In 1937, millionairess Violet Venable, obsessed with her dead son Sebastian, offers brain surgeon Dr Cukrovicz enough money to build a hospital if he will perform an unnecessary lobotomy on Sebastians cousin Catherine to suppress the horrible truth about
'The sun was like the great white bone of a giant beast that had caught on fire in the sky.' A one-act play by Tennessee Williams, expanded into a feature script by Gore Vidal, which makes for one of the most deliciously overripe writing combinations in film history.
Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz isn't quite up to a story that demands the kind of overwrought style Robert Aldrich (Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte) or (Curtis Harrington (Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?)) brought to similar mixes of high camp and gothic horror.
Taylor is marvellously martyred, wandering about the hellhole asylum provoking riots, the scarred Clift is ambiguously idealist as the decent man tempted to a terrible crime, and the magisterial Hepburn elegantly chews the scenery in little bites, descending from the heavens in her chairlift, rambling about the brilliance of her departed (and obviously cracked) genius poet son and scheming deviously to pull off a truly ghastly crime.
The mystery angle, which is revealed in a sunlit nightmare flashback, is a William S. Burroughs fantasy involving homosexuality, incest, sadism, class exploitation, nature red in tooth and claw and ancient rituals as it turns out the strutting, predatory Sebastian, who uses luscious Liz in a blinding white bathing suit to lure youths for his sexual purposes, was overwhelmed and eaten by a flock of beach boys!
It is naturally talky, with Vidal adding extra venom to already high camp horror, but with a hothouse pleasure in eloquence.
Remade for TV by Richard Eyre in 1993, with Maggie Smith, Rob Lowe and Natasha Richardson.
Superbly adapted with blistering performances from Taylor and Hepburn.