The remarkable Olivia de Havilland turns 100 years old today. And it tickles me deeply and sincerely that we share the same birthday July 1st, so while I should be celebrating my own turn of the wheel, I felt it important to join in with so many others who recognize de Havilland’s enormous contribution to cinema and whose lasting grace and beauty still shines so effervescently.
And so… I’d like to pay a little tribute to a few of my favorite performances of this grand lady!
Olivia de Havilland won the Academy Award for Best Actress in To Each His Own (1946)and The Heiress (1949) and nominated for her incredible performance in The Snake Pit (1948), Hold Back the Dawn (1941), and Supporting Actress as the gentle, stoic but powerful strong Melanie in Gone With the Wind (1939).
Olivia de Havilland never shied away from taking on challenging roles, whether she played the archetypal ‘bad’ woman or the ‘good’ woman this astonishing actress could convey either nature with the ease of a jaguar who stirs with inner pride and purpose.
She still possesses that certain inner quality that is a quiet, dignified beauty whose layers unravel in each performance. Consider her heart wrenching portrayal of the emotionally disturbed Virginia Stuart Cunningham thrown into poignant turmoil when she finds herself within the walls of a mental institution but doesn’t remember her husband (Mark Stevens) or how or why she is there. It’s an astounding performance in director Anatole Litvak’s The Snake Pit (1948)
The New York Film Critics awarded Olivia de Havilland Best Actress for The Snake Pit (1948). She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a leading role.
Olivia de Havilland threw herself into the role of Virginia by getting up close and personal with mental health treatments of the time. She observed patients and the various modalities that were used in these institutions like, doctor/patient therapy sessions, electric shock therapy and hydrotherapy and attended social events like dances within the institution.
Here’s just a mention of some of my favorite performances by this great Dame of cinema, who as Robert Osborne so aptly spoke of her “… the ever present twinkle in her eyes or the wisdom you sense behind those orbs.”
Reunited with Bette Davis she and Olivia play sisters Stanley and Roy Timberlake, in director John Huston’s In This Our Life 1942 where Bette steals Roy’s fiancée (George Brent).
In director Robert Siodmak’s psychological thriller The Dark Mirror (1946)Olivia de Havilland plays duel roles as dichotomous identical twins, one purely good the other inherently evil.
With Montgomery Clift in director William Wyler’s The Heiress 1949 Oilvia de Havilland plays the timid & naive Catherine Sloper who falls under the spell of opportunist Morris Townsend (Clift).
In director Stanley Kramer’s melodrama Olivia de Havilland plays doctor Kristina Hedvigson who gets involved with the egotistical Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum) in Not as a Stranger (1955)
George Hamilton, Olivia, Rossano Brazzi and Yvette Mimieux on the set of Light in the Piazza (1962) filmed in Florence Italy. de Havilland plays Meg Johnson whose daughter having suffered a head injury has left her developmentally challenged. Both mother and daughter are seduced by the romantic atmosphere of Florence.
Now we come to a very powerful performance that of Mrs. Cornelia Hilyard one of Olivia’s most challenging roles as she is besieged upon by psychotic home invaders, James Caan, Jennifer Billingsley, Rafael Campos, Jeff Corey and Ann Southern who hold the uptight American matriarch in her gilded house elevator when the electricity goes out and the animals get in, in Walter Grauman’s brutal vision of the American Dream inverted. Lady in a Cage (1964)
Olivia de Havilland replaced Joan Crawford when tensions built on the set of the follow up to What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? 1962, the Grande Dame Guignol psychological thriller. Olivia de Havilland brought her own wardrobe and was not a stranger to pulling out the darker side of her acting self, portraying in my opinion perhaps one of the most vile and virulent antagonists the cunningly evil Cousin Miriam in director Robert Aldrich’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte 1964
Happy Birthday Grand Dame Olivia de Havilland… You are what puts the shine in the word ‘star’ forever vibrant and beloved by your fans and this girl who is honored to share your birthday! Hope it’s a grand day! Your EverLovin’ Joey
1 (of a person, action, or idea) showing an ability to take risks; confident and courageous: a bold attempt to solve the crisis | he was the only one bold enough to air his dislike.
• dated (of a person or manner) so confident as to suggest a lack of shame or modesty: she tossed him a bold look.
“I am my own woman” –Eva Perón
(source edited)- by Jürgen Müller‘s for TASCHEN’s Movies of the 60s- “Like no other decade before or since, the 60s embodied the struggle against a jaded, reactionary establishment. As the Vietnam War dragged on, the protests grew in scale and intensity. Revolution ran riot, in the streets and on the silver screen. The movies of the epoch tell tales of rebellion and sexual liberation, and above all they show how women began to emancipate from their traditional roles as housewives or sex bombs…”
Drew Casper writes, “Some films still styled along classic lines while others simultaneously embodied both the old and new approaches… Stirred the placid waters of the classical with grittier degrees of realism with their accompanying darker sensibilities.” –Postwar Hollywood 1946-1962
Women like Jane Fonda, Anna Magnani, Simone Signoret, Audrey Hepburn, Ann Bancroft, Piper Laurie, Angie Dickinson,Bette Davis, Joanne Woodward, Patricia Neal and so many more became iconic for breaking the old mold and grabbing a new kind of individualism without judgement and new kind of self expression.
Barry Keith Grant writes in American Cinema of the 1960s-“The decade was one of profound change and challenge for Hollywood, as it sought to adapt to both technological innovation and evolving cultural taste.”
And of course the films I’m covering here. These films began to recognize an audience that had a taste for less melodrama and more realistic themes, not to mention the adult-centric narratives with a veracious Mise-en-scène…
PS: I would have included Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby but that is my favorite film and plan on doing a special post in honor of this brilliant timeless masterpiece… and Mia’s quintessential performance.
As a little glance into a portion of cinematic history over the decade of the burgeoning sixties -The following are particular favorites of mine… Bold & Beautiful ‘as is’ and Beyond need of Redemption!
Elmer Gantry is always chasing dreams and always telling dirty stories is the smooth talking traveling salesman, brought to life by Burt Lancaster who portrays his character with a bit more sensuality than Sinclair Lewis‘ cold predatory con man. Gantry is a hard drinking provocateur and a lady’s man. Raised by a father who quoted verse, he has a swift grasp of the Bible and uses it to insinuated himself into Sister Sharon’s hell fire traveling road show. Though he is a skeptic, he sees a great light in Sister Sharon and the potential to fill the coffers with riches!
The sublimely beautiful Jean Simmons is as ethereally angelic as she is a pure sensuality. Sister Sharon Falconer is a young revivalist in the style of Aimee Semple McPherson. Sharon is at first righteous and unwavering in her convictions, she begins to awaken unto the spell of the charming and bigger than life Elmer Gantry. Elmer starts out poetically ruthless as he insinuates himself into Sharon’s life, until she loses her firm grip on her faithful mission and their attraction blossoms into a physical one.
One night he craftily sweet talks Sharon’s virginity away from her, though she is a very willing participant ready to be freed from the confines of her stifling religious prison.
Sharon struggles with her identity as a pious figure and a sexually aroused woman. Simmons is an actress of fine distinction who can work with that duality bringing to the screen a role with great complexity. She is also stuck in between the conflict that ensues between Elmer and her manager Bill Morgan (Dean Jagger) who doesn’t like nor trust Gantry’s influence over Sharon.
Sister Sharon created herself from nothing and is now pragmatic and independent with a vision to capture the world, by building a temple for the people so she can share the good word of God. No more traveling as a revival side show attraction. She is brave, dedicated and faithful to the end. And I won’t spoil the ending– at least I will say that she is a true believer and a real woman filled with passion on both sides of the coin. She allows herself to be seduced by Gantry, yet still is fiercely dedicated to building her own tabernacle so she may offer comfort and inspiration to those in need.
