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Sunday, May 1, 2016

"Suddenly, Last Summer" (1959)

Just another one of those Tennessee Williams family dramas involving murder, incest, blackmail, psychosis, and cannibalism. A musical it ain't. But if you're in the mood for two of the great screen divas going for the jugular and for broke, this vehicle does nicely, thank you. Katherine Hepburn is an ultra-rich dowager still mourning the death of her mannered, aesthete, and clearly gay son, Sebastien, from a year prior. She wants to enlist a brain surgeon who specializes in lobotomies (Montgomery Clift) to work his special scalpel skills on her niece (Elizabeth Taylor) who was with her son at the time of his mysterious death. Mute the niece and you mute the Terrible Secrets that will surely be spilled by the final act. Screenwriter Gore Vidal does an admirable job of expanding Williams small one-act play. This being the late 1950's, a lot of the Gran Guignol aspects of the plot are merely hinted at, but enough of the playwright's purple dialog and lurid shocks still pack a wallop. Audiences went to it in droves and for good reason. Hepburn is chillingly frightening as the gorgon of all mothers who had one creepy relationship with that son. Clift is merely passable (this was a charity role from his post-accident career phase gifted to him by Taylor), but she shines as the hysterical ingenue on the brink of mental collapse. And who can forget her now iconic presence in that white bathing suit on the beach right before the final horrific denouement?

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