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Entries in Suddenly Last Summer (6)


Quick Take: Gore Vidal on Film

Variety recently announced that Kevin Spacey is to bring Gore Vidal to our screens in a Netflix original film. Directed by Michael Hoffman (dir. The Last Station), Spacey might be the most perfect casting, and judging by some coded, jovial remarks at the Tony Awards this year, may relish a role like this.

Vidal's life has previously been on screen in documentaries: Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia and Best of Enemies, about his combative relationship with William F. Buckley.

Vidal: Writer, bon vivant, public intellectual and unapologetic homosexual has a rich, albeit chequered history in cinema. Screenwriter for the frenzied Suddenly, Last Summer, debauched bloodbath Caligula and his own notorious novel Myra Breckinridge was adapted into X-rated 1970 film.

And as uncredited writer of Ben-Hur, he was responsible for those lingering glances between Stephen Boyd and Charlton Heston - not that Heston ever knew that...


Visual Index ~ Suddenly Last Summer (1959)

This week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot episode is devoted to the film adaptation of Tennessee William's Suddenly Last Summer (1959) in which a brain surgeon (Montgomery Clift) whose hospital is in dire need of cash is enlisted by a filthy rich woman (Katharine Hepburn) to perform a lobotomy on her niece (Elizabeth Taylor) because that niece keeps telling lies about her dead gay son. Got that? That's just the kick-off to the crazy.

This sensationalistic film, which was the third and final onscreen pairing of bosom buddies and immortal stars Taylor and Clift, was nominated for three Oscars: Two Best Actress nominations and Art Direction.


Cinematography by Jack Hildyard
Shots are displayed in their rough chronological order. Click on the shot to read the corresponding article.
11 Shots Selected By 12 Participants

Click to read more ...


Elizabeth Taylor in "Suddenly Last Summer". Oh how that star burned.

This is an episode of Hit Me With Your Best Shot

"Suddenly... last summer" is spoken so often in Suddenly Last Summer (1959), Joseph L Mankiewicz & Gore Vidal's adaptation of Tennessee Williams play, that it starts to take on a kind of trancy grandeur. The actresses retreat inward, psychologically, in the thrall of their own theatricality, the overheated jungles of art direction around them, and surely their good fortune to be playing Tennessee Williams characters.

my favorite scene in the film

To a minor degree the repetition of "suddenly...last summer" is not unlike the effect of Rita whispering "Mulholland Drive" like an incantation in Mulholland Dr. The comparison seems apt since both films are batshit crazy sexually charged nightmares in which a beautiful brunette has selective amnesia issues.  But let's not drift away to 2001. We stay in 1959. And two beautiful brunettes is exactly what I want to talk about since Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor loom large in my own movie fantasies, as two of my all time favorite actors. 

Suddenly Last Summer might seem dated in some respects as psychological films often do as science progresses but Elizabeth Taylor's star power hasn't aged a day. She's impossible to look away from and aces the tricky role of Catherine Holly, a woman who is fully sane but goes a little mad sometimes... and not just from the PTSD she's clearly suffering. Taylor is a smart enough actress to go for gray shadings in both Catherine's sexuality and psychology even when the gorgeous lighting by the Oscar-winning cinematographer Jack Hildyard (The Bridge on the River Kwai) is so high contrast and her monologues go so extremely black (the absence of memory) or white (the blazing white beach where her trauma began).

more after the jump

best shot

The beach was very white. Oh how the sun burned. It was like the eye of God watching us, burning, burning. There was no air that day. The sun had burned up all the air. Outside it was like inside a furnace.

And then they came...

This image seizes me. Elizabeth in the sun; Monty eclipsed. 

Which you might say is true of the movie. Both Actresses were Oscar nominated but Monty is constantly overshadowed. I'd argue that his is this adaptation's most difficult role because there's so much less to work with that it's easy to disappear as the surgeon ricochet's between two madwomen. He's best in this, his first scene with Liz; they loved each other dearly offscreen and their chemistry always blazed. It's a long duet in which he coaxes her towards memory and they flirt and spar not a little. The structure of the scene will be somewhat mirrored in the film's climax, Catherine's memory returned.

By contrast Monty practically disappears in his scenes with Katharine Hepburn, where he goes frustratingly blank even when the role suggests so much more than he's giving, particularly in Violet's insistent refrain that he is like Sebastian, her dead (gay) son, in this way or, undoubtedly, that. 

runner up images after the jump if you're a completist or so inclined to consider more options...

Click to read more ...


Best Shot Schedule - Final Episodes

The first half of the 5th season of "Best Shot" began with the most robust participation ever. I hope we can kick it back up to that notch for these final  episodes. Here's what's on tap so adjust your queues and join the fun... 

we're risking two enigmas in a row...

Tues July 22nd UNDER THE SKIN (2014)
Scarlett Johansson arrives in alien form in this hypnotic visually driven and disturbing motion picture from disappearing act Jonathan Glazer (Birth, Sexy Beast). If you saw it in theaters you'll want to revisit and if you didn't, you're in for a unique experience. [It arrives for rental and sale on DVD/Blu-Ray on July 14th.]

Tues July 29th CRIES & WHISPERS (1973*)
Since we're celebrating 1973 all July to coincide with the Smackdown, here's your Best Cinematography winner. Ingmar Bergman's extraordinary movie about sisters and death. Cheerful! 

