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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cine Beaverhausen: Suddenly Last Summer This Summer

Thunderstorms ruined Monday night's planned HBO free outdoor movie in Bryant Park, 1959's Suddenly, Last Summer, an all-time personal favorite. The film wears its gay pedigree proudly: Script by Gore Vidal, based on a one-act play by Tennessee Williams, with Montgomery Clift in one of the lead roles.

The story, as florid as the hothouse in which Katherine Hepburn raises her Venus fly traps, squeaked by the censors and was condemned by the Catholic church. It also stars Elizabeth Taylor at the zenith of her beauty in her film role prior to Cleopatra.

The needle on the camp-o-meter goes up to 10 on this one, then snaps off and flies into the stratosphere. Although played very seriously by the entire cast, under Joseph L. Mankiewicz's direction, the story line's macabre goings on defy being taken seriously. Suddenly, Last Summer is the best sort of black comedy: played with straight faces and pulled off with great wit and polish by the man who gave us the witty and sophisticated All About Eve.

Suddenly, Last Summer was not a happy set, however, by all accounts. Katherine Hepburn reportedly spit in Mankiewicz's face after being assured, on the final day of shooting in London, that no retakes needed to be done. She did this in retaliation for the abusive way the director reputedly treated Montgomery Clift on the set.

In the film, Hepburn (Oscar nominated, as was Taylor, for their roles in this film) chews up the scenery, shouting out lines like "Doctor, you must cut that lie out of her brain!" and bellowing to everyone she comes across that Liz must undergo a lobotomy. For her part, Ms Taylor's acting led me to believe she'd already had that procedure.

The film is set in 1935. The hair-dos and clothes are 1959. Maybe not so much verisimilitude or period atmosphere. But that only adds to the film's surrealism as far as I'm concerned. According to IMDB, "Screenwriter Gore Vidal credits film critic Bosley Crowther with the success of this film. Crowther wrote a scathing review denouncing the film as the work of degenerates obsessed with rape, incest, homosexuality, and cannibalism among other qualities. Vidal believes advertising such salacious detail made audiences flock in droves to the film." Suddenly, Last Summer originally opened on December 22, an odd marketing choice, I think, for the holiday season.

Mercedes McCambridge (Johnny Guitar), hunky British actor Gary Raymond (Jason and the Argonauts) and Albert Dekker (Dr Cyclops) co-star. And Eddie Fischer (Mr Liz Taylor at the time) has an uncredited cameo as a street urchin groveling before his superstar wife. (An instant-replay must-see.) And, yes, the song "Suddenly, Last Summer" by The Motels was inspired by this film.

Sumptuous b&w cinematography is by Jack Hildyard; it is unlikely you'll forget many of the movie's vibrant images and mise en scenes.

Suddenly, Last Summer is an absolutely not-to-be-missed classic cinematic treasure, in my humble opinion, come rain or shine. Available at Amazon to view instantly on-line and on DVD, even if cancelled in the park.


  1. "Degenerates obsessed with rape, incest, homosexuality, and cannibalism among other qualities"? No WONDER people flocked to see it! I only saw this Film for the first time about 10 years ago on TMC. I will say that it was a bit corny & hoaky, but considering when it was made and the context of the times, it was pretty "racy and daring". Poor Monty. He was such a beautiful Soul and Spirit, but such a tortured Human Being.

  2. don't agree with your take on Liz's performance, but totally agree, It's a "must see".