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Suddenly, Last Summer

Suddenly, Last Summer

By Patrick Samuel • July 29th, 2014
Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Columbia Pictures

Original release: December 22nd, 1959
Running time: 114 minutes

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Writer: Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams

Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift, Mercedes McCambridge

Suddenly, Last Summer

The human brain remains one of the greatest mysteries of our time. What are its limits, how much information can it process in a lifetime, and how does manage to store so many of our memories? These are just a handful of questions that come to mind when we start to think about it. And as for memories, they’re another curiosity. They’re like recordings of past events in our lives, but we can only remember our own experiences and not someone else’s, unless we’ve experienced it with them. Then sometimes we forget, we lost these memories. If the event itself proves to be so traumatic, our brains isolate the recording and we repress it.

Tennessee Williams touches on all of this in his controversial one-act play, Suddenly, Last Summer, which first opened off Broadway on January 7th, 1958. Its plot centers on Catharine, a poor relation of a prominent New Orleans family who’s been driven insane following the mysterious death of her cousin Sebastian while they were on holiday in Europe. Sebastian’s controlling mother, Violet Venable has Catharine committed and plans on having her lobotomized in an attempt to suppress the truth about what her son really was and how he died. Using her money to persuade the hospital go ahead with the lobotomy, she hopes Dr. John Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) will carry out with the procedure, but when he begins to take an interest in Catherine and psychoanalyze her, the whole sordid truth is suddenly in danger of rushing back to her memory.

Suddenly, Last Summer

The film adaptation, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift, was released in 1959, and while Williams denounced the screenplay and casting of Taylor and Vidal criticized the ending, which had been altered by director Joseph Mankiewicz, Suddenly, Last Summer remains a truly intriguing and engaging film. With its Gothic undertones and style of cinematography, the film carries a darkness with its seediness creeping through like the vines in Violet’s greenhouse.

As Catherine gradually comes out of her medicine-induced stupor to tell Cukrowicz the truth about what happened in Europe, Violet continues to declare that she’s babbling nothing by utter nonsense. Eventually we see it’s not the niece who’s insane, but actually the aunt. While Taylor the plays the role with anguish and conviction, it’s Hepburn who really steals the show as the senile and overprotective mother who can’t bear the truth about her son.

Meanwhile, Clift, who’d dazzled in films such as A Place In The Sun (1951) alongside Taylor, comes across like a shadow of his former self following the horrific car crash in 1956, Suddenly, Last Summerwhile filming Raintree County, another film with Taylor. We see him here playing Cukrowicz as if he could’ve been played by anyone else; he’s merely a tool to move the story along and leaves it to his leading ladies to shine in their roles without stealing their limelight.

All last summer, Sebastian was famished for blonds. Fed up with the dark ones. Famished for blonds. The travel brochures he picked up… were advertisements of blond, northern countries. Think he’d already booked us to Stockholm and Copenhagen. Fed up with the dark ones, famished for the light ones. That’s the way he talked about people, as if they were… items on a menu. That one’s delicious-looking. That one’s appetizing. Or that one is not appetizing. I think really he was half-starved… from living on pills and salads.

The film suffers greatly from the restraints imposed by the Hays Production Code and as a result Suddenly, Last Summer comes across a lot tamer than its source material, which no doubt must’ve angered Williams and Vidal. Despite this, there’s still a lot to marvel at including the strong performances by Taylor and Hepburn and the cinematography by Jack Hildyard, all surmounting to a film that although gives us another doomed Hollywood homosexual, is rife with drama, horror and beauty.

Suddenly, Last Summer

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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