A brilliant young doctor must restore the memory of his patient if he is to save her from being lobotomized in a corrupt state mental hospital. [ Suddenly Last Summer credits: Dir: Joseph L. Mankiewicz/ Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift/ 114 min/ Drama/ Psychiatry & Force]
Tennessee Williams, who wrote the play on which this film was based, lost his introverted sister to the then-experimental procedure of lobotomy, so freely was it prescribed to “the insane” at the time. This story questions both the definition of insanity and the character and motivation of those who might be legally empowered to act on such definition.
As it begins, a young woman has returned from a trip abroad, a trip in which her traveling companion died under mysterious circumstances. But she can’t remember anything about what happened and is so shaken by the experience that she is described by some as mad. Perhaps an experimental treatment, something called a “lobotomy,” might help? Anyway, there are plenty of people who want it to happen, and only one man can stop it.
This is a powerful film with a first-rate cast, truly literary script (it retains much of the language of the original play), and very effective music and direction. From the outset, a malevolent atmosphere pervades the film. It makes the viewer really feel the danger that threatens the young woman at the center of this tale, as a powerful enemy moves her ever closer to lobotomy in an effort to stop her from exposing a shocking, secret truth.
All of the central characters are played with great style, but it’s Katharine Hepburn who steals the show, as the near-mad dowager underneath whose highbrow exterior lies the most menacing character. This is a must-see for fans of Thomas Szasz and other critics of the therapeutic state, and an all-around entertaining and suspenseful experience in southern Gothic horror.