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Entries in Tennessee Williams (17)


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

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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...

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Podcast Part 2: A Smackdown Conversation w/ Melanie Lynskey

ICYMI  Part One of this Podcast & The Smackdown Itself

Starring: Actress Melanie Lynskey, the original creator of the Smackdowns Brian Herrera (aka StinkyLulu), and your regulars Nathaniel R,  Joe Reid and Nick Davis

Smackdown 1964 - A Companion Conversation Pt. 2
00:01 Back From Intermission & Joe freaks out over Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte
04:05 Bette Davis and Baby Jane
07:30 Agnes Moorehead totally divides us
13:30 The Night of the Iguana and its repressed lesbian
16:30 Melanie talks subtext, chemistry and shares an acting pet peeve
20:50 Nathaniel demands a remake and we cast it
24:00 Ava Gardner and Richard Burton GIF-ables
31:20 Not Nominated: Glynis Johns, Irene Papas, and Gloria Foster
34:10 A parting question for Melanie Lynskey

You can listen at the bottom of the post or download the conversation on iTunes. Continue the conversation in the comments.

Her new film Happy Christmas (co-starring Anna Kendrick, Joe Swanberg, and Lena Dunham) is currently available OnDemand and iTunes and opens in limited theatrical release at the end of July.

Anna Kendrick & Melanie Lynskey in Happy Christmas (2014)

(It's funny and endearing. Writer/Director Joe Swanberg really loves his characters and his actual baby son is one of the best babies you'll ever see in a movie -- so much personality!)

Smackdown 64 Companion. Part 2


Interview: Sarah Paulson's 12 Years of Breakthroughs

There are few things in cinema more satisfying than watching those with true gifts prosper and develop. Overnight sensations are exciting but watching careers that build slowly, continually showing new facets and amassing fans piecemeal is a richer experience. Such is the case with the actress Sarah Paulson. With her key role as Mistress Epps in the likely Best Picture contender 12 Years a Slave and her starring role on the anthology series American Horror Story (returning to TV tomorrow night), it's time to get our appreciation on.

I first noticed her in that undersung fanciful homage to 1960s romcoms Down With Love (2003) though her carer stretches back into short-lived television gigs in the mid 90s. When we sat down to talk recently, I confessed to Paulson that I had been completely intimidated by her when I met her at a party for Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011). I had no explanation for this - at the time she hadn't played anything as scary as her plantation wife. "You had an inkling," she mused suggesting I had seen Mistress Epps coming.

But who could have? Who knew she had that in her?

Herewith our conversation...

NATHANIEL:  12 Years a Slave is a big moment in your career but it's not your first "breakthrough" really. I'm wondering about how you experience these things internally. When did things change for you, personally, as an artist? 

Sarah Paulson & Jessica Lange. They've got history

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Stage Door: "Picnic" Packs a Lot of Starpower

Occasionally on Mondays, Broadway's "dark" night, or uh... It's Wednesday (oops!)... we'll talk theater.

As I sat waiting for the revival of William Inge's "Picnic"  to begin in its new Broadway run, I noticed that I couldn't keep my mitts off of Sebastian Stan. Playbills can get so smudgy if you keep pawing at them but it couldn't be helped with his face so blown up big on the program. The collection of actors onstage was about to experience the same handsy problem with Sebastian Stan as "Hal" the hunky drifter in this classic drama about the power of beauty and the complications of sexual attraction. Only it wasn't his face they wanted to rub themselves all over.

No sooner had the play begun than Ellen Burstyn was talking him out of his clothing (please to note: Sebastian Stan has been working out. A lot. God bless, presumably, Captain America: The Winter Soldier in which he'll square off with Chris Evans as his former friend 'Bucky' now resurrected/brainwashed as an arch enemy.) He spends the better part of the three act play sweaty and shirtless or half sweaty-shirted if you will.

more after the jump...

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Biopics With No Oscar Heat?

Here at the Film Experience we probably complain too often about Oscar's absolute obsession with the biopic genre. One reason we hate this that we don't talk about much is that the films don't tend to age well. If you don't believe me try watching all the Oscar nominees from any particular year in a single lead acting or Picture category. Guarantee that 9 times out of 10 the bio in the mix is the one most likely to cure your insomnia.

Because of annual biographical awards love  it's easy to forget early in each new film year that Oscar history is littered with bios that didn't catch on. I was just thinking about this because today is the Centennial of the Ty Cobb related Detroit strike. Cobb (1994), which you can watch on YouTube, was Tommy Lee Jones' chaser to his Oscar winning turn in The Fugitive. Come to think of it another Detroit related biopic Hoffa with Oscar's beloved Jack Nicholson also sank (mostly) with Oscar. Perhaps Detroit is an Oscar jinx for biopics? I'm calling it now: whoever plays Aretha Franklin when they get around to that biopic will be snubbed.

