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  

Melancholy observation

As the baseball season slowly winds to a close, it occurs to me that this is the first season of my entire life that I haven't watched a Cub game in the living room of my girlhood home.

2013 August Happiness Challenge -- Day 20

Don. Don is the age-appropriate man at the health club who insisted on talking to me today. He has heavily-lidded eyes (Italian?) and slight balding at the crown. We were on the elevator together as he was leaving the gym and I was beginning my workout. We joked about how we'd both do better to use the stairs, to make it part of our workouts, but we don't. Then we talked about our exercise routines ...

At any rate, he was flirting with me and it was nice to not feel invisible. So many of the men at my office are young enough to be my children. Men that I pass on the street seem to not see me anymore. Some of it is my age, much of it is my weight.

If I never see Don again -- and in a city this size that's very likely -- it made me happy to flirt again.

Another day

I'm beginning to assume that my job is safe for now. I think our new management -- both internationally and in Chicago -- are getting to know one another before deciding what to do.

It's mind boggling to think of all the change that's happened in the last two months: we were part of a multinational merger, with tons of talk about "conflicts" and "efficiencies"* … one CEO resigned and the very day it was announced a new one took his place ... our top creative resigned, leaving on the 31st, and a search has begun to replace him. And I thought summer was traditionally a slow time!

Of the 375 people who work in this office, approximately 90 of us are creatives. So I suppose it's possible that if cuts come, they will come from other areas.

What does all this mean? Hell if I know.

I guess I just have to try to roll with it. "Rolling with it" is not one of my natural gifts.

*Corporate speak for layoffs