"Suddenly, Last Summer" is an American film based on a one-act drama by renowned playwright Tennessee Williams, author of "The Glass Menagerie," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Released in 1959 and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz ("All About Eve"), it stars Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.
Set in New Orleans in 1937, the movie opens with a scene of an insane asylum. Shortly thereafter we witness a woman being lobotomized. The operating room is in poor condition and clearly inadequate. The next scene introduces Dr. Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) as he argues with his boss, threatening to move back to Chicago if the hospital is not renovated. The boss presents Cukrowicz with a letter from wealthy society matron, Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn), asking for help with an urgent matter. The men infer that this wealthy woman may be able to solve their financial problems if they are able to help her.
Cukrowicz visits Violet Vendable at her mansion, and we see immediately that she is rich, beautiful, eccentric and powerful. She takes him to her wild, lush garden and tells him about her son Sebastian, a brilliant poet. He wrote one poem every year during his vacations with his mother, apparently a taxing, laborious undertaking for the emotionally delicate young man. Violet then tells Cukrowicz of Sebastian's death the previous summer as he was vacationing with his cousin Catherine in the Encantadas. She says Catherine went mad after the incident and is in a mental institution that refuses to keep her because of her violent outbreaks. Violet asks Cukrowicz to admit Catherine to the State Hospital and give her a lobotomy, hinting that she will finance hospital renovations in exchange for his doing so.
When Cukrowicz meets Catherine at the institution, she appears not so much crazy as confined. Cukrowicz sends away the nun supervising the visit and allows Catherine to smoke a cigarette, establishing a mood of friendship between the two. Catherine talks of Sebastian as rich and charming but says he used people as objects. She is too upset by her memories to tell the story of what happened the day of his death. Catherine comes to the State Hospital, and Cukrowicz allows her to wear her own clothes and have a room in the nurses' wing. She receives a visit from her classless and seemingly uneducated mother and brother, who inform her that Violet refuses to give them the $100,000 Sebastian willed to them until they sign the papers allowing Catherine to be lobotomized. Tension mounts as Cukowicz's boss pressures him to go ahead with the surgery so the hospital can receive Violet's donation, even though Cukowicz seems to believe Catherine is not, in fact, crazy.
The final scene takes place at Violet's mansion, where Catherine has a final chance to tell the story of Sebastian's death. Catherine says when she and Sebastian went to Encantades, they sat on the beach every day, she wearing a revealing white bathing suit, which she says Sebastian forced her to wear in order to lure young boys for him. She says these poor local boys kept coming back for the tips he would give them, hinting that they were prostituting themselves. One day they were eating outside at a restaurant and the boys swarmed around them, begging for food or money. They chased Sebastian, finally overcoming him and killing him, eating pieces of his flesh. When the story is over, Violet rises and, appearing to have gone mad herself, speaks tenderly to Cukrowicz as though he is Sebastian, and goes upstairs peacefully, after telling him to get out of the sun. Cukrowicz and Catherine walk away, arm in arm.
- "Suddenly, Last Summer"; Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Director; 1959
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