Suddenly, Last Summer - 1959

"...We're getting, and listen to this, in big round beautiful figures, one million dollars!"

Lobotomy, Last Summer

In Suddenly, Last Summer, Elizabeth Taylor is in an asylum where she's been hidden to keep her from "babbling" about what killed dear Cousin Sebastian, a young man who used his mother Violet Venable (Katherine Hepburn) and then his beautiful younger cousin Catherine Holly (Taylor) to attract young men. This 1959 film tries to spell out what was happening in this arrangement without having to say it out loud, though with minor deductive work it is perfectly clear Sebastian was a gay man (and possible pedophile) who became increasingly desperate as time passed in this claustrophobic filming of the Tennessee Williams' play.

Dead Sebastian's mother, Violet Venable, seems to worship her dead poet son, telling all she deems worthy of her son's artistic genius (he produced one poem per year) and that he died of a heart attack while on a trip to Spain (his poems were usually the result of his annual summer vacations).

Violet may have had a husband along the way somewhere but that faceless fellow had long passed into extinction as far as Sebastian and Violet were concerned, two people united in a pursuit of youth and philosophically certain that most other people existed as useful components to their self-absorbed art of living.

Other, useful people

Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz starts the film with a loving overview of all the sharp steel tools a surgeon uses, finally settling on Doc Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift), who is then at that moment using the knives to enter a human brain in the surgery at the Louisiana State Hospital.

Mrs. Venable has a useful purpose for Cukrowicz and his skills, and when interviewing him she will recount to the young doctor how on a trip to the Pacific Encantadas Islands that her son Sebastian watched the life cycle of giant sea turtles. She tells Cukrowicz how important this experience was as Sebastian was able to observe the emerging baby turtles rising vulnerable from their sand-pit birthplaces to try and scramble to the water before hordes of flesh-eating birds descended upon them. Violet then claims that it was in this brutal spectacle that Sebastian had seen 'the face of God.'

Cukrowicz is generally quiet and respectful of this wild narrative about Sebastian and his adventures, and he is given a tour of the Venable New Orleans estate with it's creepy jungle decor outside (featuring among other things an enormous Venus flytrap) and Sebastian's private poetry studio on the grounds that prominently feature the statuary of young male bodies (mostly headless).

The Doctor has been sent by the hospital head surgeon (played by Albert Dekker) to basically please Violet Venable, who has mentioned she would like to donate a million dollars to the hospital as a memorial to her son, and there are no strings attached, although of course, Mrs. Venable wants the talented Dr. Cukrowicz to perform the necessary lobotomy upon the 'babbling' Catherine Holly.

Cukrowicz is quite amiable to the arrangement and picks up on the hint of that the million dollars might not be forthcoming if the lobotomy is not provided. However, there's the little question of procedure and so he travels to the asylum where Catherine is housed. The 27-year-old Elizabeth Taylor is brought forth, and whether she is or isn't crazy is sidelined as Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz dives into the more romantic elements between the Doctor and the Patient.

"My son, Sebastian and I constructed our days. Each day we would carve each day like a piece of sculpture, leaving behind us a trail of days like a gallery of sculpture until suddenly, last summer..."

Lobotomy "will make them peaceful"

Since Catherine herself is hardly agreeable to the proposed lobotomy, Violet Venable uses inheritance money as a way to control Catherine Holly's family who are the other legal avenue to gain permission to shut-up Catherine. On one hand they don't really want Catherine to be operated on, but the proposed inheritance is "the first real money we've seen since the depression killed father" and soon Mother and Brother Holly are convinced Catherine should take one for the team and have the lobotomy that Violet is so hurriedly pressuring everyone to agree to.

But Doc Cukrowicz begins to employ hypnosis as a way to plumb the darker recesses of Catherine's memory, and a strange, twisted story begins to unfold, not just about Sebastian but about Catherine, too.

It is during this hypnotic flash-back sequences that the main promotional gambit of the film, used in advertising and movie posters, with Elizabeth Taylor in a tight one-piece white swimsuit. [An image used extensively after Taylor's death as an obituary illustration of the star.]

