Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Article #1324 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-29-2004
Posting Date: 3-28-2005
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift

An aging widow promises to contribute a large amount of money to an asylum (to build a new building for neurosurgery) if the doctor agrees to give a lobotomy to her committed niece. However, the doctor isn’t quite sure that the niece is crazy, and he investigates.

The book which listed this movie as belonging to the realm of fantastic cinema was very vague about the reasons for its inclusion, so I went into this one expecting it to be marginal. However, the opening scenes of this one involve a doctor giving a lobotomy to a female patient at an asylum, and though this doesn’t automatically turn it into a horror movie, it puts us very definitely in the same ballpark. In fact, the movie seems drenched in horror at times; the theme of madness runs throughout the story, the imagery inside the Venable mansion is quite nightmarish (especially the primitive jungle that passes for a back yard, and the presence of a statue of a truly ghastly skeletal figure), there is a scene where an old woman appears as a moving skeleton, and the revelations around the death of Sebastian (which mark the climax of the movie and which I will not reveal here) will be more familiar to a horror fan than to fans of drama.

In some ways, I’m not entirely surprised. The movie was based on a Tennessee Williams play, and Williams’ symbolic southern Gothic style isn’t really all that far from horror; even the title one of his plays (THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA) sounds like that of a horror movie. Still, it is a drama, and a fairly talky one at that, but it’s one of those where the talk is rich and fascinating. Both Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor give fantastic performances, and Montgomery Clift also does well, though his part is far less flashy. As far as this series goes, it’s rather nice to see all three of these performers, as I don’t believe I’ve covered a movie yet for this series that features any of them. It will also probably be my last time for either Clift or Hepburn, though Taylor pops up in a few other genre productions. All in all, it’s a fascinating and harrowing drama, but it does help if you are familiar enough with the works of Tennessee Williams to know what to expect.


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