*IMDb lists this as a 1972 picture claiming it was released in '72 in the States (and it's true it was nominated for the Golden Globes that year). I haven't done the research but that's mighty confusing since that would seemingly make it ineligible for Oscar play in 1973. It premiered in Bergman's own Sweden in March of 1973 and was a huge out of competition sensation at Cannes in May in 1973 and was up for five Oscars for 1973 (by some accounts, it was Bergman's biggest hit of all time stateside) so I consider it a 1973 picture. Curiously Sweden made no submission for the Oscars in 1973 though this film would probably have trumped the beloved winner, Truffaut's Day For Night.  

Tues August 5th TBA

Tues August 12th SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (1959)
I've been waiting for an opportunity for us all to jump in on Anne Marie's "A Year with Kate" action, so here's our most visually elaborate chance. Her awesome series hits this landmark gothic this week. Since the Tennessee Williams films was directed by four time Oscar winner Joseph Mankiewicz (All About Eve) and stars Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor (both nominated for Best Actress!) and Montgomery Clift that's five great artists of the cinema all grouped together for our sensationalistic amusement in this insane story of predatory homos, evil mothers, and more... with some of the best taglines the cinema ever gave us outside of Susan Hayward pictures:

...suddenly last summer Cathy knew she was being used for something evil!"

The one they're all talking about"

These are powers and passions without precedent in motion pictures."

[Amazon Instant | Netflix | iTunes]

August 19th TBA

August 26th TBA

September 2nd TBA - SEASON FINALE

Any suggestions. It gets harder and harder to find movies readily available on multiple platforms now that Netflix keeps losing Instant Watch titles beyond endless B to Z grade movies and doesn't care about their DVD business. Can you believe that Collateral, for example, which is only 10 years old is not available for rent on Amazon or iTunes? And not Instant Watchable on Netflix either. I wanted to do that one but I don't think enough people would participate given its bizarre scarcity.


"Erotic Vagrancy"

As only La Liz can do it (on the set of Suddenly Last Summer.)

It was the Vatican that coined that infamous phrase about Elizabeth Taylor 'descending into erotic vagrancy' around the extended time of her leisurely multiple year abandon with Richard Burton during the Cleopatra years. That movie was filming forever and when it began the public was still reeling from the Reynolds /Fisher /Liz triangle. The "insult" was published in the Vatican Newspaper but online searches have only found numerous references to it but no images (was it a front page headline befitting the Giant-ess?) and I'd love to read the whole text, wouldn't you?

But my-oh-my... it's almost like Taylor's estate should thank the Vatican, because it's such a wonderful compliment for an Iconic Screen Siren and it stuck. People, not just me, still reference it 50 years later!

Which brings us (sort of) to today's 'Taylor Tribute of Note' from Tim Robey in The Telegraph on her defining big screen image.

If there’s an archetypal Taylor scene we could focus on, it’s the image of her sprawling in bed. One suspects she felt most comfortable acting when not having to stand, since most of her key roles furnish ample excuse to take to a four-poster, a sofa or a chaise-longue in a pose of either seduction, wailing decrepitude, or occasionally both.

Wonderful piece, a must read.


Tennessee 100: "Suddenly Last Summer"

Robert A. here (of Distant Relatives). When Nathaniel asked us to pick a Tennessee Williams based film and write about it, my first instinct was the pick something I’d seen again and again and thus could write with authority. Unfortunately all of those films were quickly scooped up and I thought, why not take the opportunity to explore one I’d always wanted to see but hadn’t gotten around to. Why did I want to see Suddenly, Last Summer?



Of course, Tennessee Williams films are often saturated in dripping sexuality.

Cue the crotchety old man in me saying “In my day, when films couldn’t show two people hopping in the sack, they were sexier.”  But in the case of Williams, it’s true. Consider shirtless desperate Marlon Brando shouting out for his lover in Streetcar or Eli Wallach seducing Carrol Baker in Baby Doll. This wasn’t every day sexuality winkingly eluded to to get past the censors. This was dangerous stuff.

Which finally brings me to Suddenly, Last Summer which stars Montgomery Clift as a psychiatrist hired by Katharine Hepburn to analyze, diagnose (and lobotomize) Elizabeth Taylor who has been hopelessly manic since witnessing the sudden death of her cousin Sebastian (Hepburn’s loving son) "last summer".

death haunts those conversations about last summer.


Made just a year after Cat on a Hot Tin Roof had every suggestion of Brick’s homosexuality purged, and knowing writer Gore Vidal claimed the studios made him do much of the same I went in expecting no less. Perhaps the innocence of the 50’s was still in full swing but from Taylor’s blunt declaration that Sebastian used she and his mother as “decoys” to attract desperate men, to the production design which covered Sebastian’s study with pictures and sculptures of naked men, the “undertones” seemed more like overtones.

To be gay would be shocking enough for audiences in 1959. But Sebastian’s predatory nature and the details of his grizzly murder add up to a kind of vampire sexuality where characters are at the complete whims of their urges, easily seduced, uncontrollably impassioned, set in a world explicitly characterized as one where the chaos of nature has free reign and we’re all victims in the making waiting to be devoured. My introduction to Suddenly, Last Summer was also my initiation into the most shocking of Tennessee Williams.

not the kind of action Sebastian was looking for

Suddenly Last Summer is actually a one-act play and, as such was not a Broadway outing for Tennessee in it's original run, double billed with another one-act. The film version won 3 Oscar nominations (art direction and a double Best Actress for Taylor and Hepburn. They lost to Simone Signoret in Room at the Top) There are no other feature film versions though there was a televised BBC production in the 90s with Maggie Smith (Emmy nominated), Rob Lowe, Richard E Grant and Natasha Richardson.