Visually speaking, Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz has a lot of fun with transferring Williams' stage play into cinema. Mankiewicz provides the audience with a freak-show tour of the men's and women's wings of the state lunatic asylum, peopled with the frightened, the vulnerable and the violent. Mankiewicz also throws in comparative allusions, such as the domineering heavy-set female patient in the woman's mental ward who reigns over the female inmates from a chair that recalls the throne where earlier in the film Mrs. Venable held forth on the poetic superiority of her son (a further visual cue provided is a carved antique jesters chair used by Sebastian as he sat alongside the dominating Mrs. Venable's throne.)

"Most people's lives, what are they but trails of debris - each day more debris, more debris... long, long trails of debris, with nothing to clean it all up but death."

The White Swimsuit

Footage of Taylor in the swimsuit is featured prominently in the film's 1959 promotional preview/trailer. It isn't particularly important to the film's story except that the headless body of Sebastian (we never see his face throughout the whole film, which mimics the many headless images of men found in the paintings and sculpture around Sebastian's poetry studio back in New Orleans) is shown strolling past Taylor in her swimsuit kneeling in the sand at his feet, as if to underline that this fellow simply isn't interested in girls. In an era of Hollywood in which Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield were flourishing, Taylor in the white suit may have just been a natural way to compete in that voluptuary arms-race. However, in Taylor's pix, there is no pretense of her enjoying her time at the beach (which in the story is forced upon her character Catherine as part of how Sebastian lured young men into his contact). Taylor portrays the experience as hardening and anger-making.

Taylor was paid the huge sum (by 1959 standards) of $500,000 to appear in the movie.

"Madness is the most horrible doom upon this earth"

Katherine Hepburn often upstages most of what is happening in Suddenly, Last Summer by seeming like she might be the crazy one (a safe bet). As this film was made before the rash of aging-movie-stars-go-crazy films of the 1960s (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane; Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, etc.) in a way this film created a mold for the doom-laden stories of these later movies. In fact, Suddenly, Last Summer has one foot squarely planted in pure melodrama and the other squarely in the gothic horror film genre. The music moves from sometimes lush to alternatively creepy and off-kilter, with the story peeking at a theme of debasement and cosmic terror, with lunacy added.

The art direction on Suddenly is opulent and packed with background nick-knacks somewhat like a Hammer horror film, visually punctuated with scenes of decay around New Orleans, Spain and the under-funded state mental hospital where brain-doctor Cukrowicz works his trade. To make the atmosphere even plainer, Director Mankiewicz throws in occasional death images like James Whale did in the 1931 Frankenstein.

"The dinosaurs were vegetarians, that's why they became extinct... and then the carnivores inherited the earth, but then they always do..."

Who's really crazy?

The plot is the mystery of whether Catherine (Elizabeth Taylor) is truly crazy and what the 'unspeakable' activities were of the dead Sebastian who is worshipped by his still-living mother (Hepburn) who wants to have the last say in explaining (or defending) Sebastian to the world, to Cukrowicz (and to us).

"Sebastian was a vocation, not a man..."

Finally Elizabeth Taylor takes over the narrative, and the story strays from a crazy young man's indictment of God (because nature is mad and violent, so must God be) into an indictment of the crazy young man who used people and sought self-destruction and the alleviation of boredom as if the two were the same thing.

Not that Taylor's character can clearly remember what happened to Sebastian. She does not say he was crazy, rather, her view was that Sebastian was kind and gentle, and was making himself into an inexplicable 'sacrifice.'

She then notes that Doc Cukrowicz has blue eyes, we hear an echo of what Mrs. Venable said, that Sebastian would have liked Cukrowicz, but there is a great darkness in this seeming compliment: Catherine's mumbles under effect of a sedative that Sebastian was "famished for the light ones, through with the dark ones. It was how he talked about people like they were items on a menu."

The portrait that develops from the combination of testimonies is that Mrs. Venable kept Sebastian much like the pet Venus flytrap that is fed expensive imported flies, and likewise, within their social realm the pair were always busy drawing to them "a perfect little troupe of young and beautiful people around us, always."

