SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (1959) B/W widescreen 114m. dir: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
w/Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Albert Dekker, Mercedes McCambridge
Tennessee Williams' recurrent themes of perversion and greed are reworked again. The play concerns cannibalism and homosexuality, but both are muted in the film version. Catherine Holly (Taylor) is having a breakdown because of the events of last summer, when she accompanied her homosexual cousin, Sebastian Venable, on his vacation and witnessed his death. Dr. Cukrowicz (Clift) is hired by Sebastian's mother (Hepburn) to commit Catherine to an asylum and perform a lobotomy on her, but he wants to get to the bottom of the mystery before he commits to the drastic surgery. Uneven but, nevertheless, an effective film.
From The Celluloid Closet by Vito Russo: "The Breen Office [which censored screen content from 1934 until the mid-1960s], in a meeting with producer Sam Spiegel and screenwriter Gore Vidal, cut all direct reference to homosexual relations. 'My script was perfectly explicit,' Vidal says, 'and then the Catholic Church struck.' The Legion of Decency, after seeing that the necessary cuts were made, gave the film a special classification: 'Since the film illustrates the horrors of such a lifestyle, it can be considered moral in theme even though it deals with sexual perversion.'
"Sebastian Venable, it was decided, would not appear in the flesh. According to Vidal, he was to be 'a glimmer, an occasion for memory.' With this decision, Hollywood achieved the impossible; it put an invisible homosexual on the screen.
"In the January 1960 Films in Review, the critic Henry Hart discussed the genesis of Suddenly Last Summer, in which a young woman is used by her older cousin to attract boys when his mother becomes too old for that purpose. 'It is said,' Hart wrote, 'that Tennessee Williams wrote Suddenly Last Summer when a psychiatrist advised him that for his own sake --- not to mention society's --- he had better stop denigrating normality and begin to expose the evils of homosexuality and its allied forms of vice.' This Williams certainly did, whether or not the advice came from a doctor. Williams' tortured view of a failed homosexual artist and the people he victimizes with his abnormal desires is a classic horror story. Having used first his mother, in this case literally his mad creator, and then his cousin (Elizabeth Taylor) as bait for his affairs, the creature is finally destroyed by an angry mob of street urchins in a climax not much different from that of James Whale's Frankenstein, in which the peasants pursue the monster to the top of a hill, where fire engulfs him.
"Sebastian Venable is presented as a faceless terror, a horrifying presence among normal people, like the Martians in War of the Worlds or the creature from the black lagoon. As he slinks along the streets of humid Spanish seacoast towns in pursuit of boys ('famished for the dark ones'), Sebastian's coattail or elbow occasionally intrudes into the frame at moments of intense emotion. He comes at us in sections, scaring us a little at a time, like a movie monster too horrible to be shown all at once. The piecemeal images of his retreat through the 'white-hot cobblestoned streets' as he is hunted by his grimy victims suggests that he must die, finally, at the hands of the society he has exploited and outraged."