Shirley Jones is fabulous as Lulu Banes who was first seduced by Gantry while she was the Deacon’s daughter now…. a call girl from Elmer’s tawdry past, who tries to rake up a little gossip and cash as payback for Mr. Gantry ditching her. Okay, there’s some blackmail involved when she sees the opportunity because there’s sour grapes as Gantry left Lulu in the lurch, with a broken heart. But in the end, Lulu’s got integrity. She’s plucky, and has some of the best lines in the film and hey she’s not only a call girl… she a nice girl…
She’s so lovable that Shirley Jones won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress that year!
It’s interesting to hear that it took actor Author Kennedy to get Simmons potted on milk and gin before she felt comfortable enough to do the scene where the revival tent catches fire and flaming debris is falling around her head.
Both Jean Simmons and Shirley Jones caught the spirit in this film!
Elmer Gantry wound up being a very controversial film when it was released directed by Richard Brooks, adapted from the book by Sinclair Lewis with lush and pulpy cinematography by John Altonand a stirring score by the great André Previn.And terrific costume designed by the brilliant Dorothy Jeakins (The Sound of Music 1965, The Way We Were 1974).
“Let’s get this straight, you don’t interest me no more than the air you stand in.”-Lady Torrance to Val
Directed by Sidney Lumet, The Fugitive Kindis based on the play Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams who also penned the screenplay. At this point there’s shouldn’t be any doubt about my passion for Mr. Williams or Anna Magnani.
Anna Magnaniis a primal force of sensuality winning an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Serafina Delle Rose in the marvelous, The Rose Tattoo 1955. (“A clown with my husband’s body!”)
The Fugitive Kind has a gritty, allure not only due to the level of acting by Magnani and Brando or the evocative material it’s partly due to Boris Kaufman’s (12 Angry Men 1957, On the Waterfront 1954) edgy cinematography.
Anna Mangani delivers another impassioned performance as Lady an equally potent role as a shop owner in Louisiana who is chained to a brutal marriage by her vindictive and dying husband Jabe (Victor Jory) when along comes Marlon Brando as Valentine “Snakeskin’ Xavier a guitar playing roamer who takes a job in the shop until Lady’s jaded loneliness and Valentine’s raw animal magnetism combust..
Brando plays the solitary Val, a drifter who’s presence is as commanding as a lion stalking. Val comes into the small town where Lady Torrance runs the shop, her husband Jabe is mostly bed ridden, dying of cancer, but also eaten up with jealousy and hatred toward his wife, foreigners and outliers. He’s vicious and controlling and Lady lives out her days caring for this angry and miserable man, until Val comes into her life, changing Lady’s stoicism awakening her heart releasing her desires.
Magnani gives a powerful performance of a woman starved from sexual pleasure, mentally abused by her husband and bemoaning the days when the wine flowed like a river at her father’s vineyard that was suspiciously burned to the ground.
Magnani manifests an authenticity that comes from a battered past and present, yet she exudes an enduring sense of love and passion. Lady dreams of fixing up the outside part of the store as a confectionery festooned with white lights and delicate atmosphere and Val can sing and play his guitar.
At first interviewing for a job is an awkward exchange. Once Lady and Val have a very intense and thoughtful conversation, she decides that she likes this strange talking boy and hires him to work in the store. The tension is visible even in the darkly lit scene and through the diffuse patch of light you can see their chemistry brewing.
Lady is taken with this strange talking boy who begins to tell her about people. “there’s two kinds of people in this world, the buyers and the people who get bought.” Then he tells her about a type of bird that has no legs so it can never land. It’s a meditative moment, and Brando is magnificent. “…cause they don’t see ’em, they don’t see em way up in that high blue sky near the sunthey spread their wings out and go to sleep on the wind and they only alight on this world just one time, it’s when they die.”
Val is pursued by Carol Cutere, (Joanne Woodward) the quirky local tramp from a wealthy family, who worships his snakeskin jacket as well as his incredible ‘hot’ body. But, Val finds himself drawn to the evocative and more complex Lady. They begin an affair, fall in love and Lady gets pregnant. Will they be like the bird that can never land, only sleep on the wind and the day they land is the day they die…
If you care about love, you’ll talk about a teenage boy and a woman who is all allure, all tenderness… and too much experience! – tagline
“What’s more I don’t like to work in New York. I never have. I live here. I like it. I like this house. I like eating at home, I like living like a human being. Why should I knock myself out. this is my retreat you know.”
Directed by Alexander Singerwith a slick burlesque/modern jazz score by Gerald Fried.
Lola Albright stirs the libido as a very classy ex-stripper Iris Hartford a very intoxicating woman who seduces a naive and inexperienced working-class boy, Vito Pellegrino (Scott Marlowe)who falls deeply in love with her. Soon Vito begins to feel the disparate reality of their relationship. Once his reality is shattered, discovering that she is a stripper, Vito ends the affair with Iris, seeking out a neighborhood girl who is of his own age.
Lola Albright has a very sophisticated way of coming across on screen with a reserved yet palpable dignity. But Iris generates an undercurrent of provocative and alluring intelligence. Marlowe has always been great as a either a clever playboy or whiny young man, who isn’t quite getting what he wants.
A Cold Day in August examines an authentic journey for a young boy who experiences his first sexual awakening with an older woman. And their socially unorthodox relationship not only serves the film’s exploitative narrative it comes across quite genuine because of Albright’s very real sexual magnetism and the attraction by an impressionable boy.
Of course the film works on the level of titillation & taboo because Iris is not only older than Vito, she is ALL woman and then some for any man. She would be considered a tramp because she used to take her clothes off for a living. Her ex-husband comes back into the picture and pleads with her to fill in for a week in NYC, but that life was far gone by now.
When Iris first seduces Vito she feeds him a dish of ice cream after he fixes her air conditioner. It’s as if she’s rewarding a little boy for doing a good job. In the midst of these queer moments where she desires him yet infantilizes him, they do carry on a sexual relationship. Iris is a free sexual being who makes no apologies for who she is. It doesn’t take too long before Vito realizes that he’s way out of his league, but Iris does initiate him into the world of sex.
I have come to adore Lola Albright this year. In A Cold Wind in August she manifests a kind of existential sensuality as she can offer a nurturing kiss and then go on to take what she needs. She yearns for pleasure which is literally illustrated by her stripper costume of a sort of Queen of Outer Space gold lamé number complete with eye mask, it’s alluring and vulturous at the same time.
Robert Rossen (The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers 1946, All the Kings Men 1949, Billy Budd 1962 & Lilith 1964) wrote of all his films, they “Share one characteristic: The hunt for success. Ambition is an essential quality in American society.”
The Hustler is the story of Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) who has a penchant for self punishment and self destructiveness and in his cockiness likes to take on high stakes pool games. He has a dream of bumping Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) off the pedestal of fame. Eddie and Fats meet up and by the end of a very long marathon, Eddie is wiped out and whipped, which doesn’t help his enormous ego.
Eddie meets Sarah (Piper Laurie), a highly educated modern woman. She’s an independent loner, a bit morose, a bit jaded, but somehow she allows Eddie to work his charms on her until she is hooked. Still no matter what happens in the end, Sarah Packard speaks her mind and lives life on her own terms…
Sarah has a physical disability as she walks with a limp, and is referred to as a cripple.
Finally, as the film progresses, whether Sarah feels that she is perverted and twisted because she sleeps with the repugnant opportunist Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) or drinks too much, or has the need to be loved because of her physical disability, Sarah Packard is such a real character that it breaks your heart.
