Sunday, August 16, 2009

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Katherine Hepburn keeps Liz Taylor locked in an asylum to prevent her from telling the truth about her son's mysterious death. That's kind of an odd movie just from the premise, isn't it?

Montgomery Clift is Dr. Cukrowicz, a neurosurgeon who has been asked to perform a lobotomy on the disturbed niece of the wealthy Violet Venable, a grieving mother who was totally obsessed and in love with her son Sebastian, who had died last summer. Usually, Violet and Sebastian would on vacation during the summer, but on his final trip, he instead asked his cousin to go, where she witnessed his death. Upon meeting Violet's niece Catherine, it is apparent that she is only being kept away so she doesn't tell anyone about the way her son died. What follows is Dr. Cukrowicz digging to uncover the truth and hopefully set Catherine free from the trauma that is affecting her.

This film is particularly odd in structure, since it mainly centers around a few key scenes that are almost monologues on the part of either Violet or Catherine. But it certainly allows for the showcasing of some fantastic acting. Katherine Hepburn is brilliant in the role, portraying a woman that is full of wit and intelligence, but also hopelessly, unnaturally devoted to her son at one point referring to them as a couple, how no one ever said "Mrs. Venable and her son" or "Sebastian and his mother", but instead "Violet and Sebastian, Sebastian and Violet". She'll do anything to preserve the memory of her son, even if it means subjecting Catherine to a lobotomy to shut her up.

Elizabeth Taylor is equally as great, having to play a damaged young woman who is being told by everyone around her that she is insane, and possibly beginning to believe them as she deals with the shocking truth about her beloved cousin Sebastian and how he truly felt about her.

The actual resolution to what happened with Sebastian is shocking, but also unbelievable. But I think this has less to do with the quality of the film and more to do with the limitations that the filmmakers undoubtedly encountered in bringing the topics and themes from Tennessee William's play to the screen. If they had been allowed to say everything they needed to say, than the outcome probably would seem less out of left field.

Overall the film is fantastic, especially if you are a fan of the two leading actresses, because this is essentially a platform for them to deliver some brilliant (and Academy Award nominated) performances, as well as serving as a meditation on the brutality of humanity and other themes that were most likely shocking for its time.

No comments:

Post a Comment