|Index||7 reviews in total|
"Suddenly, Last Summer" (1993 TV Version) I taped this version way back in 1993 & it is supremely faithful to the text (unlike the original version with Elizabeth Taylor). Maggie Smith is reserved where Katherine Hepburn is effusive. Similarly, Rob Lowe smoulders where Montgomery Clift languished. Natsha Richardson is not Elizabeth Taylor, but the Catherine of the original text is not the Catherine in the original film. The character is not seen until almost halfway through the play; the impact of her story is heightened that much more by her late appearance. Gone are the flashback location shots (mercifully), Natasha Richardson's delivery of her final monologue doesn't need flashbacks, one is able to visualize what she describes perfectly. This is truly superior to the original version.
I have a copy of this version of "Suddenly Last Summer" that I taped (luckily) during the broadcast on "Great Performances" in 1993. The picture quality is very fuzzy, which seems to have been a part of the original broadcast. This is even more obvious in these days of DVD, where we are all so used to excellent visuals. I have tried to collect ALL filmed presentations and soundtracks of Tennessee Williams plays, and I don't like to compare the various versions due to the fact that the original film versions faced great restrictions because of censorship, given the stricter morals of those days. The older versions do the best that they were allowed to do, in the context of the prevailing morality under which they were produced. This PBS "Great Performances" version is wonderful- from the opening credits shots of Venus Fly Traps capturing insects in Sebastian's garden to the closing credits depicting the garden again. After the screening, there is a brief clip from a 1976 interview with Tennessee explaining how an incident between his sister and mother inspired the dialogue written for the play. There is no mention of an available video for the presentation, as is so common these days for most PBS productions, so I am assuming that this version has never been released on any home video format. The closing credits state that this is "A BBC co-production with Thirteen/WNET" and gives the date 1992. There is a chance that this was released on video in the UK, but I have not found any mention of such. There is no credit given for soundtrack music or any release as well.
Mrs. Venable has to be one of Maggie Smith's most powerful small screen performances, her rendition of the crippled yet revenge ridden widow is a gothic portrayal which is matched with an equally memorable Natasha Richardson as Catherine. Every facet of this Richard Eyre production reeks of class, the supporting cast are divine with Rob Lowe turning in an understated Dr. Sugar who is pressured to perform a dangerous lobotomy on Catherine in return for substantial research funding by Venable. As the film progresses the viewer is drawn into the tense narrative and the final scene where Catherine is summoned to the house to relive the death of Venable's son before the unbelieving harridan is just phenomenal. Only seen once on BBC2 back in November 1993, this film surely deserves a video release or even a repeat showing. Why it has only had one British outing is beyond me.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Those who have seen Tennessee Williams' play "Garden District" on stage
will appreciate this probably more than the 1959 Katharine
Hepburn/Elizabeth Taylor movie because this is obvious closer to the
play than the more famous screen adaption. With just one setting (the
grounds of Mrs. Violet Venable's eccentric southern plantation),
everything that was fleshed out for the big screen is condensed into
two seamless acts where every secret comes out over a short period of
time rather than the extended time obviously played out in the movie.
Catharine Holly (Natasha Richardson) is the institutionalized niece of
Mrs. Venable (Maggie Smith), having suffered a breakdown after Mrs.
Venable's son Sebastian was mysteriously killed while they were on
vacation together. Obviously obsessively jealous over Catherine's
replacement of her on the regular summer holiday she usually took with
her son, Violet utilizes psychiatrist Rob Lowe to try and get the
memory of what Catherine saw out of her mind so Sebastian's secrets
will not be revealed. She utilizes her son's estate to manipulate
Catherine's family into going along with the lobotomy, but Catherine is
anything but willing to allow herself to become a guinea pig for her
wealthy aunt's sake. This sets the drama up for some revealing secrets,
already familiar to those who saw the original movie or a stage
production, but possibly shocking to others. The usual usage of
metaphors and symbolic images from the mind of Tennessee Williams may
be convoluted for some, but still makes for powerful theater whether on
stage or on screen.
To see the legendary Maggie Smith with the wonderful Natasha Richardson (a member of one of England's royal theatrical families) is a treat in itself, and reminds us of the loss of this gem of a young actress way too soon. Richardson is far from Elizabeth Taylor's sex kitten performance from the movie, while Smith is more volatile than Katharine Hepburn's somewhat subdued but sometimes campy version. Like Montgomery Clift in the movie, Rob Lowe is caught between two tigresses, like a puppy among wildcats. The psychiatrist role is not as memorable as the women. The fact that the film does not utilize flashbacks (only a few still shots of what Sebastian looked like years before his death) makes it even more theatrical and increases the power of the drama. The usage of color makes Mrs. Venable's garden much scarier than the original.
Several of Tennessee Williams's friends have told me they thought
Suddenly Last Summer was his last great play. I never understood what
they meant until I saw the production with Rob Lowe, Natasha Richardson
& the others. This production seemed unfamiliar, almost like a totally
different play. The language is more elevated and poetic. I'd recommend
it to anybody who wants to experience Williams as a serious artist and
For instance, when Violet Venable accuses Catharine Holly of simply "using Sebastian," Natasha Richardson replies (paraphrased)that of course she was using him. "We all use each other all the time. That's what is commonly called love in our society." That is such pure Tennessee Williams but it is also something cut from the script when it was adapted for the big block-buster Hollywood movie with its star-studded cast. It represents the kind of truth that Williams intended to speak that Americans weren't yet ready to hear during the 1950s.
I saw this movie on PBS several years ago by accident because I saw that
Lowe was in it. A good theatrical southern drama that takes place in the
30's I think. I would like to see it again as I think I might appreciate
more. Rob Lowe enters a family's lion's den as Dr. Sugar hoping to obtain
funding for his project. He plays a southern doctor during the 30's very
well, accent and all..Dr. Sugar does this delicate balancing act while the
rest of the family members are being melodramatic in the old southern
aristocracy way. He ends up hypnotizing Miss Foxhill and starts falling in
love with her.
I'm surprised this movie has not been on television more. It does bring out a different acting style to what we are used to seeing Rob Lowe do. If you get a chance to rent it, it is worth seeing just for the classical southern dramatics.
I'm a fan of the original movie with Liz Taylor, Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift and I knew that the 1959 film was very different from the stage version. This version with Natasha Richardson, Maggie Smith and Rob Lowe seems to stick closer to the original text. The three leads are amazing but the supporting cast seemed to lack direction, grasp the severity of the situation at hand or even know how to really REact to situations. The man playing George (Richard E. Grant) had two modes, loud and frantic and quiet and frantic. When mad he would make the same arm gestures over and over again and showed absolutely no character development. Several times during temper tantrums, he paid no attention to where he was going and almost fell over parts of the set. His mother Ms. Holly (played by Moira Redmond) came off as being not only a ditz, but a drunk one at that and stumbled over many lines. Ms. Foxhill played to absurdity by Gillian Raine was painful to watch. Richardson and Smith were fantastic playing off one another and Lowe was greatly underused. Tennessee Williams wrote many tragic figures into his plays and stories and Catherine, the one in Suddenly, Last Summer was based in part on events that led to his (Tennessee's) sisters lobotomy. It takes a special type of talent and adaptation to pull off Tennessee Williams and the supporting cast missed the mark by such a wide margin that it was difficult to focus on the fantastic performances of the three leads.
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