"Isn't that what love is, using people? Maybe that's what hate is... not being able to use people."

Dr. Sugar

Mrs. Venable likes Cukrowicz (whose last name means "sugar" in Polish, learning this, Mrs. Venable promptly calls him "Dr. Sugar") and as the story progresses she clearly begins to confuse her dead son with the living Doctor. Cukrowicz's boss (Albert Dekker as Dr. Hockstader) is counting on the attachment Mrs. Venable has developed to smooth the way to the large endowment that will finance a new hospital building. The only catch is that lobotomy. Catherine Holly (Taylor) is a fly already in the mouth of the 'devouring organism', and Cukrowicz has an important role to play in order to seal the deal.

Cukrowicz: 'insane' is such a meaningless word.'

Catherine: "But lobotomy has a precise meaning, hasn't it?"

But Cukrowicz isn't willing to be manipulated so easily, and though Mrs. Venable makes it clear there will be no money unless the lobotomy is performed, she is strangely compelled to do whatever Cukrowicz demands, an odd reaction from such an imperious woman, but then Mrs. Venable has confused Cukrowicz with the dead Sebastian, and as Catherine Holly mentioned earlier, no one could resist giving Sebastian whatever he wanted from them, including his mother.

With the money for the hospital hanging over Doc Hockstader's head by Mrs. Venable, and likewise Catherine's greedy mother (Mercedes McCambridge) and brother (Gary Raymond) unable to get to inheritance money from Sebastian's will with Mrs. Venable's lawyers holding it up in probate court, Cukrowicz brings a showdown by gathering all the principals (like a detective in a murder-mystery) to the veranda aside "Sebastian's garden" which looks like a jungle scene from a prehistoric monster movie.

After an injection of Sodium Pentothal from Cukrowicz, Catherine is instructed to tell her story of what happened to Sebastian on their fatal trip together to Europe, and despite heckling from "Aunt Vi" and interjections from Catherine's family about past sensitive subjects (for example, Catherine's quasi-rape by an unnamed 'married gentleman' from their social set), she flashbacks the tale of Sebastian's gruesome demise.

Eat the Rich

Catherine Holly tells us: "Suddenly, last summer, he wasn't young anymore." In Tennessee Williams/Gore Vidal's screenplay, the cast regularly repeats the film title:

  • "Suddenly, last summer, he became restless..." (Referring to Sebastian)
  • "Suddenly, last winter I began to write my journal in the third person" (Catherine)
  • "Suddenly, last summer Cousin Sebastian changed to the afternoons and the beach."

And Sebastian's death is also sudden: he was planning to make for the northern European countries and the blonde-haired, blue-eyed people there. But from living on a diet of "pills and salads" and a palpitating heart condition that "frightened him" and "his eyes looked dazed" he suddenly abrogates his modus operandi of 'never interfering,' a philosophy for which Catherine provides the exegesis to the doctor (and us). Describing the penultimate moment when she and Sebastian are confronted by half-naked, starving children at a restaurant, the boys serenading them with harsh noises from junk-metal instruments (and not too subtly, one of them playing something like a guitar made from a turtle shell), they are shouting "vile things to the waiters" about Sebastian who had been paying the boys off daily for something like "shining his shoes:"

Cukrowicz: "Did he complain about it to the manager?"

Catherine: "What manager, God? You don't understand my cousin."

Cukrowicz: "What do you mean?"

Catherine: "He... accepted all, as how things are, thought that nobody had any right to complain or interfere in anyway whatsoever. Even though he knew what was awful, was awful, what was wrong, was wrong. He thought it unfitting to ever take any action about anything whatsoever, except to go on doing as something within him directed."

Catherine calls this his mistake, not his philosophy, which is certainly a convenient one for a wealthy man slumming among the poor, and the Procuress accompanying him. But in Catherine's recollection of the minutes leading up to Sebastian's death, she tells of him rising up to complain to the restaurant manager and complained, wanting him to drive the children away (which, in the play version, are chased away by weapon-wielding waiters and chefs).

