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Suddenly, Last Summer (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Suddenly, Last Summer
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay byGore Vidal
Tennessee Williams
Based onSuddenly, Last Summer
1958 play
by Tennessee Williams
Produced bySam Spiegel
CinematographyJack Hildyard
Edited by
Music by
Color processBlack and white
Horizon Pictures
Academy Pictures Corporation
Camp Films
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • December 20, 1959 (1959-12-20) (Los Angeles)[1]
  • January 1960 (1960-01) (United States)
Running time
114 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget$2.5 million[2]
Box office$9 million (rentals)[2]

Suddenly, Last Summer is a 1959 Southern Gothic mystery film based on the 1958 play of the same name by Tennessee Williams. The film was shot in England, Spain and the Balearic Islands. It was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and produced by Sam Spiegel from a screenplay by Gore Vidal and Williams with cinematography by Jack Hildyard and production design by Oliver Messel. The musical score was composed by Buxton Orr, using themes by Malcolm Arnold.

The plot centers on Catherine Holly, a young woman who, at the insistence of her wealthy aunt, is being evaluated by a psychiatric doctor to receive a lobotomy after witnessing the death of her cousin Sebastian Venable while traveling with him in the (fictional) island of Cabeza de Lobo the previous summer.

The film stars Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift with Albert Dekker, Mercedes McCambridge, and Gary Raymond.

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In 1937 New Orleans, Catherine Holly is a young woman institutionalized for a severe emotional disturbance that occurred when her cousin, Sebastian Venable, died under strange circumstances while they were on summer holiday in Europe. The late Sebastian's wealthy mother, Violet Venable, makes every effort to deny and suppress the potentially sordid truth about her son and his demise. To that end, she attempts to bribe the state hospital's administrator, Lawrence J. Hockstader, by offering to finance a new wing for the underfunded facility if he promises that his brilliant young surgeon, John Cukrowicz, will perform a lobotomy on her niece.

Mrs. Venable meets with Dr. Cukrowicz and describes Sebastian as a sensitive poet, recounting their close relationship and travels together. During their interview, Vi tells Dr. Cukrowicz that Sebastian "saw the face of God" on one summer trip, suddenly recalling a terrible memory where birds of prey assailed turtle hatchlings as they made their way over a volcanic beach to the sea. Violet turned away from the scene, unable to witness the cruelty, but Sebastian watched it for a long time.

Since returning from Europe several months earlier, Catherine has been confined to a private women's mental institution. Apparently suffering a severe shock from the events surrounding Sebastian's death, Violet insists Catherine has been "babbling" and spouting obscenities. Catherine has recently been accused by an elderly gardener at the institution of attempting to seduce him and then accusing him of sexual assault upon his resisting her advances. After seeing the beautiful Catherine, Cukrowicz is skeptical. When they meet, Catherine tells Cukrowicz about her first Mardi Gras ball, an incident alluded to by Violet and Catherine's mother earlier. Catherine says she was taken home by a man who stopped at Dueling Oaks along the way, where he raped her. Afterward, she returned to the ball, "made a scene," and was finally stopped by her cousin Sebastian putting his arm around her.

Beginning to doubt that Catherine is as deranged as Mrs. Venable claims, Cukrowicz moves Catherine into the nurses’ quarters of the state hospital under less threatening conditions. Cukrowicz wishes to try talking therapy to evaluate Catherine. Catherine's mother and brother visit Catherine and reveal that Violet will pay them a large sum of money if they sign papers to commit Catherine to the institution and allow the lobotomy to be performed. Horrified, Catherine flees into the men’s wing, where she is nearly attacked, causing more disruption and “confirmation” of the salacious accusations against her.

Crukowicz convinces Violet to visit Catherine in the hospital. Violet reveals her resentment at Catherine having supplanted her on Sebastian’s last summer. She blames Catherine for not properly nurturing Sebastian, for his inability to write the single poem he wrote every summer, and for contributing to the “heart attack” that was the “official” cause of death. Catherine asserts to Violet that they were both “bait” to attract young men, hinting that Sebastian was homosexual, and that he asked Catherine to replace his mother when Violet had grown too old to be bait. Violet responds that she will not listen to such “obscenity” and wants Cukrowicz “to cut this hideous story out of her brain.” Violet tells Hockstader that she doesn’t want to move forward with the new hospital wing until the operation has been performed. Catherine now attempts to throw herself off a high balcony but is prevented by a male orderly.

