Review: Suddenly, Last Summer

Blu-ray: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

1937, in New Orleans, Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn, who apparently spat in director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s face after his poor treatment of Montgomery Clift on set), a rich widow from a prominent local family, invites celebrated ‘Lobotomy’ doctor Cukrowitz (Montgomery Clift) to her home to discuss a huge donation to the mental hospital he works at. She talks in a florid and nostalgic way about her son Sebastian; a poet who died under mysterious circumstances in Spain the previous summer. However, the money has a condition attached to it: the Doctor must perform  a lobotomy on Catharine (Elizabeth Taylor), her niece, who has been confined to a private mental asylum at her expense since returning to America, after spending the summer with Sebastian.  Mrs. Venable is eager to ‘shut her up’ once and for all, as she continues to babble about Sebastian’s violent death’ .

Based on a play by the great Tennesse Williams, this is his usual fare of repressed sexuality/homosexuality, hysterical women, moody men and hot weather.  The screenplay was by Gore Vidal, who is rather similar to Williams in his subject matter.

Long hailed as a classic, this is an unusual film because of its story. It never overtly states that Sebastian is procuring young boys for sex, but it is made obvious.

Elizabeth Taylor is her usual incandescent self, and is without a doubt the star of the story, always the most beautiful woman. She recalls how she and Sebastian spent their days on the beach in the Spanish town of Cabeza de Lobo. On one occasion, he drags her reluctantly into the water, causing the fabric of her white bathing suit to become transparent. Here she glows and is slightly unhinged while a group of boys start grabbing at her only to be  intercepted by Sebastian. Catherine comes to realize that he is using her to attract these boys in order to proposition them for sex.

The final scene of Catherine’s description of Sebastian’s death is fraught. She describes how he is finally cornered among the ruins of a temple on a hilltop by these ‘abused’ boys, and as Catherine reaches him she sees him overwhelmed by the boys. To her horror and revulsion, they begin to tear him apart and eat his flesh.

In short an unmissable if BONKERS film.

INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:

• 4K restoration from the original negative
• Original mono audio
Joseph L Mankiewicz Interview(1990, 10 mins): the renowned filmmaker discusses his career in a segment from the French TV series Cinéma cinémas
Elizabeth Taylor on Montgomery Clift(1966, 2 mins): the celebrated actress pays tribute to her friend and co-star shortly after his tragic death in July 1966
Gary Raymond on ‘Suddenly, Last Summer’(2018): a new interview with the versatile British actor
About Last Summer(2018, 16 mins): second assistant editor John Crome shares his experience of making Suddenly, Last Summer
Remembering Last Summer(2018, 3 mins): continuity supervisor Elaine Schreyeck recalls working with Mankiewicz, Hepburn and Clift
The Predator and the Prey(2017, 26 mins): critic and film historian Michel Ciment examines the film’s production and explores its complex themes and concerns
• Isolated music and effects track
• Original theatrical trailer
• Trailer commentary with Dan Ireland (2013, 3 mins): a short critical appreciation
• Image gallery: on-set photography, publicity stills and promotional materials
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Samm Deighan, a set report from Films and Filmingmagazine, a profile of production designer Oliver Messel, Tennessee Williams on Suddenly, Last Summer, a statement by producer Sam Spiegel, contemporary reviews, and film credits
• UK premiere on Blu-ray
• Limited Edition of 3,000 copies

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Review by Tina (co-host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Powerhouse Films.