Disgusted and outraged (Sebastian: "Don't look at the little monsters. Beggars are a social disease in this country. If you look at them, you get sick of the country, it spoils the whole country for you...") he leaves the restaurant, only to again be confronted in the street by the ranks of boys, Catherine pleading with Sebastian to return to the restaurant or to retreat to the harbor.

Instead, Sebastian, who never runs anywhere (according to Catherine) tries to flee the boys by transversing the steep stone-streets of Cabeza de Lobo ("place of the wolf"), only to end up on a peak at a place that Catherine says looks like a "ruined temple." Catherine follows, and reaching the top, picks up a stone, apparently ready to fight, and sees the boys devouring Sebastian, eating and cutting him to pieces with sharp metal pieces.

The catharsis of finally remembering what happened overwhelms Catherine and the listeners, particularly Mrs. Venable, who begins speaking to Doc Cukrowicz as if he is Sebastian. She leads Cukrowicz inside, exulting as they walk arm-and-arm to Venable's ornate elevator-chair which, as it hoists Venable up into the mansion's upper floor, tells the silently observing Cukrowicz,

"Of course God is cruel, we didn't need to come to the Encantadas and look at the turtles to find that out. No, we've always known about Him, the savage face he shows to people, and the fierce things he shouts, it's all we really ever see or hear of Him now, and no one seems to know why..."

"The difference is, we know about Him, the others don't, that's where we're lucky..."

"Oh, Sebastian, what a lovely summer its been, just the two of us, Sebastian and Violet, Violet and Sebastian, just the way it's always going to be. Oh, we are lucky, my darling, to have one another and need no one else, ever..."

Everyone (except Cukrowicz) is astounded by the revelation of the story of Sebastian's demise and Venable's delusional reaction, realizing the truer nature of the arrangement and story of Violet - Sebastian - Catherine.

Cukrowicz then leaves the disappeared Mrs. Venable and her mansion to find Catherine, who is moodily observing the dark pool of water that is out in front of Sebastian's poetry studio. Cukrowicz calls to her and she answers "she's here, Miss Catherine's here," signifying that she is in her right mind (and was, more or less, through the whole story) and they exit together, holding hands.


Like most Tennessee Williams' movies, the Southerners are sweating heavily (particularly poor Albert Dekker). Taylor is bathed either in water or sweat during the sections of the story that flashback to "Cabeza de Lobo," but otherwise she, Clift, Hepburn and the headless Sebastian seem cool and collected through most of the tale, batting the dialogue back and forth, piecing together the mystery of what happened to Catherine and Sebastian on their gruesome Mediterranean holiday.

But the mystery that shadows the whole film is Sebastian and his mother. As much as Sebastian groomed Catherine for her role to procure "contacts" for him while they were in Europe, a role she was awarded after Mrs. Venable lost her spot due to a "hysterical stroke," more so in the film is the evidence that Mrs. Venable groomed Sebastian for a particular role from his birth, that jesters chair beside her throne no novelty, but a task to perform.

We know Sebastian strained to preserve his youth, but we also know Mrs. Venable did the same, and apparently through Sebastian she used him to procure the beautiful, young people they each dined out on in a hopeless bid to fend off aging.

We see that Mrs. Venable is the one who taught Sebastian the destroying philosophy of "using people creatively," (which Mrs. Venable acted out upon her son) and the malignant self-deception of equally accepting 'everything' as it is while simultaneously hiding and averting the eyes from what that 'everything" is. And their accusations against God, as if this somehow mitigated their own actions, is clearly a bit of childish blame-shifting.


With the image of Mrs. Venable and Sebastian on one side, a pathetic mirror image is Mrs. Holly and her son, George, who inherits the deceased Sebastian's clothing, on the other side. Stuck in the middle is Catherine Holly, who can see through the deceptions and feints of both the Venable's and her own family, and resists them all (including Sebastian, who literally has to drag the fighting white-swimsuited Catherine into the waters of Cabeza de Lobo to make her perform her role as 'the Procuress,' something Mrs. Venable did gladly).

