Suddenly, Last Summer (1960)

112 or 114 mins | Drama | January 1960

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HISTORY

The film’s opening and closing cast credits differ slightly in order. Suddenly, Last Summer was one of the two one-act plays by Tenneessee Williams that opened off-Broadway under the title Garden District . The other one-act play was entitled Something Unspoken . Williams’ play was more explicit in dealing with “Sebastian’s” homosexuality and his cannibalistic death. In a 25 May 1959 letter from PCA head Geoffrey Shurlock to producer Sam Spiegel, contained in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Shurlock told Spiegel that due to the homosexuality of the leading character, the explicit cannibalism and the blasphemous attitude toward God voiced by Sebastian and his mother, the film would be denied a seal of approval. In that letter, Shurlock suggested taking the finished picture to the appeals board for approval. Spiegel responded by saying that the homosexual "pays for his sins with his life," that all references to cannibalism would be eliminated (in the film, the word "devour" replaces references to cannibalism), and that no offense should be taken on religious grounds because the mother and son are "obviously psychopaths." Although the PCA file does not contain any specific references to the nature of the cuts, a Nov 1959 NYT article noted that Spiegel deleted unspecified scenes to win code approval, eliminating all explicit mention of homosexuality and cannibalism. Approval was finally granted after the matter was brought before the MPAA Code Review Board. According to a Dec 1959 HR news item, the National Catholic Legion of Decency criticized the MPAA for approving the film on the grounds that it involved ... More Less

The film’s opening and closing cast credits differ slightly in order. Suddenly, Last Summer was one of the two one-act plays by Tenneessee Williams that opened off-Broadway under the title Garden District . The other one-act play was entitled Something Unspoken . Williams’ play was more explicit in dealing with “Sebastian’s” homosexuality and his cannibalistic death. In a 25 May 1959 letter from PCA head Geoffrey Shurlock to producer Sam Spiegel, contained in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Shurlock told Spiegel that due to the homosexuality of the leading character, the explicit cannibalism and the blasphemous attitude toward God voiced by Sebastian and his mother, the film would be denied a seal of approval. In that letter, Shurlock suggested taking the finished picture to the appeals board for approval. Spiegel responded by saying that the homosexual "pays for his sins with his life," that all references to cannibalism would be eliminated (in the film, the word "devour" replaces references to cannibalism), and that no offense should be taken on religious grounds because the mother and son are "obviously psychopaths." Although the PCA file does not contain any specific references to the nature of the cuts, a Nov 1959 NYT article noted that Spiegel deleted unspecified scenes to win code approval, eliminating all explicit mention of homosexuality and cannibalism. Approval was finally granted after the matter was brought before the MPAA Code Review Board. According to a Dec 1959 HR news item, the National Catholic Legion of Decency criticized the MPAA for approving the film on the grounds that it involved “perversion.”
       According to HR news items, Vivien Leigh, who was initially to appear as “Mrs. Venable,” bowed out of the production to star in a West End London revival of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House . Following Leigh’s departure, Margaret Leighton was considered for the role. A May 1959 "Rambling Reporter" item in HR states that producer Sam Spiegel planned to have Bobby Helpman play the role of Sebastian. In the film, Sebastian’s image, photographed from the back, appears briefly as “Catherine” describes his death. Because his face is never shown, Helpman’s appearance in the film cannot be confirmed. Although a Mar 1959 item noted that Steve Forrest was cast, he does not appear in the film. Although HR news items add the following actors to the cast: Sandra White, Sheila Raynor, Rory McDermot, Brenda Dunrich, Roberta Woolley and Joseph Arthur, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Jake Wright Asst dir to the crew, but the extent of his participation in the film has not been determined.
       According to a Dec 1959 HR news item, location filming was done along the Costa Brava in Spain. A 1960 article in The Daily Mail noted that the village pictured in the film was the village of Bagur in Catalonia, Spain. The HR item noted that all references indicating that the film was shot in Spain were deleted at the behest of the Spanish government, which objected to the depiction of local youths devouring a man.
       The film was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor were both nominated for Best Actress, and the film was also nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration. According to modern sources, Hepburn did not get along with director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Hepburn objected to Mankiewicz's treatment of Montgomery Clift, who was suffering from alcoholic depression at the time of the production. She also objected to her washed-out appearance in her final scene, which was created by the director's insistence that she be shot in a harsh light without the benefit of makeup. Modern sources add that in a letter to Williams, contained in a collection of his unpublished letters sent to the playwright, Hepburn wrote that at the end of the production, she spit on the floor to express her contempt for the "botching of his play."
       In 1992, Columbia Pictures Television remade Williams’ play as a television movie, directed by Richard Eyre and starring Maggie Smith, Rob Lowe and Natasha Richardson.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
21 Dec 1959.
---
Box Office
28 Dec 1959.
---
Daily Mail
1960.
---
Daily Variety
16 Dec 59
p. 3.
Film Daily
16 Dec 59
p. 6.
Filmfacts
1960
pp. 319-21.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Mar 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Apr 1959
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Apr 1959
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
19 May 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
21 May 1959
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jul 1959.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Aug 1959.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Nov 1959
p. 1, 3.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Dec 1959
p. 1, 6.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Dec 1959
p. 1, 10.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Dec 59
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
20 Dec 1959.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
19 Dec 59
p. 524.
New York Times
6 Nov 1959.
---
New York Times
23 Dec 59
p. 22.
Saturday Review
2 Jan 1960.
---
Time
11 Jan 1960.
---
Variety
16 Dec 59
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Horizon Pictures (G. B.) Limited production in association with Academy Pictures and Camp Films
Sam Spiegel presents
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Editorial consultant
Assembly ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Const mgr
COSTUMES
Assoc cost des
Miss Taylor's ward
MUSIC
Mus comp
Mus comp
Cond
VISUAL EFFECTS
Photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Dial coach
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on Suddenly, Last Summer from Garden District by Tennesse Williams (New York, 7 Jan 1958).
DETAILS
Release Date:
January 1960
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 20 December 1959
New York opening: 22 December 1959
Production Date:
26 May--4 September 1959 at Shepperton Studios, England
Copyright Claimant:
Horizon Pictures (G.B.) Ltd.
Copyright Date:
1 January 1960
Copyright Number:
LP16407
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
112 or 114
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19409
SYNOPSIS

