Friday, July 9, 2010

Katharine Hepburn in Suddenly, Last Summer

Katharine Hepburn received her eighth Best Actress nomination for playing Mrs. Violet Venable in the psycho-drama based on the play of Tennesse Williams, Suddenly, Last Summer. I am 100% positive that Hepburn did not have much chance to win the Oscar (maybe her name helped her a bit) as her co-star, hot superstar Elizabeth Taylor was favored to win the award. They both lost however to French actress Simone Signoret.

Suddenly, Last Summer is an impressive and sometimes even shocking movie, talking about the difficult (and sore) subject of lobotomy in a very brave and innovative way, even though the homosexual subtexts of the original play were obviously deleted and censored (which were in the original play). Montgomery Clift has the most screentime of the actors I think, yet he seems to be more supporting than leading. I am going to talk about Liz Taylor's performance later so I won't spoil the suspense until than. I liked Mercedes McCamridge the first time I watched this movie, but this time I found her to be incredibly annoying (but great in the last scene). Nevertheless, I cannot complain about the great and always masterful direction of Mr. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who had already made many masterpieces.

Katharine Hepburn is a loved and respected personality, who's widely considered to be the greatest American actress ever lived (though some give the title to Bette Davis, but let's not argue about that). I used to think that Hepburn was extremely overrated, which I don't like to admit, but I do right now. It's true that she has certain mannerisms that one has to get used to. (and this is probably the performance that made me love her) .

On an imdb board (oh, I hate them) I read that this was Hepburn's worst performance of her career. I would like to reject that right now and explain why. Lots of people also argue that her performance is supporting instead of leading, which I again refuse to accept, even though there might be some truth in it. In my opinion she completely commands the screen and by the way she does not have much less screentime than her co-star Elizabeth Taylor, her time is just not divided into little sequences, but mostly into a 25-minute-long first scene, in which she deals with all the possible difficulties of a performance with such ease and brilliance that she nearly makes it too easy, which might be true for her, but not an ordinary performer.

The material of Tennesse Williams helps a LOT to his actors (brilliant roles all) and they are parts for middle-aged actresses to kill for. Those teary-eyed monologues are could have been over-the-top and annoying, but Hepburn here did not make the same mistake she did in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in 1967. She soberly solves the problems avoids all the traps of the scenes, and her presence is not only magnetic, but also hypnotizing and strange. With her you never know, what's real and what's not, she shows the (not so inner) manipulative nature of this character so thrillingly well, that in the beginning, we believe everything she says (of course until we see the tortured Elizabeth Taylor).

Mrs. Venable is a tricky character. Although she's far from being moody, she gets so unpredictable and manipulative, yet in a strange way, she's someone you feel sorry for as she's the oone having real mental problems. Towards the end of her big scene (and the movie) we get to see the madness of this woman. At first she seems to be in deep grief over the loss of her only son, but we get to see how unstable and neurotic she really is. She does not only love or admire her son, there's some incestous attraction she feels for him. She's almost a maniac of the good reputation of her son, for which she's even able to destroy that innocent and also mentally unstable girl (She also blames her for the ultimate death of Sebastian).

Her scene at the mental institution towards the middle of the movie is top-class and nearly mind-blowing. Her refusal to accept that nothing happened in the reality how she tries to prove is unbelievably real and also (again manipulative). Unlike Angela Lansbury's character in The Manchurian Candidate (I think it's not that great of a cmoparision but still), she's not vicious, but desperate, inconcolable and bitter. And we must not forget her very last scene which I don't want to give away. I just say that it's breathtaking and unforgettable.

To sum up, I hope I lined up a great deal of arguments why this is not one of Kate Hepburn's worst performances but is one of her best works ever. Gutwrenching, masterful achievement of a towering talent and a movie legend.

P.S.: It is so ironic to give Meryls to Hepburn. LOL

So what do you think? Tell me I'm curious.


Fritz said...

Yeah! I gave her 5 points, too! I'm really glad that you liked her as much as I did!

dinasztie said...

All I can say is that brilliant is brilliant for everyone. :) And Hepburn is the definition of brilliant. :)