Dressed in Sebastian's white Shantung silk suits, George tries to manipulate Catherine so that he can get to the money Sebastian left for him in his will, but held up in probate by "Aunt Vi's" lawyers. But George cannot manipulate Catherine, and his talking gets him nowhere. Mrs. Holly weeps and groans, and tries to force the issue, but Catherine is immune.

Dressed in white

As a bizarre Christ-figure (or anti-Jesus), Sebastian repeats the truth as he and his mother want it to be, cruelty a particle of a system that they do not want to question.

The European trip begins with Sebastian leading Catherine to health and sunshine after she has survived a disastrous love affair within their social set. But this 'rescue' is self-serving and Sebastian ends up like the dead turtles of the Encantadas, with his "Poem of Summer" unwritten as he has proved to have gone sterile. Instead it is Doc Cukrowicz who cures Catherine, saves her from the plotting of all the duplicitous people around her, and to make the picture of 'competing saviours' stronger, makes her walk again, in the scene where the Sodium Pentothal is administered. (In Williams' play, as written, Dr. Cukrowicz is blonde and 'shines' in the sunlight, dressed in white and is 'glacially brilliant').


The physical setting of the film is communicated well: it looks like New Orleans (Hollywood style) and the European vacation flashbacks look like the western Mediterranean (the real thing, shot on location). It is supposed to be the year 1937, but it simply isn't: it is clearly 1959 and you have to pay attention to spot the instances where they try to fake the earlier era. Mostly we're looking at Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, and they're wearing 1959 styles.

Probably lobotomy is the item most rooted in the 1937 setting, as the primitive nature of the procedure at that time (burring holes through the skull to reach the brain) was replaced by a different method in the 1940s (for which Tennessee Williams' sister Rose was subjected in 1943 by their mother, Edwina).

Translating the stage to screen

It is a well-made film for such a wordy script* (Gore Vidal did the honors). Mankiewicz opens the film up to larger vistas once the story gets past the stage-bound claustrophobia of the early scenes in the jungle/garden (which serve a purpose of telling us about how "Aunt Vi" and Sebastian lived: closed in, incestuously cannibalizing themselves and whomever they lured into their enclave, much like the Venus Flytrap).

Hepburn is good as a devourer. She does not truly come off as a monster, but as fragile, scared, arrogant and self-serving. Is she trying to shut-up Catherine to protect her sons reputation, or is she trying to have Catherine lobotomized to hide the truth from herself? It's a fair question since Hepburn makes Mrs. Venable seem like a lost woman hypnotized before a mirror holding her own reflection. The creepy set-dressing around her mansion is like a demented, fast-talking Mrs. Haversham brooding in a New Orleans' version of Great Expectations' haunted house.

Mercedes McCambridge doesn't have much to do here as Mrs. Holly except connect story plot-points together. Yes, she's a terrible mother and willing to sacrifice the daughter to benefit the son (and herself), but she's also working very hard to convince herself that a lobotomy is a legitimate, logical choice under the circumstances. McCambridge plays Mrs. Holly as a woman forever bursting into tears whenever her daughter Catherine talks straight and sanely, which is nearly every scene with Taylor and McCambridge together, thus she is crying a lot.

Elizabeth Taylor is both architecture and recording machine, replaying everything that happened in Sebastian's death by misadventure. From the first scene with her, she is supremely angry, and that rarely lets up, and it becomes a particularly potent combination once we get to the flashbacks when her character Catherine is humiliated by being dragged into the waters at Cabeza de Lobo so that the local boys can gawk at her in the wet white swimsuit (Mankiewicz spends enough footage on the event to make sure we will gawk, too. It's no accident he shows one of the Spanish boys rapidly chewing through a piece of fruit while staring at Taylor in the dripping-wet swimwear.)

Though she sometimes modulates through a scene effortlessly with a firm voice and a relaxed, sullen physical presence, other times she rises to the dialogue with a brittle, thin delivery: this is matched by Montgomery Clift, who makes you follow his expressive hands as they add punctuation to his simple, straightforward line delivery, but his sometimes hunched shoulders and washed out posture make Doc Cukrowicz look both sleepy and nervous at the same time.