In 1937, at the Lyons View State Asylum in New Orleans, Louisiana, Dr. John Cukrowicz performs a delicate experimental surgery known as a lobotomy. After the primitive conditions at the institution nearly derail the operation, however, John threatens to return to his practice in Chicago. In response, Dr. Hockstader, the head of Lyons View, shows John a letter from wealthy widow Mrs. Violet Venable, offering financial assistance in return for a meeting with the venerable surgeon. That afternoon, John visits Violet at her mansion in the Garden District, where she makes a grand entrance by descending in an elaborate, cage-like elevator. John is surprised by his benefactor’s relative youth and by her obsession with her deceased son Sebastian. In the mansion’s jungle-like garden, which Sebastian modeled after Michelangelo's “Dawn of Creation,” Violet asks John to perform a lobotomy on her niece Catherine Holly, who she claims is suffering from visions and hallucinations. Catherine has been confined at St. Mary’s, but has offended the nuns who run the hospital with her violence and obscenities. Violet is particularly distressed by Catherine’s babbling a stream of obscenities regarding her son Sebastian, who Violet asserts, has “seen the face of God.” After Violet describes a trip with Sebastian to the Galapagos Islands, where they witnessed flesh-eating birds devour newly hatched sea turtles, she tells John that she traveled with Sebastian every summer, except for the last one, when Sebastian went with Catherine and died of a heart attack on the day that Catherine lost her mind. Because Violet implies that her contribution to Lyons View is contingent upon Catherine receiving a lobotomy, John goes ... +


