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

David Lean’s Summertime (1955)Synopsis:

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 meets and falls in love with an Italian businessman (Rossano Brazzi, South Pacific).

Reaction & Thoughts:

David Lean’s adaptation of the hugely popular 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 locales (gorgeously shot by Jack Hildyard, The Bridge on the River Kwai), which never, however, overshadow the human emotions. For that reason alone, Venice becomes a character as important as Hepburn’s.

Lean co-wrote the script with H.E. Bates (Donald Ogden Stewart, The Philadelphia Story, wrote additional dialogue). Even though both men worked hard on opening up the play, they kept the essence of Laurents’s work intact.

Summertime is very much in the vein of Lean’s classic Brief Encounter (1945), another small-scale romantic drama who benefited from the director’s keen eye for small details.

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. Hepburn often comes across as being  aloof, but Lean gets her to loosen up and the result is a moving and realistic portrait of a sad woman who seems to have found happiness at last. Brazzi is perfect as the elegant Italian man.

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.

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. The cast also includes Darren McGavin (A Christmas Story), Isa Miranda (The Night Porter), and Gaetano Autiero. Color, 100 minutes, Not Rated.


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