Director’s Spotlight: David Lean’s Summertime (1955)

David Lean’s Summertime (1955)


Lonely spinster, Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn, The African Queen), uses all her savings to take a vacation in Venice, Italy. While touring the city’s biggest attractions, Jane, who had long given up on the idea of ever finding love, unexpectedly falls in love with a debonair Italian businessman (Rossano Brazzi, South Pacific).

Reaction & Thoughts:

David Lean’s adaptation of Arthur Laurents’s 1952 play, The Time of the Cuckoo, is an ode to the city of Venice. Lean captures the moods, the people, the sounds, the colors of the city like no one before or after. Lean takes full advantage of the beautiful locales — gorgeously shot in color by ace cameraman Jack Hildyard, The Bridge on the River Kwai and The V.I.P.s. For that reason alone, Venice becomes a character as important as the human characters.

Summertime is very much in the vein of Lean’s 1945 classic Brief Encounter, another small-scale romantic drama who benefited from the director’s keen eye for small details. Lean co-wrote the script with H.E. Bates (Donald Ogden Stewart, The Philadelphia Story, wrote additional dialogue). Even though the men worked hard on opening up the play, they kept the essence of Laurents’s work intact.

In retrospective, Summertime announced a new era of filmmaking for the director. After this film, Lean swore never to go back to a soundstage. That explains why he spent the remainder of his career making outdoorsy films. Fans of the director can’t agree about which period was better; the one that ended with studio-bound Hobson’s Choice (1954), or the one that began with open-air Summertime.

There is really not much plot here, which means that it’s up to Lean and Hepburn to make it work. They worked closely together to make every scene count. Hepburn is exceptional — it’s one of her very best performances (she received an Oscar nomination). Hepburn has a tendency to look aloof, but Lean gets her to loosen up and the result is a moving, realistic portrait of a sad woman who seems to have found happiness at last. Brazzi is perfect as the elegant Italian man.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Summertime holds a special place in my heart because it inspired me to travel to Venice — this a magical movie about a magical city. It’s also one of cinema’s best romantic movies. The cast also includes Darren McGavin (A Christmas Story), and Isa Miranda (The Night Porter). Color, 100 minutes, Not Rated.


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