Wednesday, August 21, 2013

2013 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: Suddenly, Last Summer

For decades – beginning with National Velvet (1936) – Elizabeth Taylor was a major film star. One of the things I admired most about her was that seemed to regard “movie queen” as her job. She accepted her status, seemed comfortable with the perks and demands, and often used her power very wisely.

Because her multiple marriages and health problems were so notorious, Taylor's work is often, unfortunately, overlooked. Look at her films of the late 1950s through the late 1960s, when she was at the height of her bankability and celebrity, and you’ll find quite a few that were more daring than typical box office fare. Many of these movies would not have been made if Elizabeth hadn’t signed on early and fought for them. These films entertained, provoked and challenged both the actress and her audience.

During this 10-year period – the high-water mark of her long career – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is far and away the best film. But there were also Raintree County, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, BUtterfield 8, The Comedians, Reflections in a Golden Eye, Hammersmith is Out and Boom! These provocative movies tackled adult themes like race, sexuality, prostitution, child abuse, infidelity, mental illness and political barbarism. They didn't all end successfully (she herself would dismiss some as "turkeys"), but each began with an impeccable literary pedigree -- coming from works by the likes of Tennessee Williams, John O’Hara and Graham Greene -- top-notch costars and a talented director.

While none of the above was safe fare, the one farthest out of the mainstream was Suddenly, Last Summer. It was released in 1959, but even if this story was made today, it would leave the movie going public in shock.

I can just imagine audiences -- who were watching I Love Lucy and Bonanza at home and listening to Dion and The Belmonts on the car radio -- filing into theaters over that last Christmas holiday of the Eisenhower 1950s. To them, Suddenly, Last Summer probably seemed like a safe bet for a few hours of quality entertainment. After all, it boasts sure-handed direction by Joseph L. Mankewicz and an amazing, Oscar-recognized cast – Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift, Mercedes McCambridge and, as the tormented Catherine, Elizabeth Taylor.

But what this film delivers is anything but safe. Suddenly, Last Summer takes us into a Southern Gothic world fueled by greed, corruption, deception and lust. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that it starts out with a wealthy New Orleans matriarch (Hepburn) trying to bribe a doctor (Clift) to lobotomize her inconvenient niece (Taylor) … and it gets really dark from there.

Exactly how weird is the plot to Suddenly, Last Summer? Let me illustrate by sharing a true story. I once had a boyfriend who was not a classic movie fan. (Honestly, he thought Audrey and Katharine Hepburn were sisters.) Yet somehow he had a better cable package than I did. I’ve always been fascinated by Suddenly, Last Summer, so when the opportunity arose I asked him to tape it for me. “What’s it about?” he asked. I hit the high points: cannibalism, procurement, insanity and sea turtles. To which he replied, “No, really. What’s it about?”

Okay, now we’ve established that Suddenly, Last Summer has to be seen to be believed. So give it a chance. It's an enthralling, eccentric nightmare where no one is as they seem but everyone speaks so beautifully … a world populated by heavyweight acting champions, where Monty Clift officiates as Taylor and Hepburn go toe to toe, and Kate’s the one who blinks.

TCM will show Suddenly, Last Summer 
at on August 23 at 10:00 PM (EST).
For more blogathon entries, visit  


  1. It took me a couple of viewings to really "get" what was going on when I watched this one. Even so, I just loved watching Kate and Liz go toe-to-toe. Kate may blink, but only because it was written in the script.

    In large part, both women were playing their stages of life: Liz young, beautiful, speaking truth to power, but without enough power of her own to triumph without help. Kate the aging grande dame who'd lost none of her power, was secure in her position, and wasn't giving an inch and never would. The other stuff was just window dressing. Really disturbing window dressing.

  2. I love what boliyou said: "Kate may blink, but only because it's written in the script." I think that's great. Have you seen the publicity picture of the actors mock fighting backstage. It's hilarious - Hepburn's posed like she's about to smack a terrified Taylor to kingdom come!

  3. I love this post!

    This movie is so incredibly weird. And I love it.

    Thanks again for participating in the blogathon.