Suddenly, Last Summer [1959]

This black-and-white film adaptation of Tennessee Williams's Southern gothic play is perhaps more famous for the rumored off-screen shenanigans of its stars than for its over-the-top repressed sexuality (only Williams could pull off that paradox, and pull it off he does). Supposedly, stars Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor battled for screen time; Hepburn warred very publicly with director Joseph Mankiewicz; and a postaccident Montgomery Clift relied heavily on painkillers and support from friend Taylor during the grueling shoot. Even this, however, cannot top the events of the film itself, revolving around the unseen playboy Sebastian and his mysterious death, which has something to do with young boys, a decadent European vacation, and Taylor in a provocative wet, white bathing suit. To give away the plot would spoil the fun, but suffice it to say that what Taylor saw was so horrible it drove her nuts, and Sebastian's mother (Hepburn) wants her to have a lobotomy in order to keep it from coming out; Clift is brought in to do the procedure. It's all a hoot and a holler, but as played by the two leading ladies (both of whom nabbed Oscar nominations), it's also compelling, chilling, and utterly gothic. Taylor gives a fierce performance, as the climaxing monologue that reveals Sebastian's "secret" rests entirely on her shoulders, and Hepburn plays brilliantly against type as Sebastian's manipulating, overbearing mother. Only Clift, saddled with a dreary character in charge of plot exposition, fails to deliver. Adapted by Gore Vidal. --Mark Englehart

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