Which biographical films heading our way do you have the least faith in? Spielberg's Lincoln, Alfred Hitchock and the Making of Psycho with Anthony Hopkins, The Girl (another Hitchcock picture) with Toby Jones, Hyde Park on Hudson, Lovelace, Steve Jobs biopic written by Aaron Sorkin, Barbara Jordan biopic starring Viola Davis, Caught in Flight (Naomi Watts as Princess Diana), All is By My Side (Andre 3000 as Jimi Hendrix), Untitled Dr Seuss project with Johnny Depp. Etcetera. Which do you care about?

P.S. And how do you feel about Logan Marshall-Green playing a young Tennessee Williams in the Jena Malone headlined Carson McCuller's biopic Lonely Hunter? I don't have strong feelings for LM-G as of yet but Tennessee Williams is my all time favorite playwright. Have you ever read Carson McCuller's classic novel "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter"? So so so good.




Tennessee 100: Baby Doll

Andreas from Pussy Goes Grrr here, with a last-minute postscript to Tennessee Williams Week.

Sweaty, conflicted sexuality? Check. A seedy, decaying southern setting? Check. Characters who alternate wildly between decadent hedonism and harrowing descents into madness? Yes, we're in pure Tennessee Williams country with Elia Kazan's Baby Doll, starring Carroll Baker as the titular 19-year-old minx. She's married to Archie Lee Meighan (Karl Malden), the hot-tempered owner of a local cotton gin, and together they live in a rural mansion called Tiger Tail that, like their respective families, has seen better days.

This creaky house, considered haunted by the locals, plays a role similar to that of the cramped tenement in Kazan's adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire. It helps define the film visually with its labyrinthine corridors, piled high with the detritus of the past, and it's the perfect setting for the psychosexual slapstick antics of Baby Doll and her would-be seducer, Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach). Vacarro—a Sicilian interloper who's new to the area—suspects Archie Lee of burning down his cotton gin, and he's willing to resort to some hanky-panky in order to secure proof.

So begins an absurd, twisted battle of the wills, in which the line between economic and sexual success gets blurred to the point of invisibility. Read the full post.

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"Maggie the Cat is Alive!"

Tennessee Williams Centennial Week Wraps

Maggie the Cat, the sex-starved slip-covered wife at the heart of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (discussed earlier this week) is not just alive, she keeps coming back to life. True to her feline symbolism she's had several of them, eight bigs ones actually. Who will risk playing Maggie the Cat's ninth major life and how soon will that be?

Here is a history of the key Maggies for those who love the play... or just if you like to see major actresses in their lingerie. Have you ever seen a production of this play anywhere or just the 1958 film? Do tell in the comments. Would love to hear Tin Roof stories.

1955 ~ Original Maggie

Barbara Bel Geddes, originated the role on Broadway in the 1956 and won a Tony nomination. (She lost to Julie Harris in "The Lark"). Other Key Roles: I Remember Mama (1947, Oscar nomination. Lost to Claire Trevor in Key Largo), "Midge" in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), "Mary, Mary" on Broadway (1961, Tony nomination), and "Miss Ellie Ewing" on Dallas (1978-1990, 3 nominations/1 win at the Emmys)

1958 ~ Legendary Maggie


Elizabeth Taylor slinked, steamed, pawed and nagged her way to consecutive Oscar nomination #2 in the 1958 film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Suddenly Last Summer was Oscar nom #3 in 1959. Then a win for her fourth consecutive nomination for BUtterfield 8 (1960). Many more Liz photos in the gallery section of the site. If you've been away, catch up on the Liz commemorative posts.

Elizabeth is not the only two time Oscar winner who played Maggie. Lots of stars have slinked around in that white slip: Jessica Rabbit, a Dreamgirl, and even one of Elizabeth's few rivals in 60s Movie Superstardom. 

1974 ~Cognoscenti's Maggie

Elizabeth Ashley's early 60s film breakout gave way to a highly acclaimed theatrical career with lots of guest starring TV roles on the side. She won raves and a Tony nomination for the sexually charged 70s revival of Broadway. People Magazine featured her in their Stage section at the time.

'I was one of those people who became a 'star' very young, and I turned into a monstrous human beging - Bessie von Bitch, they called me. I was in analysis forever.'

She now sees herself as made for the stage - 'a leading woman who can handle anything they've got, but God knows I'm not a movie star.'

Other Key Roles: The original Corie from Broadway's Barefoot in the Park (Jane Fonda got the movie role); "Mollie" in Take Her She's Mine" (1962 Tony Award); Monica in The Carpetbaggers (1964, Golden Globe nomination); Jenny in the Best Picture nominee Ship of Fools (1965); Recently played Mattie Fae in August: Osage County (replacement).

Jessica Rabbit, a Dreamgirl and some crazy oroborus-style Jessica Lange trivia after the jump.

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