what I will say is that there are some very disturbing moments throughout (especially at the denouement), so you have been warned!
I have to admit that Elizabeth Taylor had never really registered with me before as being an actress foremost and a star second, but here she gives a fantastic and mesmerizing performance that elevated her in my eyes to much more than just Mrs Richard Burton! Every time she’s on screen you can’t take your eyes off her, which gives credence to the oft-bandied about phrase about a person having the ‘X-factor’. Liz is ably supported by the likes of Clift and Hepburn, who are equally strong in their roles, if not quite so awe-inspiring.
The film itself is quite stagey, and most of the ‘action’ takes place indoors in sitting rooms, or in hospital wards etc. However, when the film does exhibit some exteriors they’re well-shot and managed and the production design for Mrs Venebles’ weird garden is pretty impressive.
As might be expected from a Tennesse Williams script there is some very descriptive dialogue, which occasionally jars to the modern viewer, but is still impressive stuff regardless. I, for one, enjoyed the verbal sparring matches.
The music by Buxton Orr and Malcolm Arnold suits the visuals, for the most part, and adds to the sense of building angst throughout the movie.
Suddenly, Last Summer is another great film from the director who brought us The Barefoot Contessa, and the writer who brought us Cat on a hot tin roof and A Streetcar named Desire.
Powerhouse Films is distributing Suddenly, Last Summer on Blu-Ray. As per usual for Powerhouse there are some decent special features including:
– An interview with John L. Mankiewicz (10 Mins) – The director shares his views on the film industry, as he puffs on his pipe. He believes that ‘working in TV is nothing more than an audition for working in film’, and he thinks that ‘producers do nothing apart from piss on creativity’!
– Elizabeth Taylor on Montgomery Clift (2 mins) – The actor reveals that the two of them were friends and she found him to be both sensitive and intelligent.
– Gary Raymond interview (6.14 mins) – The actor, who plays the brother of Cathy in the film, talks about how he got the part and how he loves Mercedes McCambridge, the actress.
– About last summer: an interview with the second assistant director, John Crome (15.5 mins) – John talks about his career, and his passion for films. He reveals that Clift was drinking heavily during the shoot, and the director was somewhat uptight and not overly friendly. He also says that writer Tennesse Williams had a big ego on set, but that he was still pleased to have worked with him. He also reveals that Katherine Hepburn was the only actor on the shoot who watched the rushes.
– Remembering last summer – an interview with continuity supervisor Elaine Schreyeck (3 mins) – Elaine reveals that the picture’s director didn’t suffer fools gladly, and that she also became friends with Katherine Hepburn after accidentally getting in her eyeline during one early shot, for which she was told off!
– The predator and the prey (25.5 mins) – A French documentary about the director, which reveals that Suddenly, Last Summer was a very personal project for him.
– Isolated music and effects track (115 mins)
– Trailer (2.43 mins) – which demonstrates that the film was sold off the back of its stars and its famous writer.
– Image Gallery (41 behind the scenes shots and film posters and stills)
– Dan Ireland commentary