Combustible Celluloid
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With: Katharine Hepburn, Rossano Brazzi, Isa Miranda, Darren McGavin, Mari Aldon, Jane Rose, MacDonald Parke, Jeremy Spenser, Gaetano Autiero, Virginia Simeon
Written by: H.E. Bates, David Lean, based on a play by Arthur Laurents
Directed by: David Lean
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 99
Date: 05/29/1955

Summertime (1955)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Venice Courting

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1955, David Lean was still transitioning from his small-scale black and white 1940s movies to the huge, full-color widescreen epics that won him several Oscars. Summertime is as lovely a stepping stone as one could hope for; it's scenic, shot in glorious color, but contains a heartbreakingly intimate story, one worthy of comparison with Lean's Brief Encounter (1945).

Katharine Hepburn -- who would have been about 48 at the time -- stars as Jane Hudson, a lonely American spinster who makes her first trip to Italy after saving up most of her life. She's quite the opposite of the "ugly American," though she meets a pair of them on the way to her hotel. They're vulgar and stupid and care only about their itinerary, shopping, and finding some familiar food. Other guests at the hotel have a rather liberal view of love and romance. Jane doesn't really fit in with any of them, and Lean carefully and poetically shows her awkwardness and pain and loneliness. She declines an invitation to dinner in one scene, and in a later scene tries to invite herself, only to realize that she'll be a burden and a third wheel; she gracefully bows out.

She busies herself taking home movies of Venice, and we see a city that's at once beautiful and real. Just as her breath is stolen away by a certain view, a woman dumps some garbage from a window above. Her biggest jolt comes when a dashing Italian man, Renato de Rossi (Rossano Brazzi), begins seducing her. She resists, then succumbs, and finally becomes indignant when she learns that he's married. Yet their scenes together are so tender and intense. Hepburn struggles against her entire being, but quickly kisses him, whispers, "I love you," and runs away.

Jane makes another connection with a street urchin, Mauro (Gaetano Autiero), and though he helps with a certain kind of atmosphere, he also provides the film with some comic relief that it may or may not actually need; Brief Encounter found its moments of humor within the intimacy of the central couple. Moreover, the ending of Summertime isn't quite as complete and as satisfying as Brief Encounter. Has Kate been fulfilled by her fling? Will she go back home to find real love with an American man? Or is it a sad ending? There's nothing wrong with a little ambiguity, but is this really a story about how a more sexually powerful European "rescues" a poor, simple, puritanical American?

Thankfully, these questions hardly detract from the film as an experience. It's truly wonderful throughout, thanks to both Hepburn's intricate performance and Lean's generous direction. It's best seen while cuddling with someone you love.

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