Tensions arise when manager Bert Gordon signs on to promote Eddie. He’s a shady predator who tries to drive a wedge between Eddie and Sarah, and takes advantage of her one night while Eddie’s away.
Sarah reads poetry and uses alcohol as a way to balm her loneliness, but there’s a strength in her honesty that is very endearing. Talk about guts, Piper Laurie wanted to get a feel of authenticity for her character and so she hung out at the Greyhound Bus Terminal at night.
IMDb fact: Piper Laurie didn’t make another film for the next 15 years, devoting the time to her marriage and raising her only daughter. She returned to the screen in 1976 in ‘Brian de Palma”s Carrie (1976), earning her second Oscar nomination.
And we all know how bold that performance was…. memorable & cringe-worthy!
At the party that Bert invites Sarah to come to, he whispers something in her ear that makes her toss her drink and run away in tears. The actress talked about this scene in her autobiography. She had met up with George C Scott many years later and “I finally asked him what he had whispered into my ear in the big party scene in The Hustler that elicits a violent response from me. We shot it perhaps three or four times and I could never figure out what he was saying… He told me he chose to use just gibberish, knowing he could never invent words or phrases as powerful as what my imagination could summon up. Probably true.”
That was a very cool approach to the scene which came off beautifully!
Roslyn: “If I’m going to be alone, I want to be by myself.”
The Misfits was initially written as a short story by Arthur Millerwho was actually waiting for his divorce in Reno to go through before he could marry Marilyn Monroe. Based on a short story in Esquire Magazine, he specifically wrote it for his then wife Marilyn Monroe.
A beautiful divorcée Roslyn Tabor (Marilyn Monroe) who has been put through hell, takes up with a faded cowboy Gay Langland who is still strutting like a lady’s man in early-sixties Nevada. He’s a rugged individualist who wants nothing to do with earning wages. At first she meets up with Isabelle Steers played by the inimitable Thelma Ritter who can throw out a one liner like no one else, anything out of her mouth is gold.
Roslyn is in Reno to divorce her husband Ray. She meets up with Guido (Eli Wallach) who is building his ‘unfinished’ dream house for a wife who died during child birth years ago, yet he still holds a candle to her memory and suffers from WWII bombing raids He sets his sights on Roslyn but his friend Gay Langland (Clark Gable) a crusty old cowboy moves in first and the two start a tenuous relationship. Roslyn is kind and loves all animals, and still thinks kindness is always just around the corner.
Montgomery Clift plays an ambiguously sexual bachelor who drinks to try and take the pain away. All four are non-conformists who begin to form a type of family. Roslyn is thoughtful and sensitive and Gay is a typical male on the prowl. Along for the ride is Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift) who is the most trusting and kind. He is not committed to trapping the horses for pet food, and wishes to stop it too. The horses that roam free are symbolic of the beautiful spirit that Roslyn possesses. A bit sad but tender and kind. Roslyn tags along on a trip up in the mountains with Gable, Eli Wallach and Monty Clift much to Roslyn’s horror that they are capturing horses in order to sell them for dog food.
Marilyn Monroe later said that she had hated both the film and her own performance. I feel like she is selling herself short. She managed to navigate around the incredible testosterone on screen and off. Perhaps it was her innate sadness that shone through, but she brought a tremendous sensitivity that was an inner sort of beautiful… The Misfits is probably one of my favorite performances by Monroe, it seems like a close look into her sad yet dreamy soul.
A RAISIN IN THE SUN with RUBY DEE as Ruth Younger, CLAUDIA MCNEILL as Mother Lena Younger and DIANA SANDS as Beneatha Younger
Lena Younger crying “Oh God, please, look down and give me strength! “
Written by Lorraine Hansberry for the stage then adapted to film and directed by Daniel Petrie
Sometimes there are films and stories that I just immediately have to say “It’s some powerful good.” Maybe it comes from watching a lot of The Andy Griffith Show that has rubbed off on my conversational style. But regardless, A Raisin in the Sun is some powerful good! That’s what happens when an ensemble of incredible actors get together and tell a poignant story about family struggles, in particular, a Black family struggling in a privileged world that works very hard to keep Black people on the ‘outside’ of success, making them continually grasp at that mythical American Dream that just doesn’t exist, at least for most people.
Directed by Daniel Petriea story about racial oppression and assumptions. Illustrated vividly in the scene with the marvelous character actor John Fiedler who plays Mark Linder. from the Clybourne park un- “welcoming committee.”
The woman form a strong wheel that keeps the family moving even when Walter Lee Younger (Sidney Poitier) takes his time coming to terms with his pride.
Mama Lena lived in a time where Black folk had fought so hard during the Civil Rights movement to witness a generation of young Black people to demand and obtain their rights. But there exists in the home a generation gap between her and her children. Walter Lee is a very proud young man who is frustrated with just being a chauffeur. When Lena’s husband’s insurance policy comes to the family, they each have ideas of how to spend it. Three very strong female characters satellite around one man whose identity rests on false notions of success reflected back at him through the lens of a white social class. But Walter Lee is continuously grounded by the strength of the women around him.
Beneatha is a progressive woman who railed against being a traditional wife and mother. She was way too independent and a strong female figure for 1962.
Cléo is a famous French Chanteuse awaiting the results of a biopsy. She is afraid that she will be told that she has cancer. We as are the spectators we watch Cléo spend two hours in her day until she finds out whether she is going to die. Sounds morbid, but director Agnès Varda (Varda herself was Bold & Beautiful– trained as a master photographer… and at the core or the soul of the French New Wave Cinema) weaves a whimsical visual dance as Cléo walks through the hours of her possibly tenuous life. The film is marvelous and Corinne Marchand as Cléo is a very captivating figure. In France it is said that the hours between five to seven are when lovers gather. Cléo wants to just keep moving in hopes of avoiding the results of her test. Throughout Cléo’s journey she is subtly restrained by the knowledge that she may be dying. Even as she sings torch songs, shops for hats and walks through the streets of Paris.
At 5pm she even visits a Tarot Reader. And just from experience, pulling The Hanged Man in a tarot reading is never really a good thing. And of course Death shows up as well. And the Death card should never be regarded as literal, but under the circumstances it would be frightening to a woman waiting for test results. She asks the woman to read her palm but she refuses, and so Cléo leaves frustrated.
Throughout Cléo wanderings, there are little interactions that lay on the periphery. Knowing that death could be looming overhead, Cléo seems to develop a heightened sense of awareness, even if the actions of unessential characters are truly incidental surrounding Cléo while she is walking through her two hours.
Cléo wanders through out the streets of Paris with her maid in tow or her friend the nude model. The next stop is at the hat shop, where she proceeds to try on many fashionable hats. Several mirror shots showcase the use of iconography of the female image as seen reflecting back. Cléo looks magnificent in even the most outrageous of hats.
Cléo and her maid come back to her apartment, that has a nice vast playful quality to it, with a piano, and a wonderful swing, and of course an opulent bed. Cléo reposes in her bed like royalty, as two fluffy kittens toss each other around. José Luis de Vilallonga credited as The Lover comes to see her. There doesn’t seem to be much passion between the two.
“You’ll EAT and DRINK what I SAY until you lose five pounds IN THE PLACES WHERE I SAY!” -Pepe
I couldn’t resist paying homage to at least one exploitation film seeing this is about the 60s! With a flavor and atmosphere of night club noir surrounded by decadence and the sordid lives of it’s inhabitants it comes across with a low budget appeal, Satan in High Heels was filmed in New York’s old La Martinique cabaret. This isn’t a film about immorality, it’s plainly just some high art sleaze that is so fun to watch, mainly because of Grayson Hall. Hall has a languid graveled voice that is almost intoxicating to listen to. Putting aside the other two leading ladies voluptuous Sabrina who plays herself, Meg Myles as Stacy Kane a second rate stripper whose wardrobe consists of various leather outfits and riding crop, it’s Grayson Hall (of Dark Shadows fame) that brings the story to a boil as the ultra domineering Pepe– as cool as the center seed of a cucumber.
