Joseph Mankiewicz‘s Suddenly Last Summer is good for one thing — the stills of 27 year-old Elizabeth Taylor that were taken during filming. She was still slender back then, or a couple of years away from that Cleopatra-era plumpness (heavy drinking + pasta) that began to overtake her features in ’61. Taylor was always a well-respected actress (Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Butterfield 8), but she always seemed to be conspicuously “acting.” I always found her voice shrill and grating on some level, especially when called upon to show anger or outrage and emotional distress. But from the early to late ’50s she was quite the visual package.
Suddenly Last Summer ends with a shocking revelation about Taylor’s mentally unstable character having witnessed her gay cousin, Sebastian Venable, being eaten alive — cannibalized — by a pack of feral young boys.
The bizarre finale was obviously intended as some kind of metaphorical condemnation of gay sexuality. Sebastian’s rich mother (Katharine Hepburn) is so appalled and disgusted by suspicions of Sebastian’s lifestyle that she wants Taylor lobotomized in order to suppress any notion that the cannibal incident happened. It’s quite ugly and joyless, this film. Rage, repression, self-loathing.
From Wikipage: “Following A Streetcar Named Desire (’51) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (’58), Suddenly, Last Summer was the third Williams film that dealt with the subject of homosexuality, although it was far more explicit in its treatment than either of the previous films were allowed to be under the Motion Picture Production Code. Working in conjunction with the National Legion of Decency, the Production Code Administration gave the filmmakers special dispensation to depict Sebastian Venable, declaring, ‘Since the film illustrates the horrors of such a lifestyle, it can be considered moral in theme even though it deals with sexual perversion.”
The horrors of such a lifestyle! No wonder Tennessee Williams disavowed any direct participation, even though it was based on a 1958 one-qct play he’d written for an off-Broadway venue. The play was adapted for the screen by Gore Vidal.