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SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz; screenwriters: Gore Vidal/based on the play by Tennessee Williams; cinematographer: Jack Hildyard; editors: Thomas Stanford/William Hornbeck; music: Buxton Orr/Malcolm Arnold; cast: (Elizabeth Taylor (Catherine Holly), Montgomery Clift (Dr. John Cukrowicz), Katharine Hepburn (Mrs. Violet Venable), Albert Dekker (Dr. Hockstader), Mercedes McCambridge (Mrs. Grace Holly), Gary Raymond (George Holly); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Spiegel; Columbia; 1960)
“A lurid adaptation of the 1957 Tennessee Williams one-act play.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s a lurid adaptation of the 1957 Tennessee Williams one-act play directed in a strained manner by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (“Dragonwyck”/”Cleopatra”). The shocking melodrama deals with madness, homosexual prostitution, incest, disease and cannibalism. It takes too long to reach its revelation to be all that effective. Gore Vidal writes the screenplay and keeps it less hard-hitting than the play. Its tagline was “…suddenly last summer Cathy knew she was being used for something evil!” The good box office gave hope for other adult films.

It’s set in 1937, in New Orleans. Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor) is a seemingly insane, young New Orleans debutante. Mrs. Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn) is Cathy’s wealthy, dowager, overbearing aunt who wants to lobotomize her because she saw something nasty about her deceased son Sebastian that made her hysterical and the aunt fears if she talks it will result in a scandal about her son’s sexual orientation and mom’s role as a procurer. Cathy is being treated at the Lyons View State Asylum by the young brain surgeon from Chicago Dr. John Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift), who is skeptical of her condition and talks with both Violet and Catherine. He concludes there is friction between the females over Sebastian. The doting Violet and her son were inseparable until he suddenly, last summer, took up with the attractive niece to vacation in Europe. The effete cultured Sebastian “died” at the hands of hungry street urchins who ravaged and cannibalized him while he was with Cathy in Spain.

Adding to the complexities, Violet perversely pledges a generous donation to the financially strapped hospital run by Dr. Hockstader (Albert Dekker) if the lobotomy takes place. Violet insists she wants Cathy cured of suffering from visions and hallucinations. Mrs. Grace Holly (Mercedes Cambridge) and George Holly (Gary Raymond) play Cathy’s vulgar mother & brother, respectively, who are so greedy that they would do just about anything to receive a generous donation from Violet. It becomes a question if the good doctor will succumb to the pressures of the wealthy dowager and his hospital boss.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”