In 1947 Ross Lockridge, Jr., published his one long, softly Modernist novel Raintree County. Lockridge had spent seven years on the book. It was acclaimed. Today, despite echoes of Joyce and Faulkner, it reads like endless dated historical fiction. But Lockridge committed suicide before critics had their second thoughts. And, at the time, his suicide may have seemed, as they say, a good career move. MGM made a film starring Taylor and Clift. But, then, the film wasn’t all that good. Lockridge is now truly dead.
Raintree County was the second of three Taylor and Clift films. Theodore Dreiser’s American Tragedy, as I have said, was the basis for A Place in the Sun. Tennessee Williams’s play Suddenly, Last Summer, with a screen play by Gore Vidal, was their last collaboration. Suddenly, Last Summer revisits the themes of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof less successfully. Gay men don’t sleep with women, even women as beautiful as Elizabeth Taylor; how strange is that? It seems less strange in 2006 than it did in 1959. Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor both received Oscar nominations for best actress for Suddenly, Last Summer. Clift plays a neurosurgeon who, using Freud and sodium pentothal, unravels the truth. As absent dead Sebastian’s sexuality is slowly revealed, madness shifts from Taylor, the failed girlfriend or bait, to Hepburn, the failed mother. Unlike Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the film’s key revelation was fairly clear even to movie audiences of the Fifties. Coming up next: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?