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Suddenly, Last Summer

Released Dec 22, 1959 1h 54m Drama LGBTQ+ List
68% Tomatometer 22 Reviews 83% Audience Score 5,000+ Ratings
In this adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play, young socialite Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor) is traumatized and committed after witnessing her cousin's violent death on a trip to Europe. Her aunt, Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn), wants to hide the events of her son's death and attempts to bribe young surgeon Dr. John Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) to perform a lobotomy on Catherine. But John vows to find out the truth about Catherine's state before taking any action. Read More Read Less
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Critics Reviews

View All (22) Critics Reviews
Kim Newman Empire Magazine Superbly adapted with blistering performances from Taylor and Hepburn. Rated: 4/5 Mar 23, 2011 Full Review TIME Magazine The main trouble with the picture is not its subject or its style, but its length. Mar 23, 2011 Full Review Dave Kehr Chicago Reader The cast packs enough sexual ambiguity to satisfy the most rabid Williams fan (not to mention a screenplay by Gore Vidal), but Mankiewicz leaves much of the innuendo unexplored -- thankfully, perhaps. Mar 23, 2011 Full Review Matt Brunson Film Frenzy Madness, homosexuality and cannibalism were just some of the ingredients that turned the picture into a cause celebre, with the end result alternating between stately serenity and outright hysteria. Rated: 3/4 Oct 11, 2021 Full Review Robert Hatch The Nation [Mankiewicz] has turned out a polished film, and one that deals boldly with the ugly theme, but he has certainly not wasted any subtlety on the job. Jul 27, 2021 Full Review Augusto Martínez Torres El Pais (Spain) This is the best film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' oeuvre. A prodigious work from Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift, and Elizabeth Taylor. This is one of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's best films. [Full Review in Spanish] Aug 8, 2019 Full Review Read all reviews

