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Suddenly Last Summer (Paramount 1959, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift)

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In Tennessee Williams’ drama, Elizabeth Taylor plays a disturbed young woman who witnesses the death of her rich cousin in North Africa. According to the death certificate, he had a heart attack: but the certificate also mentions that the body ‘was somewhat damaged’.

Taylor, babbling about ‘dreadful things’, is incoherent and unclear about the circumstances of his death and his mother, Katharine Hepburn, determined to protect her son’s reputation at any cost, has Taylor committed to an insane asylum, offering $1 million to the hospital for a lobotomy which will end Taylor’s ravings. But neurological surgeon Montgomery Clift has doubts about her condition and settles for less radical treatment. With increasing personal interest in his patient he arranges a family gathering and administers a truth serum under whose influence Taylor recalls the extraordinary circumstances of her cousin’s death…

From Taylor, Mankiewicz elicited what was probably her best, most concentrated performance, notably in her fine handling of the long and difficult monologues, and she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. There were excellent supporting performances from Albert Dekker (in one of his last screen appearances) and Mercedes McCambridge, but the vivid Gothic melodrama firmly belongs to its three perfectly-cast principals.

production details
USA | Paramount | 114 minutes | 1959

Director: Joseph L Mankiewicz
Writers: Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, from Williams’ play

cast
Albert Dekker as Dr. Lawrence J. Hockstader
Elizabeth Taylor as Catherine Holly
David Cameron as Young Blonde Interne
Joan Young as Sister Felicity
Katharine Hepburn as Mrs. Violet Venable
Gary Raymond as George Holly
Montgomery Clift as Dr. Cukrowicz
Mercedes McCambridge as Mrs. Grace Holly
Mavis Villiers as Miss Foxhill
Patricia Marmont as Nurse Benson
Maria Britneva as Lucy
Sheila Robbins as Dr. Hockstader’s Secretary
Gore Vidal as Audience Member at Operation
Eddie Fisher as Street Urchin (uncredited)

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