Suddenly Last Summer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, USA, 1959)

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Suddenly Last Summer is another of those films i seem to have been aware of my whole life but had never seen until now. It’s an extraordinary work, like three extended arias, a medium one by Hepburn at the beginning, a long one by Taylor through most of the middle, and then a coda by Hepburn once again as she goes up the lift and into madness. Taylor throws herself into the role and is quite extraordinary. But it’s Hepburn who is thrilling, an acting lesson for anyone interested in the subject, her line readings a work of art on their own. Mankiewicz films most of it in clever long takes that have a rhythm and find increasing intensity in extraordinary close-ups. Clift is sad to see, like a distorted dissolve of his previous self, and is there mainly as ‘straight man’ to set the context and feed the lines so that two great actresses can soar. The dialogue is self-consciously poetic, beautifully stylised, and yet one is lulled into…cannibalism, rape, madness, exploitation, cruelty. It’s quite something.

The film is almost incantatory, like a hallucinogenic.; the language is extraordinary; Mankiewicz’ direction is under-rated. And Hepburn is really in a league of her own. I can’t imagine even Bette Davis doing something so fine.

As for Taylor, can anyone think of another box-office queen who at the peak of her stardom performed Shakespeare, Williams, Albee, Rattigan, Marlowe and Dylan Thomas in major motion pictures?

The image in this Indicator edition is lovely, rich, deep black and whites with a whole array of greys in between. A wonderful ‘print’.

José Arroyo

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