She’s jaded and cynical and is a New York City kind of Marlene Dietrich with her quick asides and Sapphic strut. Even when she’s taking long drags of her cigarette she can deliver a curt line that cuts to the point, “Bear up, Darling, I love your eyelashes.”
After Stacy working the carnival circuit discovers her ex husband hanging around the dressing room with a load of cash, she grabs the doe and heads to New York City. Once she arrives she auditions at a night club as a singer, and is hired by the libidinous Pepe who wants to do a Pygmalion on the tramp. Belting out torch songs like “I’ll beat you mistreat you til you quiver and quail, the female of the species is more deadly than the male.” Neither Stacy (Meg Myles) or Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes) Yikes get points for being buxom.
It’s Pepe who is sophisticated and wicked that makes you quiver & quail? Hmmm I need to look that up!
“Everybody can’t wait to help me get rid of it!”-Jane
When it’s Bryan Forbes (Seance on a Wet Afternoon 1964,The Stepford Wives 1975) directing you know to expect something deeper and quietly intense. In The L Shaped RoomLeslie Caron plays Jane Fosset a melancholy unmarried woman who is pregnant and on her own. She takes a room in a boarding house in London. While there Jane meets all the inhabitants of the decadent house where there dwells a collection of various misfits and outliers of society. Two working girls of the night persuasion, Pat Phoenix as Sonia, the man-eating Landlady who isn’t quite friendly, and the lovely old lesbian Mavis (Cicely Courtneidge).
And then there’s the struggling on edge Toby (Tom Bell) who is a writer living on the first floor. The two strike up a relationship, as Jane decides whether to get an abortion or keep the baby. There’s also Johnny a black Jazz Musician ( Brock Peters) who gets upset when Jane and Toby start a sexual relationship. The story is human and moving and as deeply whimsical as the tenants who come and go. Leslie Caron is superb as a solitary girl with a serious dilemma, so much so that she was nominated for Best Actress. Caron is splendid as Jane who manifests a courage and striking dignity to live life on her own…
Alfred Hitchcock’s cautionary tale based on Daphne du Maurier’s best selling novel. The Birdswas Hitchcock’s film , that not only demonstrated the precarious security of everyday life by contrasting a quaint California seaside town inexplicably besieged by angry birds. One of Hitchcock’s most frequent theme is the precariousness of social order and morality. And the introduction of Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels definitely shakes things up. There’s almost a supernatural connection, if not the mere symbolic one.
I couldn’t resist Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels who is no shrinking violet. She may be a relatively straightforward central protagonist – the rich spoiled girl from the big city whose complacency is then severely shattered. Melanie is still an independent woman who mostly keeps it together right up to the end. Okay once she’s trapped in the attic she sort of goes a bit fetal but come on people the natural world is attacking! –with beaks and claws!
Behind the scenes she might have had a mini melt down thanks to Hitchcock’s maneuvering to have her attacked for real. Melanie Daniels ascends into Bodega Bay like the birds, she is a warning of the dangers of strong, and non-conformist women, especially strong willed sexually free women. Are the people being attacked by just the birdsor is the strength of Melanie Daniels presence to tear apart the claustrophobic relationship between son and mother and the quiet conventional community.
From Carol Clovers Men, Women and Chainsaws -Her Body, Himself.
in Poe’s famous formulation , the death of a beautiful woman is the “most poetic topic in the world.”
Hitchcock during the filming of The Birds said: “I’ve always believed in following the advice of the playwright Sardou”. He said ‘Torture the women.’
Clover comments that what the directors don’t reveal out loud about the women in peril theme is that “women in peril are at there most effective when they are in a state of undress” and assailed by a totally phallic enemy.
Melanie Daniels while trapped in the attic and justifiably shaken from the ordeal does not lose her ability to protect herself and give up and die.
In one of the most vivid and unforgettable scenes in film history (I would wager my one-of-a-kind Columbo doll that other people agree) is when Melanie is waiting outside the schoolhouse sitting on the park bench with the jungle-gym behind her. She sees a few birds gathering on it. As Hitchcock is known to do, he drags out the suspense until we are at the very edge. She sees a few more birds join in. She lights up a cigarette, as this extends the scene further. There isn’t the composed style of filming a scene where it would go right to the fright factor. Hitchcock manipulates Melanie and us the spectator. Once more she follows the movement of another crow heading toward the jungle-gym which now is revealed has hundreds of birds waiting to attack…!
“Boy… somebody in this car smells of Chanel No. 5, It isn’t me, I can’t afford it!”
Directed by Martin Ritt and based on Larry McMurtry’s novel. From -Drew Casper Postwar Hollywood from 1946-1962 “Ritt Caught the parched, circumspect, empty quality of a middle-class WASP life in a Texan cattle community.”
The raspy attractiveness of Patricia Neal can make any film worth watching. In Hud she conveys a weary yet wise housekeeper/mother figure for the elderly widower Rancher and the Bannon men Hud and Lonnie. She has to deflect all the lustful advances by Hud, but she has grown comfortable with the blueness of her isolation, and has made peace with her troubling past. She handles the volatile Hud (Paul Newman) and nurtures the impressionable Lonnie (Brandon deWilde)
Patricia Neal won an Academy Award for playing the housekeeper Alma in Martin Ritt’s Hud, although she only appears in the film for 22 minutes! James Wong Howe creates a desolate, moody sense of Americana with his cinematography and Elmer Bernstein contributes his magnificent score.
Patricia Nealwas particularly proud of one unscripted moment that made it into the film. While talking to Hud about her failed marriage, a huge horsefly flew onto the set. Just as she says she’s “done with that cold-blooded bastard,” she zaps the fly with a dish towel. Martin Ritt loved it and printed the take.
Paul Newman is the cold blooded Hud Bannon. He’s a ruthless reckless cowboy and a heartless uncaring miscreant who hurts everyone in his life. He’s self confident, drives a pink Cadillac and when he’s not swaggering slow like he’s a meandering playboy, who still lives on the isolated farm with his elderly father and his nephew Lonnie (Brandon deWilde) who worships him, he’s sleeping around.
Melvyn Douglas plays Homer Bannon, his father whom he clashes with. His father is a righteous man, filled with principles but his son is a self-indulgent outlier of society who cares for nothing and no one. Life is just about having ‘kicks’ It was that time in film history that the youth archetype were all looking for those ‘kicks’
Hud’s amoral lifestyle and the struggle between the good people who satellite around him create a dismal world for everyone. Alma and Hud develop a sexual banter between them. She’s attracted to his prowess and his good looks, but Hud only sees her as the help. He want’s what he can’t have, so she is a challenge to him that’s all. But Hud is abusive to Alma, he even parks his Cadillac in her flower bed.
Alma has a hearty strength and takes all the masculine posturing with stride. She’s as laid back as a cat taking a nap in the sun. Alma too has a sensuality that lies open, on the surface as she flirts with Lonnie and is aroused by Hud’s beautiful torso. The theme that is underlying through out Hud or I should say Alma’s part in the narrative is that women like to be around dangerous men. Alma doesn’t expect anything from Hud, understanding his nature all too well. He possesses a merciless kind of sexual desire that cannot be satisfied. But Alma does create a conflict for him…
In his cynical exchanges with Alma, he is contemptuous toward women and boasts a sexual confidence, that makes him one cocky bastard. But Alma is not a child nor is she an inexperienced woman. she is equally world weary and is titillated by his sexual innuendos.