In a last-ditch effort to help Catherine, Cukrowicz takes her to the Venable estate where he administers a drug to overcome any resistance to remembering what happened that summer. Catherine recalls how she and Sebastian spent their days on the beach on the island of Cabeza de Lobo and that Sebastian insisted she wear a revealing white bathing suit that became nearly transparent when wet to attract young men. Because the boys are desperate for money, Sebastian was successful in his efforts; however, Sebastian was "sated" with "the dark haired ones" and was "famished for blonds". He began to make plans to depart for Northern Europe. On the final day, Sebastian and Catherine were beset by a team of boys begging for money. When Sebastian rejected them, they pursued him through the streets of the town. Sebastian attempted to flee, but the boys swarmed around him at every turn. He was finally cornered among the ruins of a temple on a hilltop. In the meantime, Catherine frantically had tried to catch up with Sebastian, but she reached him only to see him overwhelmed by the boys. According to Catherine, the boys tore Sebastian apart and ate pieces of his flesh like vultures. Catherine breaks down screaming and crying as she recalls the horror. Violet walks away rambling while mistaking Cukrowicz for Sebastian. Violet Venable has become unbalanced when faced with the truth.

As Cukrowicz turns away, the hospital administrator replies that Catherine may be telling the truth. Cukrowicz returns outside and calls to Catherine, and she takes his hand as they walk away.



From the film's trailer

Suddenly, Last Summer is based on a one-act play by Tennessee Williams that originally was paired with Something Unspoken as part of the 1958 off-Broadway double-bill titled Garden District.[3] The work was adapted for the screen by Gore Vidal; though Williams also received credit, he later said that he had nothing to do with the film.[3] Vidal attempted to construct the narrative as a small number of very long scenes, echoing the structure of the play.[4]

Following A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Suddenly, Last Summer was the third of Williams' plays to be adapted for the screen that dealt with the subject of homosexuality, although it was far more explicit in its treatment than either of the previous films were allowed to be under the Motion Picture Production Code.[5] Working in conjunction with the National Legion of Decency, the Production Code Administration gave the filmmakers special dispensation to depict Sebastian Venable, declaring "Since the film illustrates the horrors of such a lifestyle, it can be considered moral in theme even though it deals with sexual perversion."[3] Publicity stills of Sebastian were shot – showing him as a handsome, if drawn, man in a white suit – but his face never is seen in the released film. Williams asserted that no actor could portray Sebastian convincingly and that his absence from the screen only made his presence more strongly felt.[6]

Elizabeth Taylor selected Suddenly, Last Summer as her first project after recently ending her contractual commitment to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. At the time, she was the biggest box office draw in Hollywood, and she used this power to insist that Montgomery Clift be hired for the film.[7] As a result of a May 1956 car crash near the home of Taylor and her then-husband Michael Wilding, Clift had become heavily dependent on drugs and alcohol. When he was unable to find a doctor willing to attest to his insurability, producer Sam Spiegel approved his casting and went ahead with filming anyway.[8]

Clift found the long scenes exhausting and had to have his longest scene shot in multiple takes, one or two lines at a time. His shaky performance led director Joseph Mankiewicz to ask Spiegel several times to replace the actor.[4] Most of the crew were sympathetic toward Clift,[9] but Katharine Hepburn was especially resentful of the poor treatment to which Mankiewicz subjected him. Indeed, Hepburn found Mankiewicz's conduct so unforgivable that as soon as he called the final "cut" of the film, she asked him to confirm that her services were no longer required, and when he did, she spat in his face.[10] Sources differ as to whether she also spat in Sam Spiegel's face.[11]

Problems beset the film's musical score as well. Malcolm Arnold originally was retained to work on it, but he apparently found certain aspects of the story so disturbing that he withdrew from the project after composing only the main themes. Buxton Orr completed the score.[12]

Taylor, following her final monologue wherein she describes Sebastian's murder, burst into tears and could not be consoled. Using method acting techniques, she had tapped into her grief over the 1958 death of her third husband Mike Todd.[13]

Production on Suddenly, Last Summer took place between May and September 1959.[1] Interior scenes were shot at Shepperton Studios in Surrey, England. The "Cabeza de Lobo" sequence was filmed at Majorca in the Balearic Islands and at Begur, Spain, Castell-Platja d'Aro, Costa Brava, and S'Agaró in Gerona, Spain.


Critical response

Contemporary reviews were mixed. Although Hepburn and Taylor received some positive notices for their performances, the film was judged as having suffered for being stretched to feature length and having its content toned down from that of the play.

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times outright panned the film, writing that

"the main trouble with this picture is that an idea that is good for not much more than a blackout is stretched to exhausting length and, for all its fine cast and big direction, it is badly, pretentiously played ... Elizabeth Taylor is rightly roiled as the niece, but her wallow in agony at the climax is sheer histrionic showing off. . . Joseph L. Mankiewicz's direction is strained and sluggish, as is, indeed, the whole conceit of the drama. It should have been left to the off-Broadway stage."[14]

Variety called it "possibly the most bizarre film ever made by any major American company," adding,

"The film has some very effective moments, but on the whole it fails to move the spectator. Perhaps the reason is that what was a long one-act play has been expanded in the screenplay, by Williams and Gore Vidal, to a longish motion picture. Nothing that's been added is an improvement on the original; the added scenes are merely diversionary."[15]

Harrison's Reports wrote "Aside from the fact that the film will draw curiosity-seekers in droves, the film is a mystery—and the mystery is why Sam Spiegel, a brilliant producer, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, an excellent director, and Columbia, a responsible distributor, even bothered with it in the first place."[16] John McCarten of The New Yorker called the film "a preposterous and monotonous potpourri of incest, homosexuality, psychiatry, and, so help me, cannibalism."[17]

Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post delivered a mixed review, calling the film "undeniably powerful" and Hepburn "utterly brilliant," but found that

"in even trying to fit this analogy of depravity into something approximating our film standards, the whole point is submerged in mists of allusion which only knowledge of the original play can penetrate ... It can be said that the moral is utterly valid, that those we buy and use utterly destroy us, for Mrs. Venable and her wealth are as destroyed as her son and his selfishness. But by framing the statement in so purposely shocking a story and then by not being truly honest about even that, the film too often becomes purposeless, evasive."[18]

The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that by extending the stage version to feature film length, "the story now sags sufficiently for one to question its credentials, and to realise that its attempt to illuminate the darker corners of the mind is actually nothing more than a slightly infantile fantasy of guilt and masochism." The review also criticized "the spineless box-office ending, which balances Catherine's recovery against a contrived, conventional retreat into madness on the part of Mrs. Venable."[19]

John L. Scott of the Los Angeles Times was more positive, calling the film "an absorbing, in part, shocking motion picture," in which Hepburn and Taylor "pull out all the histrionic stops, resulting in performances that will undoubtedly bring plenty of votes come Oscar-nominating time."[20]

Several people involved with Suddenly, Last Summer later went on to denounce the film. Despite being credited for the screenplay, Tennessee Williams denied having any part in writing it. He thought Elizabeth Taylor was miscast as Catherine, telling Life in 1961 "It stretched my credulity to believe such a 'hip' doll as our Liz wouldn't know at once in the film that she was 'being used for something evil.'"[21] Williams also told The Village Voice in 1973 that Suddenly, Last Summer went too far afield from his original play and "made [him] throw up."[22]

Gore Vidal criticized the ending, which had been altered by director Joseph Mankiewicz, adding "We were also not helped by ... those overweight ushers from the Roxy Theatre on Fire Island pretending to be small ravenous boys."[23] Mankiewicz himself blamed the source material, describing the play as "badly constructed ... based on the most elementary Freudian psychology."[24]

Box office

Suddenly, Last Summer was a hit at the box office, earning $6.4 million in theatrical rentals in the United States and Canada and $9 million worldwide.[25][2]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Actress Katharine Hepburn Nominated [26]
Elizabeth Taylor Nominated
Best Art Direction – Black-and-White Oliver Messel, William Kellner and Scott Slimon Nominated
Bambi Awards Best Actress – International Elizabeth Taylor Nominated
David di Donatello Awards Golden Plate Award Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Katharine Hepburn Nominated [27]
Elizabeth Taylor Won
Laurel Awards Top Female Dramatic Performance Katharine Hepburn Nominated
Elizabeth Taylor Won
Top Score Buxton Orr and Malcolm Arnold 4th Place
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 8th Place [28]


  1. ^ a b "Suddenly, Last Summer - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "Wall St. Researchers' Cheery Tone". Variety. November 7, 1962. p. 7.
  3. ^ a b c Hadleigh 2001, p. 23.
  4. ^ a b LaGuardia 1977, p. 206.
  5. ^ Hadleigh 2001, pp. 23–24.
  6. ^ Hadleigh 2001, pp. 26–27.
  7. ^ LaGuardia 1977, p. 203.
  8. ^ LaGuardia 1977, p. 204.
  9. ^ LaGuardia 1977, p. 207.
  10. ^ Edwards 2000, p. 301.
  11. ^ LaGuardia 1977, p. 210.
  12. ^ Jackson 2003, pp. 53, 93.
  13. ^ LaGuardia 1977, p. 208.
  14. ^ Crowther, Bosley (December 23, 1959). "The Screen: Suddenly, Last Summer". The New York Times. p. 22.
  15. ^ "Suddenly, Last Summer". Variety. December 16, 1959. p. 6.
  16. ^ "'Suddenly, Last Summer' with Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Katharine Hepburn". Harrison's Reports: 3. January 2, 1960.
  17. ^ McCarten, John (January 9, 1960). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 75.
  18. ^ Coe, Richard L. (January 21, 1960). "Skillful Dip In the Exotic". The Washington Post. p. B10.
  19. ^ "Suddenly, Last Summer". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 27 (317): 81–82. June 1960.
  20. ^ Scott, John L. (December 24, 1959). "'Last Summer' Bizarre, Morbid but Powerful". Los Angeles Times. p. Section II, p. 4–5.
  21. ^ Williams 1961, p. 88.
  22. ^ Hadleigh 2001, p. 27.
  23. ^ Quoted in Russo 1987, p. 117
  24. ^ Quoted in Hadleigh 2001, p. 27
  25. ^ Capua 2002, p. 122.
  26. ^ "The 32nd Academy Awards (1960) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-21.
  27. ^ "Suddenly, Last Summer – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  28. ^ "1959 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.


External links

This page was last edited on 6 June 2024, at 21:59
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