This wonderfully overheated drama – an adaptation of a one-act play by Tennessee Williams with a screenplay by Gore Vidal – is animated by ultra-powerful performances from Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn.
Taylor plays Catherine Holly, the niece about to be committed to a mental institution by wealthy southern matriarch Mrs Violet Venable (Hepburn) after witnessing the violent death of her cousin, Sebastian – Violet’s much-loved poet son – while they were holidaying in Spain. Hepburn is terrifying as the domineering Mrs Venable.
Montgomery Clift is Dr John Cukrowicz, the neurosurgeon called in to assess the girl’s sanity rating before a possible lobotomy.
Elizabeth Taylor portrays Catherine’s brittleness ideally as she nervously puffs on a cigarette as she cottons on to her family’s plans for her so they can secure Sebastian’s fortune left to her in his will.
All the way through, there are references to how Sebastian met his demise – as when Catherine accidentally ends up in the male half of the asylum and is molested, or when Mrs Venable feeds her carnivorous plants and speaks of baby turtles being eaten by carnivorous birds.
Determined to get to the facts, Dr Cukrowicz brings all concerned together and injects Catherine with a truth serum. Catherine reveals that – prompted by Mrs Venable – she found young men for Sebastian, a practising homosexual, but suddenly the cannibalistic paederasts turned on Sebastian, tore him to shreds and ate him!
The revelations drive Mrs Venable mad, and she thinks Cukrowicz is her son, but the doctor wisely settles for Catherine, whose “hallucinations” were all too true.
Director Joseph L Mankiewicz makes it a class act all round.
Dr John Cukrowicz
Mrs Violet Venable
Joseph L. Mankiewicz