The only son of wealthy widow Violet Venable dies while on vacation with his cousin Catherine. What the girl saw was so horrible that she went insane; now Mrs. Venable wants Catherine lobotomized to cover up the truth.
Brick, an alcoholic ex-football player, drinks his days away and resists the affections of his wife, Maggie. His reunion with his father, Big Daddy, who is dying of cancer, jogs a host of memories and revelations for both father and son.
A wealthy harridan, Violet Venable, attempts to bribe Dr. Cukrowicz, a young psycho-surgeon from a New Orleans mental hospital that is desperately in need of funds, into lobotomizing her niece, Catherine Holly. Violet wants the operation performed in order to prevent Catherine from defiling the memory of her son, the poet Sebastian. Catherine has been babbling obscenely about Sebastian's mysterious death that she witnessed while on holiday together in Spain the previous summer. Written by
In a 1960 interview John Wayne criticized They Came to Cordura (1959) and this film as "poison polluting Hollywood's moral bloodstream." The latter, he said, was "too disgusting even for discussion." See more »
When Dr. Cukrowicz talks to Mrs. Venable about Sebastian's purity, she is looking at him, but after the cut (just before he asks whether she wants to see Catherine) she is instantly looking away from him. See more »
Katharine Hepburn is a wealthy woman who uses her checkbook in the hopes of having her niece lobotomized in "Suddenly, Last Summer," a 1959 film directed by Joseph Mankiewicz and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift, and Mercedes McCambridge. Hepburn plays Mrs. Venable, whose son, Sebastian, died the previous summer of a heart attack. However, her niece Cathy, who accompanied Sebastian, has had a sort of breakdown and is institutionalized. Mrs. Venable wants Cathy lobotomized. Before doing so, however, the gifted surgeon (Clift), sent there by his boss as Mrs. Venable dangles money for the hospital in front of him, becomes determined instead to find out what happened and how Sebastian really died.
This is a film that would never be made today - it's character-driven and has too much dialogue. It's a shame because the dialogue is excellent. A previous Mankiewicz film, "All About Eve," is word-rich as well, and there the dialogue sparkles. Here it is more poetic. And, like "Eve," the great roles are the womens.
Though references to homosexuality are only inferred, this film and the much more poorly adapted "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" hold up very well today. With homosexuality much more discussed, the role this plays in both plots is very obvious, at least to this viewer. In "Suddenly, Last Summer," Sebastian's proclivities are evident from the beginning as Mrs. Venable describes an almost husband-wife relationship with her son, claiming to the surgeon that Sebastian was "chaste" and that her relationship with him was enough for her son.
One of the comments here mentioned that "Cathy is crazy, like all Williams heroines." But in truth, Cathy like Blanche is disturbed (though Blanche may be a little closer to being nuts) and both are "put away" to shut them up - Blanche for her accusations against Stanley and Cathy because she knows how Sebastian really died.
Katharine Hepburn gives a brilliant performance as Mrs. Venable - charming but made of steel, her anger and jealousy toward her niece just barely beneath the surface. Elizabeth Taylor gives one of her best performances under the strong direction of Mankiewicz. Taylor was blessed with great beauty but alas, not a great speaking voice. However, she is nevertheless very effective, particularly in her long, harrowing monologue near the end of the film.
Clift's passive portrayal of the surgeon is problematic, and one wonders why he was cast. The opening scene in which he performs an operation had to be redone many times because of his drunkenness and codeine addiction - he was washing down the pills with brandy; his voice quavers, he is unsteady on his feet, and his eyes are glassy. He comes off a little better in the previous year's "Lonelyhearts," though in that film, he actually winces in pain when he has to sit. While Clift had the support of his fellow actors, he had none from Mankiewicz and producer Sam Spiegel. Had it not been for Elizabeth Taylor's insistence, he would have been replaced. It seems cruel (as it did to Hepburn at the time) but Mankiewicz was trying to make a movie and Spiegel wanted it to be on budget - Clift's addictions and physical problems weren't helping. He couldn't remember lines; when he finally said them, he was often inaudible; and he was always late arriving on the set. Fortunately for audiences, this wasn't his last big-budget role. Under the direction of Elia Kazan, he would do the magnificent "Wild River" and seemingly be more in control.
Despite this, "Suddenly, Last Summer" is an excellent, disturbing film, and is highly recommended. It's not Williams' best play, but it is served well in its film adaptation.
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