Directed by John Huston based on the story by Tennessee Williams, Night of the Iguana.
John Huston loved placing a group of interesting people in a landscape that was inhospitable and sweltering.
Ava Gardner as Maxine Faulk is a sultry beauty that inhabits the tropical night like a panther moving through the brush.
A defrocked Episcopal clergyman the Rev. T Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) working as a tout guide in Mexico leads a bus-load of middle-aged Baptist women and a teenage girl on a tour of the Mexican coast. It is there that he wrestles with the failure and doubts that haunt his wasted life. While temporarily stranded he takes respite with Maxine who runs the small out of the way hotel. Ava Garner wields heavy dose of sensuality as she burns up the screen with her raw and unbound sexuality. Surrounded by young men whom she swims with at night. And not taking any crap from the busload of repressed Baptists and Sue Lyon as a young Nymphomaniac.
Shannon was kicked out of his church when he was caught with one of his parishioners, and now Charlotte Goodall (Sue Lyon) is a troublesome nymph chasing after him provocatively. Her guardian is Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall) an uptight lesbian who seems to hate all men, bus rides and humid weather besides. When Fellowes catches Charlotte in Shannon’s room she threatens to get him in trouble, so he enlists the help of his friend Maxine Faulk, and leaves the group stranded at her remote hotel.
Once Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr) and her elderly grandfather arrive, the atmosphere seems to shift and Shannon is confronted with questions of life and love. Everyone at the hotel has demons and the rich and languid air seems to effect everyone… Ava Gardner as Maxine waits patiently for Shannon to realize that they could have a passionate life together if he’d stop torturing himself..
From Ava Gardner: “Love is Nothing” by Lee Server Ava Gardner loved the chance to work with director John Huston.
The play had opened on Dec 28th 1961 at Broadway’s Royale Theatre with Bette Davis, Margaret Leighton and Patrick O’Neal.
“A typical Williamsian study of desire, dysfunction and emotional crisis. set in a frowzy Acapulco Hotel where defrocked alcoholic horny minister now tour guide The Rev T Lawrence Shannon haphazardly battles for his salvation aided and abetted by lusty innkeeper Maxine Faulk and wandering spinster Hannah Jelkes.”
Producer Ray Stark regarded the film’s formula should be a “mix of soul-searching, melodrama and lowlife exotica”which would capture Huston’s imagination.
Ava was cast to play the ‘earthy widow’ Maxine- Huston considered Gardner perfect as she was a Southern actress with ‘feline sexuality’. perfect to play one of Tennessee Williams’ ‘hot-blooded ladies!’
Ava Gardner wanted the role to be really meaningful. She did have several volatile scenes, for instance when she is exasperated by Shannon, to spite him Maxine impulsively rushes into the ocean to frolic with her two personal beach boys.
According to the book, “Ava had become sick with fear— of the physicality of the scene (how could she not look bad falling around in the water with her hair all soaked?), the sexuality of it (the two boys roaming all over her body as the surf rolled across them). and the physical exposure (the scene called for her to be wearing a skimpy bikini) Huston told her in that case, kid they would rewrite and shoot the scene at night and with minimal lighting. As she got more uncomfortable Huston suggested that she simply go in the water in her clothes (Maxine’s ubiquitous poncho too and toreador pants). ‘It’ll look more natural like that anyway’- Huston said.”
Houston even waded into the water with her, they had a few drinks, he held her hand and waited til she was ready to shoot the scene. And it came out beautifully with one take!.
Johnny -“Pretty Cool aren’t you Miss Farr” Sheila “Only when there’s nothing to be excited about”
Directed by Don Siegel This remake of Ernest Hemingway’s taut thriller has been given a 60s sheen of vibrantly slick color. In contrast to Robert Siodmak’s masterpiece in 1946. The femme fatale in this Post-Noir film is Angie Dickinson as opposed to Ava Gardner.
Don Siegel’s 1964 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Killers is quite a horse of a different colour. first off the obvious is that it is not in haunting B&W… The double – crosses are still in the picture. the big heist and the hidden doe…
And we don’t have Ava Gardner, but we do get Angie Dickinson. Cassavetes is a race car driver Lancaster was a mechanic… we don’t have the primal sexuality of Burt Lancaster we have the pensive arrogance of John Cassavetes.
The viewpoint of the story is not seen through the eyes of the victim, but the Kiilers who want to understand why the protagonist just stands there and lets himself be gunned down in cold-blood “just stood there and took it.”
While Siodmak’s version is drenched in shadow and nuance, Siegel’s version is gorgeously played out like a taut violin string in the brightly mod colors of a 60s world. It was no longer the year of the dark and dangerous femme fatale that hinted at promises of a sexual joyride alluded to with suggestive dialogue and visual iconography. Now we have Angie Dickinson’s character Sheila Farr a modern sexually liberated woman who struts her stuff in the light of day.
The two hit men Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager walk into a school for the blind and shoot down John Cassavetes. On the way back to Chicago Marvin’s character wants to know why he didn’t try to run when he had the chance. Also told in flashback, it pieces together the reason for him wanting to die. After Cassavete’s is washed up as a race car drive when he has a near fatal crash- he takes up with crime boss Ronald Reagan and tries to steal his woman- Sheila.
DEAD RINGER with BETTE DAVIS as Margaret DeLorca & Edith Phillips
Margaret: “Oh Edie I wanted to marry Frank so desperately” Edie “But you never loved him, you never made him happy… you ruined both our lives.” Margaret “I’ll make it up to you. Remember remember when we were children? You were the one person I really loved.”
Edie–“LOVED!!!!! You never loved anybody but yourself. Margaret “You have all the time in the world to find happiness. You can get rid of this place. You can get rid of it and take a trip.” Edie-“To outer space!” Margaret- “Money’s no object. How much would you like?- “YOU haven’t got that much!” ( Edie smacks the money out of Margaret’s hand.)
I simply couldn’t choose the 60s and not include a little psycho-melodrama, a bit of Grande Dame Guignol–without including my favorite of all… Bette Davis. Directed by actor/director Paul Henreid this extremely taut suspense thriller starring Bette Davis in two roles is a captivating story that grips you in the guts from beginning to end.
It’s 1964 Los Angeles and Bette plays twin sisters Margaret de Lorca and Edith Phillips.The film opens at Margaret’s husband’s funeral. The two sisters haven’t seen each other in twenty years.
Margaret has married very rich, with the man that Edith had planned on marrying. Edith lives a modest life and is dating a very fine police officer Sgt Jim Hobbson played by the wonderful Karl Malden. He loves his Edie who has a little jazz bar, is kind and simple and doesn’t share the arrogance and ruthless nature like Margaret. Margaret tricked Frank into marrying her, claiming she was pregnant.
One night Margaret comes to visit Edie and insults her by offering her some cheap clothes as a hand off plus Edie learns from the chauffeur that the pregnancy was all a lie. That Margaret ruined her chances of happiness. Adding to Edie’s troubles the property agent has give her the boot, since she’s 3 months late with the rent.
In a moment of rage with several ounces of premeditation -Edie shoots Margaret, assuming her identity, hopping into her sisters chauffeured limo and moving into the great house with servants and wealthy snobbish friends. Unfortunately it’s only a matter of time before Margaret’s smarmy lover Tony (Peter Lawford) shows up and discovers right away about the masquerade. Of course he blackmails Edie for his silence. Also Detective Jim Hobbson starts coming around thinking that Edith’s death was suspicious and not a suicide. What makes the film interesting is how Jim is the one person who could recognize Edie behind the elegant clothing, and at times there is a spark of awareness, but it just might be too late for Edie playing Margaret to turn things around. One particular exchange that is wonderful is the unspoken sympathetic relationship between Edie and Henry the quintessential Butler played Cyril Delevanti who has the most marvelously time worn face.
