Wednesday, 9 March 2016

I've Just Seen: Suddenly Last Summer (1959)

Suddenly Last Summer (1959)

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Many films promise a shocking secret at the heart of their stories, a horrible event in the past that continues to haunt the remaining characters. Unfortunately, often the secret is not shocking, either because you have guessed it by the end of Act One, or it proves to be rather more limp than you had hoped. The secret at the heart of Suddenly, Last Summer is still a shock over fifty years later, and part of that is the centrality of topics we think of as taboo in 1950s cinema. If it sounds like I am tip-toeing around the subject, it is because this film deserved to be seen as clean as possible so the horror of the situation is able to sink in.

The performances of the cast as all great, particularly a wonderfully brittle turn by Katherine Hepburn as Violet Venable, a woman so deep in denial about the truth surrounding her son. Montgomery Clift is post-car crash here, but his subdued portrayal of Dr. John Cukrowicz works well as he gathers evidence about the truth, and exhibits genuine sympathy for Elizabeth Taylor's Catherine Holly. Taylor is the third part of this tense triangle, and arguably has the hardest job of portraying a young woman haunted by awful memories. While she occasionally threatens to fall into histronics, she is great in the third act, finally revealing the terrible secret.

The film doesn't seek to shake off its theatrical origins, with its many long scenes; the meeting between Violet and John in the garden goes for over twenty minutes. These allow the characters to breathe, telling us about themselves and each other, and increasing our curiosity over the unspoken secrets. Prepare to be frustrated and slightly creeped out.

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