Friday, January 22, 2010

Katharine Hepburn vs. the New Wave

The passage of time leads to some movies losing their shock value, despite still being pretty darn good movies. Such is the case with the 1959 film Suddenly, Last Summer, which is airing at 6:00 AM ET tomorrow on TCM. The ending must have been shocking to viewers back in 1959, but today, it's more the main story that might surprise people.

Elizabeth Taylor stars as Catherine, a young woman who went to Europe for an extended vacation with her cousin. However, her cousin died on vacation, which has necessarily caused stress for poor Catherine. Enter Catherine's wealthy aunt Violet Venables (Katharine Hepburn), the mother of the deceased cousin. She has apparently learned the truth that Catherine knows about her son's death, and she doesn't want that truth to come out for whatever reason. So, she's put Catherine in a sanatarium to which she is a major donor, and is trying to pressure the doctors into giving Catherine a lobotomy, with the obvious intent to wipe the memories of the son's death out of Catherine's mind forever. This, frankly, is more shocking today than the ending.

Enter Dr. Cukrowicz, played by Montgomery Clift. He doesn't yet know the secret of the young man's death that's led to Mrs. Venables to want to lobotomize her niece, but he's determined to investigate to try to figure out whether or not Catherine really needs the lobotomy. Eventually, the truth will out, and if anybody, it might be the old aunt who belongs in an institution....

The two possible shortcomings that this movie might have are the fact that the subject material has become dated, and that there's a lot more dialogue than action. In fact, that shouldn't let you have a lesser opinion of the film. While I'm not a particularly big fan of any of the three leading stars, all of them do give good performances. Also, the flashback scenes in Europe are very stylistically done, reminiscent of something like the dream sequences in Spellbound. It's also made it to DVD, and the fine folks at Amazon only seem to be charging five bucks for it. Not a bad pickup if you ask me.

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