But he is the man anchoring the story on screen. He doesn't have any bravura scenes like both of the female leads, instead staying calm, either certain or quizzical, and herding everything and everyone toward the climactic ending, like Perry Mason accumulating evidence. And, while everyone else is looking shocked at the finale, he seems to have guessed the whole matter right from the beginning.

Albert Drekker drawls through his lines perfectly as head doctor Hockstader, and like a Tennessee Williams' character ought to, he is huffing, smoking, stalking, sweating and frowning as the proposed million-dollar endowment seems to slink further and further out of his reach.

Gary Raymond has the thankless task of playing a sort of cartoon version of 'Cousin Sebastian,' receiving the dead mans clothing and hoping for the $50,000 inheritance promised, the first real money the Holly family had seen since "1929 killed father." He seems to have no effect on those around him at all. Usually a Williams' film version throws in at least one redeeming quality for the worthless, greedy family relation: but it is missing here.

Montgomery Clift

Montgomery Clift is said to have been in bad shape during the making of the movie. Though able to carry off scenes expertly with relaxed but expressive hand gestures and voice tone, there's also a brittle quality and something like tremors affecting his physical performance:

"Monty's health was rapidly deteriorating, and the entire production would have been canceled had Elizabeth not pulled rank on Mankiewicz, who wanted to shut it down after Monty fell ill as a result of washing down too many codeine pills with brandy in Tennessee [Williams] Savoy suite one night. Having hitched his wagon to Elizabeth's star, the director now meekly deferred to her..."

From the book "Elizabeth Taylor: The Most Beautiful Woman in the World" by Ellis Amburn, published by HarperCollins, 2000. Page 118

Katherine Hepburn

About Hepburn's role in Suddenly, Last Summer:

"Kate grew increasingly agitated in the role of the doting mother whose only son, Sebastian, has died under mysterious circumstances. Mrs. Venable has fabricated an elaborate story to explain what happened to Sebastian. Her niece Catherine (played by Elizabeth Taylor), who witnessed the young man's horrific death, poses the sole threat to Mrs. Venable's sanitized account. Mrs. Venable seeks to have Catherine lobotomized at a state hospital so that the truth will never come out.

In the story of the traumatized young witness and the parent eager to prevent her from remembering, the parallels to Kate's own past were in escapable [i.e., Hepburn's brother Tom died by hanging, an apparent suicide, discovered in the family home by the then 13 year old Katherine.]

"If you only knew what it means to me when I have to say those things!" she shouted at Joseph Mankiewicz, who was directing the film.

Mankiewicz and the producer Sam Spiegel presumed Hepburn was merely prudish about Williams's treatment of homosexuality and other sexual themes. "That's the play, and that's what we have to do," the director replied.

Hepburn decided that she must distance herself from the material by making Mrs. Venable seem mad. Mankiewicz, mistaking her agitation for a desire to take over the picture, fought her every step of the way. The result was unbearable tension on the set. On the last day of filming, Hepburn spat in Mankiewicz's face as a parting gesture.

She strode into Spiegel's office. "You're just a pig in a silk suit who sends flowers!" Kate informed him. Then she spat on the floor and marched out.

From the book "Katherine Hepburn" by Barbara Leaming, page 481-482, 2004. Available from

Mankiewicz supposable said later about Hepburn: "The most experienced amateur actress in the world."


The dilemma between Clift, Hepburn and Mankiewicz seems to be lore recorded from various angles:

"...Shooting commenced. Almost at once, the major problem of the production exploded. Montgomery Clift, playing the male lead, was in bad shape. Death (not far off) had begun its flirtation.

This excellent young actor, once so full of promise, had been ill in mind and body for some time. The reunion with Elizabeth Taylor, with whom he was deeply in love, was, to say the least, disturbing. He found it difficult to achieve a working balance, lost sleep, began to drink, had difficulty with memorization, and found it necessary to rely on artificial stimuli to get him going each day.

