Netflix Update No. 37: “Summertime”

August 28, 2010

KATHARINE HEPBURN

We watched “Summertime,” a 1955 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Rossanno Brazzi, inspired — if I remember right — by the fact that it was shot entirely on location in Venice. In that respect, it was no disappointment. The photography took full advantage of the city.

The premise of the movie is that Jane Hudson (Hepburn), an executive secretary from Akron, Ohio, is vacationing in Venice. It is clear from the beginning that Jane leads a life devoid of excitement and that she came to Venice with the vague hope — accompanied by a vague fear — that something extraordinary will happen to her. The “something,” which anyone would have deduced from the opening credits, is Renato de Rossi (Brazzi), a Venetian shopkeeper with a complicated domestic life.

ROSSANO BRAZZI

After what seems like an interminable buildup, during which Jane’s discomfort as a solo act in Venice is excruciatingly developed, she and Renato have a couple of chance meetings in which Jane’s skittish reaction to him is difficult to understand. At last their acquaintance flourishes until it is consummated in something that couldn’t be shown on the screen in 1955 but was ably represented by fireworks exploding over Venice while one of Jane’s new red shoes lies forsaken on the balcony of Renato’s apartment.

I won’t be a spoiler, but let’s just say there won’t be an opening for a secretary in Akron.

One of many panoramic views of Venice in "Summertime."

We found this film worth watching, but it’s got its flaws. One is that the transitions in Jane’s moods from one scene to the next are rather abrupt in a couple of cases. That might be a function of a larger problem, which is that this movie is largely about Jane’s interior life, but we don’t get much of a look at that. We don’t know why this woman, whom Renato finds irresistible, was incapable of finding romance without coming to Venice.

This film was based on “The Time of the Cuckoo,” which is a play by Arthur Laurents, who — among other things — wrote the books for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.” I haven’t seen that play, but it ran on Broadway in 1952-53 and won a best-actress Tony award for Shirley Booth, who played the character originally named Leona Samish.

ARTHUR LAURENTS

I do know Arthur, though, and I have seen several plays he has written more recently. His work displays a great deal of  insight into the human psyche — maybe I should say the human soul — particularly where love is concerned. I suspect Jane is more understandable in the play.

I have read that the makers of this film didn’t like Arthur’s screenplay and hired another writer to monkey with it. If so, I don’t think they did the audience any favors.

"Arrivederci!"

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6 Responses to “Netflix Update No. 37: “Summertime””

  1. Jim Manago Says:

    The part by Shirley Booth in “The Time of the cuckoo” was Leona Samish. See my many blog references by searching under the show title at http://shirleybooth.info.

    Jim Manago
    Author
    “Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story”

  2. bronxboy55 Says:

    This post reminded me of another film, “Pane e Tulipani” (“Bread and Tulips”). Have you seen it? It’s about ten years old and from what I can recall, doesn’t have any big names actors. But it’s fun to watch. I think you’d like it.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      We haven’t seen it, but I just put it on my Netflix list. You also recommended “Cinema Paradiso,” and we got that from Netflix about a month ago and enjoyed it.

  3. Robert Says:

    I rented “Summertime” about a year ago from Netflix and liked the movie very much. The movie reminded me of another “romance in Rome” film, “Rome Adventure” with Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue.

    My favorite Shirley Booth film is “About Mrs. Leslie” which she co-starred with Robert Ryan.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      Yes, “Rome Adventure” is similar in a way. I don’t think I’ve seen “About Mrs. Leslie.” I’ll have to check that out.

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