Suddenly Last Summer

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Release date: Dec. 20, 1959

Based on: Suddenly Last Summer (1958 play by Tennessee Williams)

Directed by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift

Budget: $3 million

Box office, $6,375,000

Wealthy widow Violet Venable insists her niece, Catherine, be evaluated and given a lobotomy by psychiatric doctor John Cukrowicz after the girl goes insane during a vacation with her cousin

Suddenly, Last Summer is a fascinating film, throwing at its audience eccentric characters wrapped up in a bizarre and grotesque mystery. It’s a slow ride to the the inevitable reveal of what happened while Catherine and Sebastian were on vacation, yet its slow pacing allows for the film to be meticulous in setting up all the pieces required for the climax to be as effective as it is. Throughout the film arranging these fragments, it’s clear to the viewer Venable knows more than she’s letting on, Catherine is sane though repressing memories she doesn’t want to relive and the truth behind the entire plot is darker than what Cukrowicz could ever imagine.

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All the characters within the family are interesting. Venable clearly values her family’s name and legacy, seen in the lengths she’s willing to go in order to keep it from being tarnished. Further, Catherine’s mother and brother, Grace and George Holly, might not be as boorish as Venable makes them out to be, though they are not saints either. Their first scene involves them picking over the deceased Sebastian’s clothes like vultures and later shown to care more about receiving a large sum of money than whether or not Catherine is mentally well. In fact, the most human out of all them is Catherine, troubled because of her experiences, struggling to be believed by anyone and unsure of what to do.

In the center is Dr. Cukrowicz, a man beset on one side by Venable and on the other by the hospital administrator, both of whom want a lobotomy given to Catherine as soon as possible for their own reasons. Nevertheless, his efforts to uncover the truth are engaging especially since he has no motivation for doing so other than figuring out the truth. Rather, his struggle against the pressure is notable for how simply acquiescing and performing the surgery would be more beneficial to him and the hospital. His efforts towards piecing together the mystery and moving towards the climax are just as intriguing to watch as the unfolding of the film’s secrets.

This film may not be for everyone, but does provide a good mystery for anyone with a penchant for darker themes.



David di Donatello Awards

  • Golden Plate (Elizabeth Taylor, for her performance)

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Actress - Drama (Elizabeth Taylor)

Golden Laurel Awards

  • Top Female Dramatic Performance (Elizabeth Taylor)

National Board of Review, USA

  • Top Ten Films


Academy Awards

  • Best Actress in a Leading Role (Katharine Hepburn)

  • Best Actress in a Leading Role (Elizabeth Taylor)

  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black and White

Bambi Awards

  • Best Actress - International (Katharine Hepburn)

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Actress - Drama

Golden Laurel Awards

  • Top Female Dramatic Performance (Katharine Hepburn)

  • Top Score