Elizabeth Taylor was compassionate but there was nothing she could do. Mankiewicz and Spiegel, under great pressure of schedule and budget, were less sympathetic.

...Kate felt that Spiegel and Mankiewicz might have had greater forbearance for an actor in trouble and resented the fact they had not helped more.

She considered (rightly or wrongly) that they had been downright cruel.

On her last day of shooting, Mankiewicz came to her and said, "that's it."

She asked, "Are you sure?"

"Quite sure."

"There's nothing more you're going to need me for?" she asked. "No looping, no pick-up shots, no retakes.?"

"I've got it all, Kate," said Mankiewicz, "and it's great. You're great."

"You're sure, she persisted, "that I'm absolutely finished in the picture?"

Mankiewicz grinned his characteristic grin, and said, "Absolutely, Kate. What is all this?"

"I just want to leave you," said Kate, "with this." Whereupon she spat."

From the book Tracy and Hepburn, by Garson Kanin, Viking Press, 1970. Page 222. Amazon

The Garden

In the Williams' one-act play version of Suddenly, Last Summer the garden is described as:

"...a fantastic garden which is more like a tropical jungle, or forest, in the prehistoric age of giant fern-forests when living creatures had flippers turning to limbs and scales to skin. The colors of this jungle-garden are violent, especially since it is steaming with heat after rain."

A photograph of the model used for construction of the garden for the film is at the web site Victoria and Albert Museum, which has a section on the work of Oliver Messel (1904 - 1978). They have a very good overview of Messel's work on Suddenly, Last Summer here.

Suddenly, Last Alligator

In the same year that Suddenly, Last Summer came out, a similar film drama containing a (mostly unseen) protagonist with a dark secret, a domineering mother, a frightened and (possibly crazy) heroine, hypnosis and inquiring doctors, and a sweaty, swampy landscape, was the Roy Del Ruth film with Beverly Garland The Alligator People.

Suddenly, Last Snoozefest

I've seen this film many times and have read the play twice, and like most of Tennessee Williams' work I've seen or read, see it as a fascinating piece of art but also a window into the 20th century American South, as viewed by an intelligent artist with a peculiar point of view.

On the other hand, I know that Tennessee Williams pushed his fictional characters into a kind of high relief by intensifying their characteristics, enough so that his work seems to me to float in a world somewhere between fine literature and comic books (which I do not use as a term of denigration, but only as an example of a primary genre in which visualizing, often with simplification, is an imperative).

I sat in the audience at the Mary Pickford Theatre (at the Library of Congress) in Washington DC watching a revival of the film in 1999. One of the young men in the audience reacted to the wordiness of the movie with greater and greater disdain, and by the time we get to the final scenes of Sebastian's massacre and the melodrama of the wind-up of the mystery being solved, this particular audience member was rolling his eyes and sighing loudly as if he'd just witnessed one of the greatest pieces of cheese ever forced on a captive group of people.

Suddenly Last Summer DVD or online streaming video

"Suddenly, Last Summer," filmed version of the Tennessee Williams' play

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Screenplay by Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams

[Combined with the play "Something Unspoken," a double bill was presented under the title of "Garden District" on January 7, 1958 at the York Playhouse in New York, off-Broadway.]

Film Cast:

  • Elizabeth Taylor - Catherine Holly
  • Katharine Hepburn - Mrs. Violet Venable
  • Montgomery Clift - Dr. John Cukrowicz
  • Albert Dekker - Dr. Hockstader
  • Mercedes McCambridge - Mrs. Grace Holly
  • Gary Raymond - George Holly
  • Mavis Villiers - Miss Foxhill
  • Patricia Marmont - Nurse Benson
  • Joan Young - Sister Felicity
  • Maria Britneva - Lucy

Run Time: 114 minutes
Production: May 26, 1959 to September 4, 1959

Filmed at:

  • Shepperton Studios near London, England
  • Beach scenes at Cataluna, Spain
  • Overlooking harbor scene at Balearic Islands, Spain.

Premier: Los Angeles, December 1959; General release on Dec 22, 1959

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Original Page June 2011 | Updated December 2021