Here’s something the casual viewer, like me, probably doesn’t know about Suddenly, Last Summer: the movie is bonkers. Based on the Tennessee Wiliams play, it tells the story of a traumatized young woman (Elizabeth Taylor), an eccentric widow (Katharine Hepburn), and a doctor specialized in lobotomies (Montgomery Clift). At one point or another, Suddenly, Last Summer’s plot delves into homosexuality, incest, and cannibalism (I know one of those things is not like the others, but they were all taboos back in the late fifties). Thanks to the delightfully campy performances by the three leads (although Clift is much more subdued, and thus not as fun as the women), and the directorial eye of the always reliable Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Suddenly, Last Summer is full of memorable, over-the-top moments, and makes for an incredibly pleasure experience.
The fact that it is based on a stage play contributes to this, but there is is really no doubt in my mind that Suddenly, Last Summer’s biggest strength as a movie is that it knows how to put on a show. The movie knows that we’ve come here to see Elizabeth Taylor be a psychologically tortured victim, and Katharine Hepburn as the equivalent to the evil queen, and it could’t be more pleased to present them to us. This is evident in my choice for “Best Shot”, which is the first time we see Hepburn’s character, and what a way to meet her. Character introductions can be powerful and telling when they are done right. In this case, Hepburn descends from the heavens, in some sort of luxurious elevator, as some sort of goddess that has decided to grace us with her presence. This is all of course relevant in the way it describes the character’s mentality (she says so herself moments later). For the characters of the movie, she ends up being much more devil than heavenly presence, but for us, cinephiles and lovers of good ol’ movie-star acting, there couldn’t be a better present.
You can see other picks for the “Best Shot” of Suddenly, Last Summer if you head over to The Film Experience, the website where this wonderful series is hosted.