“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
― Sigmund Freud
“Ladies and gentlemen- welcome to violence; the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains sex.” — Narrator from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
THE DARK PAGES NEWSLETTER a condensed article was featured in The Dark Pages: You can click on the link for all back issues or to sign up for upcoming issues to this wonderful newsletter for all your noir needs!
Patricia Morán as Rita Ugalde: The Exterminating Angel 1962:“I believe the common people, the lower class people, are less sensitive to pain. Haven’t you ever seen a wounded bull? Not a trace of pain.”
Ann Baxter as Teresina Vidaverri Walk on the Wild Side 1962—“When People are Kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it.”
The Naked Venus 1959–“I repeat she is a gold digger! Europe’s full of them, they’re tramps… they’ll do anything to get a man. They even pose in the NUDE!!!!”
Baby Boy Franky Buono-Blast of Silence (1961)“The targets names is Troiano, you know the type, second string syndicate boss with too much ambition and a mustache to hide the facts he’s got lips like a woman… the kind of face you hate!”
Lorna (1964)-“Thy form is fair to look upon, but thy heart is filled with carcasses and dead man’s bones”
The Snake Pit (1948): Jacqueline deWit as Celia Sommerville “And we’re so crowded already. I just don’t know where it’s all gonna end!” Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham“I’ll tell you where it’s gonna end, Miss Somerville… When there are more sick ones than well ones, the sick ones will lock the well ones up.”
Delphine Seyrig as Countess Bathoryin Daughters of Darkness (1971)– “Aren’t those crimes horrifying. And yet -so fascinating!”
Julien Gulomar as Bishop Daisy to the Barber (Michel Serrault) King of Hearts (1966)–“I was so young. I already knew that to love the world you have to get away from it.”
The Lickerish Quartet (1970)–“You can’t get blood out of an illusion.”
THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH (1965)– Dominique-“I’m attracted” Pablo-” To Bullfights?” Dominique-” No, I meant to death. I’ve always thought it… The state of perfection for all men.”
Peter O’Toole asSir Charles Ferguson Brotherly Love (1970): “Remember the nice things. Reared in exile by a card-cheating, scandal ruined daddy. A mummy who gave us gin for milk. Ours was such a beautifully disgusting childhood.”
Euripides 425 B.C.–“Whom God wishes to destroy… he first makes mad.”
WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?
psychotronic|ˌsīkəˈtränik| adjective denoting or relating to a genre of movies, typically with a science fiction, horror, or fantasy theme, that were made on a low budget or poorly received by critics. [1980s: coined in this sense by Michael Weldon, who edited a weekly New York guide to the best and worst films on local television.] Source: Wikipedia
In the scope of these transitioning often radical films, where once, men and women aspired for the moon and the stars and the whole ball of wax. in the newer scheme of things they aspired for you know… “kicks” yes that word comes up in every film from the 50s and 60s… I’d like to have a buck for every time a character opines that collective craving… from juvenile delinquent to smarmy jet setter!
FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…
THE ECCENTRIC & OFTEN GUTSY STYLE OF FILM NOIR HAD NO WHERE ELSE TO GO… BUT TO REACH FOR EVEN MORE OFF-BEAT, DEVIANT– ENDLESSLY RISKY & TABOO ORIENTED SET OF NARRATIVES FOUND IN THE SUBVERSIVE AND EXPLOITATIVE CULT FILMS OF THE MID TO LATE 50s through the 60s and into the early 70s!
I just got myself this collection of goodies from Something Weird!
Just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Noir took a journey through an even darker lens… Out of the shadows of 40s Noir cinema, European New Wave, fringe directors, and Hollywood auteurs, brought more violent, sexual, transgressive, and socially transformative narratives into the cold light of day with a creeping sense of verité. WhileFilm Noir pushed the boundaries of taboo subject matter and familiar Hollywood archetypes it wasn’t until later that we are able to visualize the advancement of transgressive topics.
Directed by Vincent J. DonehueLonelyhearts is a compelling look at loneliness, human frailty often ugly and pathetic, infused with a wry cynicism yet underpinned with an air of redemption. Considered to be a bit of Noir, the milieu of the Newspaper room, the darkened city with it’s sordid inhabitants mulling about, and a man who is not quite what he appears to be has many of the tidings of a good noir, but I would say this film falls more into the genre of psychological melodrama. Based on Nathanael West’s (Day of the Locust) novel ‘Miss Lonelyhearts.’ and penned for the screen by producer/writer Dore Schary.
Montgomery Clift plays Adam White, a young writer hiding the truth about his childhood in the orphanage from his devoted girl Justy Sargeant played by the lovely (Dolores Hart).
Adam is hired by The Chronicle’s harshly cynical Editor William Shrike played as only the gruff and unceremoniously sexy Robert Ryan can pull off , to be the exacting voice and conscience behind the “Miss Lonelyhearts”column for the paper.Myrna Loyplays a sympathetic and sad character as Shrike’s wife Florence who has fallen from grace in her husbands eyes, due to a prior indiscretion, something that Shrike continues to punish her for years later. The scenes between Loy and Ryan are captivating.
The film’s dialogue is outstanding, as it plunges you into a dark night of the soul, while Shrike maliciously tries to teach his moral apprentice the bitter truth about life and what really lies behind the assortment of needy folk who reach out for advice. The wonderful stage actress Maureen Stapletonreceived a nomination for an Academy Award for her dramatic portrayal of the very desperate and troubled Fay Doyle, in her first screen role. Equally commanding is character actor Frank Maxwell as Fay’s frustrated, crippled husband who loves his wife but hasn’t been able to make love to her in years.
Shrike’s relentless determination to wear away the selfless and compassionate exterior of young Adam White and lay bare his failings as well as disarm him is like watching two boxers fight with their wits as Montgomery Clift’s Adam is so deft at maneuvering with his vastly layered, always intelligent and sensitively nuanced performance as an imperfect man struggling to be a good man. His altruistic ideals are blown to bits as he delves into the lives of the people who write in for help only to discover that he too a tortured soul in need of saving and self reflection.
West’s novel reveals Adam White’s character as even more of a Christ like Archetype who suffers and must bear the weight of everyone else’s sins. Montgomery Clift, one of the finest actors tragically taken away from us way too soon, is always so compelling to watch, and while others are huge fans and rightfully so, of James Dean, I myself remain a die hard Monty Clift worshiper.
I do feel that the film leans too heavily toward demonizing woman as ‘tramps’ a word that comes up several times during the course of the film. But the performances, dialogue and mood of the piece are just too good to miss.
Also co-starring Onslow Stevens(Angel On My Shoulder 1946, Them 1954) as Mr. Lassiter, Adams’ father now in jail for murdering his adulterous wife. Mike Kellin and Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester) as fellow newspaper men Frank Goldsmith and the jaded Ned Gates. And Frank Overton who plays Justy’s kindly father.
You can always reach out to me if you’re ever lonely dear hearts- Yours forever MonsterGirl
“Most people’s lives…what are they but trails of debris, each day, more debris… more debris… all long trails of debris. With nothing to clean it all up. Finally death.”
To me no other playwright manifests more compelling characters, turns a phrase or extracts a poignant moment quite like Tennessee Williams. I want to continue discussing Suddenly, Last Summer, however sensationalist the films climax chooses to eradicate any trace of the central albeit unseen character’s transgression of homosexuality, Tennessee Williams the tormented, sensitive genius who’s homosexuality informed much of his work, also wrote short stories that explore isolation and disconnection within the family dynamic and fringe collections of misfits and loners, somewhat comparative to the characterizations by Edgar Allan Poe or Robert Aldrich.
