Suddenly, Last Summer

I love that Montgomery Clift would star in Suddenly, Last Summer. Just like the main characters of the film, Clift’s sexuality seemed to be very fluid, plus he traveled through Europe with his mother as a child. To star in a movie where the main character fits this profile and then is ripped apart by Greek savages by the end of the movie was probably a little hard. 

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Suddenly, Last Summer is a really weird movie. On the surface it seems to be trying to make a positive statement about classism, and prejudice based on sexuality. Like, “don’t beat up gay guys” and “sometimes rich people are really selfish.” But underneath those overt meanings, there is a weird, Fruedian ideology behind the whole thing that I couldn’t quite make out.

Sebastian is the gay (unstated), poet son of a wealthy widow named Katherine Hepburn. They do everything together, including going on elaborate trips all over Europe. When his mother isn’t well and Sebastian is accompanied by his cousin Elizabeth Taylor, he dies a brutal death that sends her to the mental hospital. Here is an Oepidal complex gone horribly wrong. Sebastian’s attachment to his mother, his mother’s devotion to him, and the absence of a father in his life has led him to have no desire for his mother as a sexual object. He has no reason to be jealous of his father, because his father’s out of the picture. Instead, Sebastian has his mother fully to himself, no need to mimic his father in order to be near her (and women like her). Instead, the forbidden object that Sebastian is kept from – in his insulated family life – is a man. Thus: homo. 

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And I know the film ran up against censorship problems and could never actually say that Sebastian was gay (could only imply that he was getting blow jobs from young boys in the bathroom. much more appropriate for American audiences) but the exclusion of Sebastian’s explicit homosexuality makes his sexuality seem dirtier, something to be ashamed of, more closeted than the film implies Sebastian actually was. Because while Katherine Hepburn never tells anyone that Sebastian is gay, he clearly puts himself out there on his travels. 

Which brings up another problem. Sebastian has no control over his sexuality. He forces his mother and his cousin to attract men for him (men that would be, I guess, equally attracted to him as they are to scantily clad, hott ladies). This contributes to Elizabeth Taylor’s madness: Not only is he a gay; he’s a selfish gay!

As for class, the rich seem to be secretive, closeted, selfish, and elitist…but they are also way more bearable than the middle class. Elizabeth Taylor’s mom and brother are said middle class and they’re just as selfish as the rich, but whiney about it since they don’t have anything to show for it. It seems like the only way to be classy in this film is by being the adorable beneficiary of a gay cousin and an overbearing aunt. 

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And the movie is completely racist. He’s torn apart by a bunch of Poor Savage Greeks. (who may or may not like giving him blow jobs.)

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What sucks is that Suddenly, Last Summer is awesome. I don’t quite know how to evaluate it based on implicit pscyhoanalysis. I know that it’s entertaining, the acting is really really great, and each monologue is riveting. I don’t know what to do with that.

12 Comments

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12 responses to “Suddenly, Last Summer

  1. brian

    i saw half this movie on tcm a while ago. i think they played four elizabeth taylor movies in the same day.

    mankiewicz makes some pretty crazy movies.

  2. I just put a bunch of his movies on my netflix queue. I haven’t seen many of his big ones (Cleopatra and Julius Ceasar) because I’m afraid of them being too long, but I’m going to give it a try.

    Have you seen Carne’s Children of Paradise? I think I’ll post about it later. It was really cool, but kind of weird, like this one.

  3. brian

    i haven’t seen that one.

    cleopatra, while sometimes slow, is insane. there’s this long part where cleopatra first shows up in rome that indescribable. but my favorites are all about eve, the barefoot contessa, a letter to three wives and the ghost and mrs muir.

  4. kat

    i totally saw this at a tennessee williams film festival, it was all adaptations of his plays and screenplays. it was freaking awesome. katharine hepburn is so f-ing crazy…
    but i also just finished reading giovanni’s room, and the panicked internalized homophobia in that actually reminded me a lot of the characters williams wrote in this.

    it is scary that such a confused and multiply-offensive film is so so good.

  5. Bob

    Hi- just a comment. I think that Sabastian is killed in Spain- not Greece. There is apparnetly a place Cabeza de Lobo near San Sabastian in Spain. So it has a kind of double meaning. On top of that Cabeza de Lobo means “Wolf’s Head”- adding to the recurring image of predators in the film. I watched this movie today and I was looking around the Internet for comments about it and found your site!

  6. Bob

    also- St. Sebastian’s image is a well known homosexual icon, particuarly images of his martyrdom.

  7. Daryl

    The character names are not Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. Katherine Hepburn plays Mrs. Violet Venable and Elizabeth Taylor plays Catherine Holly.

  8. SNAFU

    In the original play, Sebastian is never called a Homosexual. It is implied. This is not unique to the movie. Most of Tennesee Williams plays revolve around a gay man who is most often dead. Streetcar Named Desire, Blanch’s fiance is a gay man who kills himself, as is Brick’s friend Skipper in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

  9. He wasn’t giving those boys blowjobs. He was eating them off. “He was done with the dark ones, hungry for the blondes”.

  10. i believe its a very good psicho-analyisis written story…enyojed the movie …very intriguing , when movie makes you intrigued enough that you cant go to toilet to piss afraid to miss important scene then it is a good movie, though i do not know who wrote the scenario….but i will go look now.greeting from croatia..and I will click on commercial if u have one here cause i do that every time I visit a wordpress site, may I offer you to transfer your site to my server then you get money from commercials .

  11. Eva

    It’s Spain, not Greece…and I like the analogy someone made to Giovanni’s Room.

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