Audience Reviews

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Melissa L I believe this is a classic, yet the only movie I've seen with Elizabeth Taylor. She really was a beautiful actress. All the acting was great. I definitely recommend it. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 06/11/24 Full Review nick s It's painfully talky, with characters prattling on ad nauseum about past events. Even the A list actors were struggling to put in a good performance with the bloated script. Maybe the destination is good - I didn't get there so I don't know - but the ride is a bit of a snore fest. I think a lot of plays don't adapt well to screen, and this is one of them. And the art dept have no idea what a venus flytrap looks like :) Rated 3 out of 5 stars 10/24/23 Full Review Michael T A psychological drama based on Tennessee Williams' play. Good performances by Taylor and Hepburn, but it drags on way too long. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 10/21/23 Full Review Matthew B There is a pleasure in seeing a 1950s movie where I think of the lead actresses before I think of the lead actor. So many film focus more strongly on the male star that their name often pops into my head first, but with films such as All About Eve and Suddenly Last Summer it is the female stars that I remember best. This is the film of Katharine Hepburn and Liz Taylor, and then (to a lesser extent) Montgomery Clift. Suddenly Last Summer was more explicit in its treatment of the homosexuality of the unseen Sebastian Venable than had been in the case in two previous Tennessee Williams cinema adaptations which had included gay characters. How did the film get away with it in 1959? I am afraid the reasons are not nice. The Production Code gave permission for the film to allow Sebastian's homosexuality to be implied but not shown, and they even worked with the National Legion of Decency on making this agreement. It may be astounding to think that both of these conservative organisations consented to this arrangement, but they felt that the story was acceptable because Sebastian was punished for his sexual perversion. Yes, it seems that a homosexual character was acceptable if he met a terrible fate, and that cannibalism was more palatable to the censors than gay men. We could regard the film as being a moral tale about the evil consequences of homosexuality if it had not been written by a gay dramatist. Nowadays the audience are more likely to find Sebastian's fate to be harrowing, and to feel that if he was punished for his deeds, it was for his selfish and predatory nature rather than his sexual orientation. Nonetheless a film that features incestuous love, homosexuality, cannibalism and lobotomy was still heady stuff for 1959, and many were horrified. John Wayne said the movie was too disgusting even for discussion," and included it as an example of the kind of film that was "poison polluting Hollywood's moral bloodstream." Audiences flocked to see it, and the box office returns were good, but it may have been its notoriety that explained public interest in the film, something that was nicely boosted by a hostile review from Bosley Crowther. Time has been kinder, and nowadays it seems like a daring and original film, one of the more bizarre Tennessee Williams adaptations, held together by solid (if unspectacular) directing, strong acting performances and good source material. Not everyone will be happy with Vidal's deviations from the original play though – the asylum scenes, the hint of a love interest between Dr John Cukrowicz (Clift) and Catherine (Taylor), or the softened ending. While Tennessee Williams was a writer who often dwelt on melancholic and violent themes, Suddenly Last Summer is perhaps his most pessimistic vision of both nature and human nature. The play portrays a world in which life on the planet is governed by cruelty, predation and base instincts. I would call it a Darwinian view of life, but I personally think that Darwinism is about more than that. However the play is given some humanity by the presence of Dr Cukrowicz, the talented surgeon who investigates Catherine Holly's supposed insanity. Williams had himself received therapy, and felt grateful for the progress that he had made as a result. Perhaps it is for this reason that he casts a semi-therapist as hero, and gives him a name that means Sugar. If Cukrowicz is personally admirable, this does not mean that the world of mental health treatment is equally so. Catherine is trapped in a creepy asylum with bullying nurses and terrifying patients. The building itself reflects the nightmarish work that goes on inside. It is filled with shadows, and access to other floors is achieved via a twisted spiral staircase. The crux of the film is summarised in a story that Violet tells to Cukrowicz. During a previous summer holiday, Sebastian and Violet travelled to the Galapagos Islands (the connection to Darwinism is notable here). "Sebastian was looking for God," Violet informs Cukrowicz. What they see instead is the sight of sea turtles laying their eggs. The mother and son return to see the young turtles hatch, but they are confronted by a horrific sight. As the turtles emerge, thousands of them are devoured by hungry seabirds with barely any little turtles making it to the sea. We have a sense of Sebastian's cruel nature here. Violet recalls: ‘And I said, "Sebastian, no. No, (life)'s not like that." But he made me look. He made me see that terrible sight.' Sebastian declares that he has now seen God. What is being set forward is a vision of a cruel, godless world in which the powerful devour the weak. On the day when Sebastian dies in similar circumstances, we are told that the sun burned down "like the eye of God". It is not only animals and nature that lives according to primeval carnivorous instincts. So too do the human characters. They also devour one another, governed by primal urges. Hence Catherine's family agrees to her operation for motives of greed, and the medical institution is putting pressure on Cukrowicz to carry out the work because it means money for them. Violet and Sebastian share in this corruption too. Violet is willing to use her power and wealth to destroy her niece in order to protect her son's good name. Sebastian uses people. He used his mother, and ruthlessly discarded her when she was too old. Then he used Catherine for the same purpose. "Isn't that what love is?" she asks; "Using people?" Whatever problems the film had in its conception and reception, Suddenly Last Summer emerges as one of the better Tennessee Williams film adaptations today. It captured the stark and intense atmosphere of the play, and not even the attempts to tone the content down detracted from the final production. Whatever Catherine's final fate, I am glad that the film was not lobotomised. I wrote a longer appreciation of Suddenly, Last Summer on my blog page if you would like to read more: Rated 5 out of 5 stars 09/18/23 Full Review Daniel S Regardless of the genre or even the supporting cast or other contingencies, this film is flawless and bold on the strength of the script, direction, and scintillating performances by, in particular, Hepburn and Taylor. Films may be broader in scope or brighter or more adventurous but they don't get any better than these performances. On top of the artistic merit, the theme grapples with very difficult topics. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 09/01/23 Full Review j F Just wonderful acting. I'm not familiar with the original play, so it held my interest. It had a small troubled gay theme hidden away at the end. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 08/17/23 Full Review Read all reviews
Suddenly, Last Summer

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Movie Info

Synopsis In this adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play, young socialite Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor) is traumatized and committed after witnessing her cousin's violent death on a trip to Europe. Her aunt, Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn), wants to hide the events of her son's death and attempts to bribe young surgeon Dr. John Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) to perform a lobotomy on Catherine. But John vows to find out the truth about Catherine's state before taking any action.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Sam Spiegel
Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams
Columbia Pictures
Production Co
Horizon Films, Columbia Pictures Corporation
Drama, LGBTQ+
Original Language
Release Date (Theaters)
Dec 22, 1959, Original
Release Date (Streaming)
May 14, 2014
1h 54m
Sound Mix
Mono, Stereo
Aspect Ratio
35mm, Flat (1.85:1)
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