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Monday, August 8, 2011

Movie of the Week... Summertime

If I could recommend just one movie, and one movie alone...  I couldn't do it.  But, Summertime would make the final cut on any list of wonderful movies that I'd say had to be seen.

When I think of Katharine Hepburn, I tend to think of her in the roles she played opposite Spencer Tracy.  There's nothing wrong with that, of course.  Adam's Rib, Desk Set, Woman of the Year - they are all gems.  But as the star of Summertime, Hepburn reaches new heights.  She's sympathetic, believable and, at times, a little frustrating, but all to the good.

Summertime tells the story of Jane Hudson, a very middle-aged American spinster visiting Venice.  She comes with a heart full of fantasy, but also a mind full of middle-American ideas about the proper course of romance.  In one scene, Jane Hudson sits in a cafe along the side of the Piazza San Marco.  Armed, as ever, with her camera (she always seems to be recording life, rather than living it), she spots two young women walking arm in arm, a very typical Italian scene.  Charmed, Hudson focuses her camera, only to see that, as they pass, two young Italian men notice their charms and decide to follow, their minds obviously on romance.  Hudson is shocked, and certainly disapproving, as she quickly puts her camera down.  What Hepburn's character doesn't yet know is that she's about to embark on a passionate affair that doesn't fit into her very conservative idea of the romance she hoped to find. 

Summertime is, simply, a fabulous movie.  It's hard to say whether the star is Katharine Hepburn or Venice itself.  Soaring music punctuates shots of the city on the canals, with the camera sweeping from grand palaces to flower-bedecked balconies to magnificent churches.  In classic David Lean style, there are scenes of such vast beauty that you are completely caught up in the locations.  But, also in Lean style, you are never allowed to become so enraptured that you resort to sentimentality.  Just as you are about to see the scenes of Venice as a sort of sweet valentine to the city, a slop bucket is emptied from a high window, into a canal, as a reminder that this is no set, it's the living and breathing home to very real people.  I am reminded of the scene in A Passage to India, another David Lean spectacle, when the lovely Mrs. Moore, played by Peggy Ashcroft, stares over the moonlit Ganges River, lost in reverie.  Moments after she looks away, a body floating down the river is snatched and pulled under by a crocodile...  A perfect juxtaposition of the beauty, and sometimes cruel reality, of life.

As the movie progresses, Jane Hudson's character transforms from a prim Mid-Western secretary into a woman who has finally experienced true love.  Even her appearance alters as her long-sleeved and high-necked clothes give way to almost girlish dresses and her prim white sandals replaced by daringly red suede shoes that look almost like Venetian masks.  She also learns that, unlike her long-held romantic notions of finding love, things are not always as neat and tidy as one would like.  The object of her affection, perfectly played by Rossano Brazzi, has a life that is a little more complicated than she imagined.

Summertime is a perfect movie to watch as we move into August.  You'll be transported to another place and time, and will almost be able to feel the sunshine on your face, just as if you were basking on one of Venice's flower-filled balconies.  It's also an ideal film to watch with the one you love, remembering the fun and excitement of those early days of a romance.  I can say this, especially tonight, as it's the nineteenth anniversary of the first date I had with my fabulous wife.  I couldn't have imagined then that, almost twenty years later, we'd still be madly in love and watching Summertime together.  And, for your information, I can tell you that love at first sight really does exist!


  1. I remember searching for a copy of this movie. It was out of print forever it seemed...that doesn't happen anymore.

    Fave summertime movie number two (would be great to watch out on the lawn...hint...hint) is.....drumroll.....REAR WINDOW..absolutely a must on a hot sweaty summer night.

  2. i can watch this movie any time of the year.i have a hard time watching her leave rosanno brazzi every time i see hoo.