In 1937, at the Lyons View State Asylum in New Orleans, Louisiana, Dr. John Cukrowicz performs a delicate experimental surgery known as a lobotomy. After the primitive conditions at the institution nearly derail the operation, however, John threatens to return to his practice in Chicago. In response, Dr. Hockstader, the head of Lyons View, shows John a letter from wealthy widow Mrs. Violet Venable, offering financial assistance in return for a meeting with the venerable surgeon. That afternoon, John visits Violet at her mansion in the Garden District, where she makes a grand entrance by descending in an elaborate, cage-like elevator. John is surprised by his benefactor’s relative youth and by her obsession with her deceased son Sebastian. In the mansion’s jungle-like garden, which Sebastian modeled after Michelangelo's “Dawn of Creation,” Violet asks John to perform a lobotomy on her niece Catherine Holly, who she claims is suffering from visions and hallucinations. Catherine has been confined at St. Mary’s, but has offended the nuns who run the hospital with her violence and obscenities. Violet is particularly distressed by Catherine’s babbling a stream of obscenities regarding her son Sebastian, who Violet asserts, has “seen the face of God.” After Violet describes a trip with Sebastian to the Galapagos Islands, where they witnessed flesh-eating birds devour newly hatched sea turtles, she tells John that she traveled with Sebastian every summer, except for the last one, when Sebastian went with Catherine and died of a heart attack on the day that Catherine lost her mind. Because Violet implies that her contribution to Lyons View is contingent upon Catherine receiving a lobotomy, John goes to St. Mary’s to interview his prospective patient. There, Catherine insists that she is sane and portrays Violet’s relationship with her son as unnatural. When John asks her about Sebastian’s death, Catherine becomes hysterical and is only able to recall a white-hot beach and the pounding noise of tin musical instruments. John arranges for Catherine to be transferred to Lyons View, where Hockstader informs him that Violet has agreed to donate $1,000,000 on the condition that John lobotomize Catherine. At Lyons View, Catherine is allowed to wear her own clothes and live in the nurses’ wing. When Catherine’s mother Grace and brother George come to visit her, Grace tells John that Violet was shaken after receiving a letter from the authorities regarding Sebastian’s death. After Grace asks to speak to her daughter alone, John leaves the room, and once he is gone, George confides to Catherine that Sebastian left them $100,000 in his will, but that Violet has decided to block probate until Grace signs the consent form for the lobotomy. Distraught, Catherine runs from the room and blunders into the men’s ward, where her presence sparks a riot. After being rescued by an attendant, Catherine asks John if he plans to lobotomize her, and he appeals to her to trust him. Once she is sedated, Catherine mumbles about Sebastian’s appetite for blondes and his treatment of people like “items on a menu.” Violet then comes to speak to John, and after handing him a volume of Sebastian’s poetry, explains that each year during their summer travels, Sebastian would write a poem. When John asks her about the letter from the Spanish authorities, she vehemently denies receiving it and says she was sent only a death certificate. John then asks Violet to see Catherine, who is just awakening from her sedation. When Violet accuses Catherine of usurping Sebastian’s affection, Catherine retorts that he used them both as procurers, and after Violet became too old and unattractive, he decided to use Catherine as his bait. Becoming hysterical, Violet implores John to “cut that hideous story out of Catherine’s brain,” then faints. Agitated, Catherine wanders onto the balcony of the women’s ward and is about to jump when an attendant restrains her. Pressured by Violet, Hockstader insists that John perform the lobotomy the following day, but John asks him for one last chance to jar Catherine’s memory. The next day, John, Hockstader and a nurse escort Catherine to the Venable home, where John has arranged to meet Grace and George. After administering truth serum to Catherine, John leads her into the garden and prods her to remember what happened that last summer. After recalling that Sebastian suddenly announced that he was taking her and not his mother to Europe, Catherine revisits the events of that fateful summer: As they traveled through Italy, Sebastian became increasingly restless, and by the time they reached Spain, he had abandoned his nighttime soirees for afternoons at the public beach. One day, Sebastian forced Catherine to wear a bathing suit that when wet, became transparent. As men came to leer at Catherine’s body, hungry young boys swarmed Sebastian, who passed out tips to lure them into the bathhouse with him. While Catherine and Sebastian were seated at a restaurant one blazing white day, hungry boys, barred from the establishment by a wire fence, began calling for bread. After Sebastian derided them as little beggars, the children began to serenade them with tin cans and brass plates. Agitated, Sebastian stormed out of the restaurant and started up a steep street, walking faster and faster in panic. Chased by the urchins, Sebastian became trapped in a maze of narrow streets. After ascending a “steep white street,” Sebastian found himself in some ruins at the top of a hill where he was overtaken and devoured by the frenzied crowd. Upon completing her recitation of that terrible day, Catherine finds that her memory has suddenly been restored. The revelation about her son’s true sexuality is too much for Violet, however, who loses her mind and comes to think that John is Sebastian. John calms Violet, then returns to the garden where he takes Catherine’s hand and hand in hand, they walk toward the house.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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