My current Top 5

My current Top 5

1/31/2010

Best Actress 1959: Elizabeth Taylor in "Suddenly, Last Summer"

Suddenly, Last Summer goes on for over 30 minutes before Elizabeth Taylor’s Catherine appears for the first time but her name has been mentioned a lot already. We hear that she is a wonderful girl, rare and precious but also that she has gone crazy during her vacation with her cousin Sebastian who died a mysterious death. Since then, Catherine lives in an asylum under the order of strict nuns but even they won’t keep her since she apparently is too vulgar and dangerous to be around. Catherine’s aunt Violet is eager to have Dr. Cukrowicz, played by Montgomery Clift, perform a lobotomy on Catherine – officially because of her madness but it’s clear that Violet fears that Catherine knows to much about Sebastian’s death and so she wants to silence her forever.

Even though we are told that Catherine is the crazy one and Mrs. Venable has only her best interests in mind, it becomes clear very quick that quite the opposite seems to be true: Katharine Hepburn’s Violet is clearly close to a mental breakdown while the first impression of Catherine is that she is a head-strong girl hunted by an awful memory – but certainly not crazy.

Both Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor were excellent in interpreting their parts. While Katharine Hepburn played her character very restrained and controlled, Elizabeth Taylor gives the kind of exaggerated performance that a character like Catherine in a movie like Suddenly, Last Summer surely needs. She is melodramatic and over-the-top but she never becomes unbelievable. It’s a testament to her ability as an actress that was always able to stop before her performance became a caricature. Oh, and she probably never looked more beautiful.

In her first scenes with Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor establishes Catherine as a character who is not only not crazy but seems to be much more aware of everything than everyone else.

She openly talks about all the things that she is accused of and she seems to be rather amused by it. She takes a rebellious attitude to the things that happened to her – if people do think that she is crazy, then she wants to be crazy. Only when Dr. Cukrowicz shows himself to be a much more sensitive and intelligent person than she is used to see and she realizes that he seems to be on her side, her surprise changes her character. Catherine seems to know what everything is about but at the same time she does not. The memory of the terrible events during her vacation with Sebastian is inside her but the shock she suffered prevents her from experiencing it again. She is only hunted by fragments, by sounds, by images.

Catherine is probably only considered crazy because she is the only one of the characters in the movie who really and openly talks about the truth without pretending. It’s clear that her “insanity” is only a shock reaction and that she sees everything quite clearly. She knows why her aunt sent her away in this asylum, she knows how her greedy family will behave. Just like Mrs. Venable spends a lot of time talking about Catherine, Catherine spends a lot of time talking about Mrs. Venable and for the viewer it is clear that Catherine is the one to trust.

Just like Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor is given a lot monologues but she is never able to fill them with as much passion and dedication. While her overacting fits the style of the movie and works for the character, it sometimes reduces the impact of Liz’s performance.

But even though one can’t deny that the sheer difficulty of the role is a real challenge for every actress and Elizabeth Taylor certainly did an impressive job in bringing this character alive.

The highlight of her performance is without a doubt her final scene when Catherine remembers what happens last summer. In a never-ending close-up, Elizabeth Taylor shows the horror and the truth of Sebastian’s death and performs it with astonishing rawness and dedication that is almost exhausting to watch.

Even though Catherine is the most central character, Elizabeth Taylor doesn’t leave the same lasting impression as Katharine Hepburn but she still gives a formidable piece of work that gets

6 comments:

Sage Slowdive said...

I think she's fine, but she goes a little too over the top for me, but I do understand that is what the character is supposed to do.

Fritz said...

I can't explain it...sometimes I like over-the-top performances and sometimes I don't...I think it depends on the level of over-the-topness and what the actress does with the character...well, it's all relative! :-)

Sage Slowdive said...

Yeah, I completely agree. I mean, I get Jessica Lange's over the topness in Blue Sky, yet I don't get why Marion Cotillard has to run around in La Vie En Rose like a chicken with it's head cut off.

Fritz said...

You know I love Marion's performance but that really made me laugh.

Sage Slowdive said...

lol well that was the best phrase that came to my mind.

Gina Wilhelm Actress said...

Tennessee Williams is really hard to do. And harder to do well. I always thought Elizabeth Taylor handled him well.