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Suddenly, Last Summer

Not to be confused with I know What You Did Last Summer– the teen shocker, although this 1957 flick  isn’t without its horror. First up, a lobotomy operation performed in a crumbling  laboratory with surgical equipment powered by a stuttering electric current.Nice.

Here we are inside the New Orleans State Asylum. Dr Czukrowicz ( (Montgommery Clift ) is the  surly surgeon, exasperated to the point of resigning with this shabby set up. The chance for a handsome cash injection presents itself when a wealthy widow, Mrs Venable (Katherine Hepburn), gets in touch regarding an urgent matter.

I knew Katherine Hepburn had talent but my God her poise and delivery- usually too mannered for celluloid – blew me away. She enters the set descending in an open lift fashioned like a throne and so begins her unstoppable monologue:

Venable is a mother in mourning for her son  Sebastian. She revered him and nurtured his talent for poetry which had its annual flowering each summer while on vacation together. On the previous summer,  cousin Catherine, a smouldering vamp played by Elizabeth Taylor, accompanied him instead. Not only did she fail to  fulfuil her spec as muse, but he died under her watch and to boot she rather inconveniently goes off the rails babbling all kinds of defamatory rumours about Sebastian. Venable can’t tolerate the truth coming out about her son’s shadow side and resolves to finance the local asylum  on the back of a swift lobotomy performed on Catherine, thereby  keeping  her shtum and ensuring her son’s memory stays intact.

The plot makes for a conspiratorial high-octane ride with an equally mesmerising performance from Elizabeth Taylor. Sadly, Suddenly could never be on a level pegging with Streetcar Named Desire for the simple reason that Montgomery Clift is beyond hopeless. To say he was wooden would be a compliment. His awkward gait and tongue- too-big-for-his-mouth delivery made me wonder if he wasn’t hungover.  But putting that aside, it is a brilliant film: intense, linear  and deeply satisfying with its neat little hypnotherapy scene complete with  cloudy memory bubbles of the mysterious Sebastian (whose face we never see) and his grissly death.

Watch it, particularly if you enjoy movies where the script is all –  a feature of All About Eve– another Mankiewicz special and want to judge for yourself if it really is a homophobic film given that Tennessee Williams, Montgommery Clift and screenwriter Gore Vidal were all homosexuals.


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