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Suddenly, Last Summer

Suddenly, Last Summer(1959)

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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 May 25, 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 November 1959 New York Times 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 December 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, the National Catholic Legion of Decency criticized the MPAA for approving the film on the grounds that it involved "perversion."
       According to Hollywood Reporter 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 Hollywood Reporter 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 March 1959 item noted that Steve Forrest was cast, he does not appear in the film. Although Hollywood Reporter 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 Assistant Director to the crew, but the extent of his participation in the film has not been determined.
       According to a December 1959 Hollywood Reporter 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 Hollywood Reporter 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.