In a 1948 essay in The New York Times, Williams wrote about the questions that people would ask him about his plays and his characters: “Why do you always write about frustrated women?”
“To say that floored me is to put it mildly, because I would say that frustrated is almost exactly what the women I write about are not. What was frustrated about Amanda Wingfield? Circumstances, yes! But spirit? See Helen Hayes in London’s Glass Menagerie if you still think Amanda was a frustrated spirit! No, there is nothing interesting about frustration, per se. I could not write a line about it for the simple reason that I can’t write a line about anything that bores me. Was Blanche of A Streetcar Named Desire frustrated? About as frustrated as a beast of the jungle! And Alma Winemiller? (Summer and Smoke) What is frustrated about loving with such white hot intensity that it alters the whole direction of your life, and removes you from the parlor of the Episcopal rectory to a secret room above Moon Lake Casino?”
I think it’s such a seminal piece of work by William’s because it places the conversation in the mainstream of a very culturally conservative 1957. So to continue with my thoughts and impressions about this nuanced melodrama that at times behaves like Grande Guignol.
Party grotesque because of it’s dealings with American psychiatry and asylums, Williams’ struggle to embrace his homosexuality while entering into psychoanalysis with the famous Dr.Lawrence Kubie whose work included many closeted writers of that time period, it’s been said that it was playwright William Inge who actually made the introductions to Kubie who had also held a position as a military psychologist in the 1940s working to keep homosexuals out of the service.
It was during the arduous therapy sessions that Kubie urged Williams to not only give up his sexual proclivities but to abandon his writing as well. Williams ignored the advice of his analyst and remained with his long time lover Frank Merlo, In fact as I stated in Part I, he actually finished Suddenly, Last Summer at the end of their work together. It was ultimately his writing that served as catharsis, than any prescribed deprivation by Kubie. The one positive by-product of their discussions about William’s dysfunctional family life helped spark a re-energized creative force that proved prolific.
Williams does seem to charge his story with a negative view of American psychiatry. Using the threat of a lobotomy as a weapon, is pivotal to the narrative. It is not only William’s condemnation of neurosurgery as a tool of eradicating the identity of the self, his sister Rose and Catherine Holly, but it goes to the argument that the mental health establishment was attacking homosexuality by wiping out the ‘desire’, his choice to live his life the way he wanted to, and was too comfortably supported by the norms of a society that would rather have ‘homosexuals’ just disappear, ‘the cure’ essentially being the same as wiping out the ‘disease’ from the soul. Violet insists that Sebastian was “chaste.” In death he could remain so.
Suddenly, Last Summer’s protagonist Sebastian is literally and figuratively absent. He has died before the film begins. There is something to the narrative that makes him somewhat of a blank page, not unlike or symbolically like the empty pages of his yearly poetry notebook mother Violet carries around with her like the bible. She assaults Catherine with it, furiously, as testimony to his inability to write his last Poem of Summer without his mother there to support his creative force. The very books of poetry themselves ‘ambiguous.’
In this story, Sebastian’s persona, his physical body haunts the narrative, veiled, disambiguated and elusive. As Violet describes him to Dr Cukrowicz it is as if she is discussing a ‘work of art’, almost unreal, inhuman, superlative and divine.
Sebastian Venable is not present as a stable or unifying entity,he merely represents the fragmented consequence of his desires, therefore you cannot assign any definitive boundaries around his identity. The one constant that is pervasive is that he is an absolute symbol of ‘desire’. He and it, are one in the same.-though veiled in secrecy and only revealed at the end. The only evidence or declaration of his existence is his white silk suit, cultured accoutrements and ob*je d’art cluttering his Atelier.
Since Williams did cease working with Kubie, and he continued to self identify as a queer man, it has to conflict with Williams’ detractors who claim, Suddenly, Last Summer was a condemnation of his own homosexuality. The film creates too much of a negative and sinister environment surrounding Lions View, demonizing lobotomies and it’s inherent medieval barbarism, and rallying against the self-denial of Violet Venable. All factors that explore how the world imposes it’s will on an individual’s personal freedom.
THE SELF LOATHING HOMOSEXUAL AND WILLIAM’S STORY OF THE VENABLES.
THE TRUE MONSTERS OF SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER. The Hollies, Dr. Lawrence J. Hockstader: head of Lions View Sanitarium who seeks funding for barbaric surgeries, the Devouring Mother Violet Venable, the Natural World, the Lady Venus Fly Trap and God himself.
So this leads to another lurking question about the play, the story, and the film’s adaptation. Is Suddenly, Last Summer the ultimate example of The Self Loathing Queer? While Sebastian Venable is a character who might be considered a predator, a parasite, a procurer or user, who ‘baits’ the objects of his desire with the women in his life. The truth is he is not the only focal point of the story, he is the impetus, the catalyst, with which the story sparks.
“Blondes were next on the menu,” Catherine explains to Dr Cukrowicz, “He was fed up with the dark ones and was famished for blondes….that’s how he talked about people, as if they were – items on a menu. – ‘That one’s delicious looking, that one is appetizing’…”
He is also a figure manifested and manufactured by a devouring mother incestuous and domineering who taught her son well, how to use his social capital to manipulate, exploit and ultimately consume. Even to the exclusion of her deceased husband whom she abandoned while he was dying, just so she could be with her son when he had considered renouncing all his worldly possessions and becoming a Tibetan Monk. We see through a spectrum of maternal monologues the tenuous line between motherly love and oedipal internment. A devouring mother with a goddess complex who intones the ritualistic invocation of his name – “My son, Sebastian” – throughout the film setting forth a solid declaration of ownership to her son as well as giving him a place in the framework of her life’s meaning.
“Sebastian always said, ‘Mother when you descend it’s like the Goddess from the Machine’… it seems that the Emperor of Byzantium – when he received people in audience – had a throne which, during the conversation, would rise mysteriously into the air to the consternation of his visitors. But as we are living in a democracy, I reverse the procedure. I don’t rise, I come down.”
In fact, William’s portrayal of mostly all the heterosexual characters in the story radiate a nature that can be qualified as reprehensible, greedy, vicious and downright morbid. Violet Venable is as much or more a grotesque character than Sebastian’s homosexuality, she is the striking monster of the story if you will.
Catherine Holly is literally raped surrounded by the wild Oaks, the image evoked as if it were a rite performed by evil spirits emanating from the ancient Oaks themselves, although she was violated by a married man of low stature in the community no less. Catherine’s violation itself is a monstrous aspect of the story, and might harken back to the accusation of rape that William’s sister Rose made toward her own father, the reason, Edwina wanted her daughter quieted.
Catherine’s own mother and brother easily tune out the reality of the invasive and irreversible brain damage that drilling into her skull would cause, just so they can grab their piece of the Venable fortune. The Hollies are all too eager and willing to sign commitment papers from the malevolent Aunt Violet not only to confine her to Lion’s View but subject her to a lobotomy in order to get their hands on Sebastian’s inheritance. Monstrous.
Suddenly, Last Summer was a one-act play by Tennessee Williams. It opened off Broadway on January 7, 1958. It was part of a double bill with another one-act play of Williams’ called Something Unspoken. Suddenly, Last Summer is considered one of Williams’ starkest and most poetic works, and I tend to agree.
