Suddenly, Last Summer

by Andrea Elizabeth

is a 1956 movie I caught on one of those local lesser channels the other late afternoon. It stars Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Montgomery Clift, 3 years after the car accident and subsequent plastic surgeries and self medication. He still looked good though. I think it portrays, with beautiful, if stark, dialogue written by Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal, certain viewpoints common to the pre-civil rights, feminist modern era.

That isn’t to say that Katherine Hepburn’s character, Violet Venable,  isn’t a force to be reckoned with. Neither are Elizabeth Taylor’s (Catherine’s) powers. But both of them would concede that the dead son/cousin, Sebastian’s powers of being a poetic soul and liver of life, however dependent he was on the two women to achieve his goals of universal understanding and other men, were greater. Back then women were considered back seat drivers, indirectly and discreetly escourting men through life.

What I like about the movie is its honesty and frankness, with which only Montgomery Clift, psychiatric neurosurgeon Dr. Cukrowitz, is strong enough to handle. He gives honest, but hysterical Catherine the strength to deal with it too, while Violet is exerting her inherited power to cover it up.

What I don’t like is Catherine’s dependence on the Dr.’s romantic interest to be part of his bolstering. But it is part of her character’s love/hate relationship with her own powers of attraction.

The worst thing about the movie ***spoiler***  is the prejudice against poor and Latin young men. Their primitive tribal brutality, albeit provoked by Sebastian’s usery, uncompensated for by his throwing money at them, is the ultimate villain, not Sebastian’s flaws, of the story.

I suppose I should explore tribal brutality. I know “primitive” cultures do/did things we would consider gross and savage like eating bugs, and scalping people. I forget what the philosopher’s term “noble savage” entails. So I’ll look it up. I like what Benjamin Franklin had to say towards the middle of this Wikipedia article,

Benjamin Franklin, who had negotiated with the Indians during the French and Indian War, protested vehemently against the Paxton massacre that took place at Conestoga, in western Pennsylvania, of December 1763, in which white vigilantes massacred Indian women and children, many of whom had converted to Christianity. Franklin himself personally organized a Quaker militia to control the white population and “strengthen the government”. In his pamphlet Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America (1784), Franklin deplored the use of the term “savages” for native Americans:

Savages we call them, because their manners differ from ours, which we think the perfection of civility; they think the same of theirs.

Franklin used the massacres to illustrate his point that no race had a monopoly on virtue, likening the Paxton vigilantes to “Christian White Savages'”. Franklin cried out to a just God to punish those who carried the Bible in one hand and the hatchet in the other: ‘O ye unhappy Perpetrators of this Horrid Wickedness!'”[25] Franklin praised the Indian way of life, their customs of hospitality, their councils, which reached agreement by discussion and consensus, and noted that many white men had voluntarily given up the purported advantages of civilization to live among them, but that the opposite was rare.”

 

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