While writing this post, I discovered the same story surfacing about the working atmosphere on the set of the film, concerning the tensions between film stars Katharine Hepburn as well as Liz Taylor toward Mankiewicz’s abominable treatment of actor Monty Clift who had been struggling on the set with alcohol and drug use due to a car accident that disfigured his face. The actors had grown increasingly disgusted with the director’s blatant homophobic abuse of Clift who was openly gay.
Apparently this tension culminated into a moment of rebellion by Ms. Hepburn, who waited til the final scene was shot, and then proceeded to spit in Mankiewicz’s face. I have to say, that while Hepburn is not on my list of actors that I idolize nor whose film career I follow closely, I commend her intrepid defense, and would have expected more of a face slap with a long white linen glove. I am saddened by the revelation, if it is accurate that Mankiewicz was a homophobe. I just finished watching his film, Letter to Three Wives 1949 with 3 of my best loved actresses Ann Southern, Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell. Not to mention his contribution to All About Eve 1950. It’s often hard to separate the person from the work, and while I will always admire his work as a director, it does taint the waters to think that Mankiewicz could be a neanderthal in his thinking.
Producer Sam Spiegel submitted Gore Vidal’s screenplay to the MPAA’s review board before production began, the board having expressed objections to the stories subject matter. Spiegel wanted to let Joseph Mankiewicz shoot the film as it was intended. Although the board first refused to approve the film, they gave the go ahead, after a few minor changes were made. Thus, the word homosexual never materialized at any time in the film.
The movie supposedly differs from the stage version, using added scenes, and characters. Also adding a few subplots. Due to the strict Hollywood Production Codes that were enforced, they had to cut out any explicit references to homosexuality.
Elizabeth Taylorconjures the psychically injured Catherine Holly with a volatile poignancy , Katharine Hepburn icy and filled with misconstructions about the relationship with her son Sebastian, emerges from her gilded elevator like a throne, as Mrs.Violet Venable. Both stars were up for Academy Awards for Best Actress in A Leading Role that year, but both lost to Simone Signoret for her role in Room at The Top (1959).
Montgomery Clift is the kindly and ruminating Dr. Cukrowicz Albert Dekker is head of Lion’s View Sanitarium Dr. Lawrence J. Hockstader, who is in desperate need of an endowment to overhaul his crumbling hospital.
Mercedes McCambridgeplays Mrs Grace Holly, Violet’s opportunistic mother, and Gary Raymond plays Violet’s self absorbed brother George Holly. Mavis Villiers is Mrs Foxhill, Violet Venable’s dutiful assistant.
With a dynamic soundtrack by Buxton Orr, (usually working on Sci-Fi films like Fiend Without A Face 1958,First Man Into Space 1959) and Malcolm Arnold. Film editing by William Hornbeck and Thomas Stanford. And cinematography by Jack Hildyard.
Brooks Atkinson of the NY times writes “Mr Williams is at his peak as the poet of the damned” and “his most decisive denial of the values by which most people live, his most devastating statement about corruption in the world.”
In Donald Spoto’s biography – The Kindness of Strangers-The Life of Tennessee Williams,Williams underwent intense psychotherapy in mid 1957 frequently visiting his sister Rose who was institutionalized , eventually completing the play against the advice of Dr Kubie. ” I think if this analysis works” he said as the year drew to a close, “It will open some doors for me. If I am no longer disturbed myself, I will deal less with disturbed people and with violent material…It would be good If I could write with serenity” -Tennessee Williams
The intense therapy that Williams underwent with Dr. Kubie, actually triggered an even more violent self purgative exposition of his life’s journey, staying true to himself as a writer who would contribute something more visceral to the American stage. Spoto goes on to say “Williams had hoped at the beginning of his therapy to conform to the prevailing theatrical and cultural coziness of 1958 but the play was neither safe nor easy nor would it be for his audience.”
Suddenly, Last Summer essentially acts as confessional, partly out of the guilt he felt about his sister Rose’s treatment, and self reflection of the demons that were made manifest due to his intensive psychoanalysis.
Throughout Suddenly, Last Summer, there are threads of autobiographical allusions to his private life.Williams struggled with the sadness over his own sister Rose who was forced to undergo a lobotomy at the urging of their own domineering mother, not unlike Violet. During the time Williams started writing Suddenly, Last Summer, he began his psychoanalysis before finishing the play.
One of the narrative’s main arteries is the looming threat of lobotomy to Catherine Holly mirroring William’s sister Rose’s imposed surgery. Sebastian Venable’s pattern of exploitation was something that he wrestled with about his own behavior. “Yes” says Catherine, “We all use each other and that’s what we think of as love.”
“and for Sebastian/Williams sexual exploitation had masqueraded as love, and had become a kind of human devouring. The final horror of “Desire and the Black Masseur” was at last narrated in the extreme: “We were going to blonds…that’s how he talked about people, as if they were items on the menu. ‘That one’s delicious- looking, that one is appetizing.’ or ‘that one is not appetizing’ – I think because he was really nearly half starved from living on pills and salads.”- Donald Spoto
Apparently the connection between Williams and Sebastian was even made evident using the reference to “popping little white pills” And although Violet claims that Sebastian like the author , “dreaded, abhorred false values that come from being publicly known from fame, from personal exploitation,” she admitted “Time after time my son would let people go, dismiss them.”
As it often reveals itself with many of Tennessee Williams plays, the story uses elements from his own personal life acting as semi-confessional. Sebastian’s persona is one of a counterfeit poet, parasite and exploiter of people, such as his delicate cousin Catherine, ultimately being devoured by street urchins in Spain, literally and metaphorically consumed by the object of his own desire, setting the tone for Williams reflexive portrait of self condemnation and remorse. Suddenly, Last Summer as Donald Spoto once again states, “the perception of derailed creative energies and the abuse of love as any moralist could ever proclaim.” “Obsessed with what the play calls ‘the trails of debris’ that he believed had characterized so much of his life in the 1940s and 50s.”
Joseph L Mankiewicz had said, “There is something not only of confession in the play, but of wish-fulfillment too. Tennessee might have liked to have a garden with statues like Sebastian’s, a study with paintings like Sebastians’. If he had a distaste for anything, it was for his own aging, and his own humble background and circumstances. Suddenly Last Summer enabled him to have what he despised, in a way. And Mrs Venable is certainly a composite of the women who defended and accompanied him all over the world.”
It’s 1937 Montgomery Clift plays the sympathetic Dr. John Cukrowicz an upcoming neurosurgeon from Chicago, who has been summoned to the palatial Venable estate an old Victorian Mansion in the Garden District of New Orleans, by the sovereign widow, and wealthy matriarch Violet Venable inhabited imposingly by Katharine Hepburn who portrays Violet’s character like a Dragon Lady in a starched white exoskeleton. Violet is prepared to donate a large sum of money to fund the doctor’s research at the state mental hospital Lion’s View Asylum, with the stipulation that he perform a lobotomy on her supposedly insane niece and poor relation, Catherine Holly portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in one of her most volatile roles.
Suddenly, Last Summer, harnesses integral visions and symbols of a predatory natural world. Overgrown plant life that seems to inhabit the ancient spirits of the forest, statues resembling an Angel of Death, and somewhat like that of a winged maternal bird of prey, a flesh eating bird as mentioned in the story Violet relates to Dr. Cukrowicz. We see Violet in several frames set against the figure of the skeletal harbinger. Violet is the embodiment of The Devouring Mother, as she escorts the gentleman doctor around her dead son Sebastian’s primordial jungle evoking the garden of earthly delights by Hieronymus Bosch.
Williams intended the environment to be a Savage place, the natural world. A domain where human frailty and compulsion breed a ravaging force that consumes not only the spirit, but essentially arouses the carnal, primal need to consume the weaker of the species not only to prevail as the unbounded agency of dominance, but to satiate oneself infinitely.