Movie Review: Summertime in Venice

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
The late Katherine Hepburn has received a number of tributes this year, which include a special screening at the 60th International Venice Film Festival this August of a restored version of Summertime made in 1955, shot exclusively in the Venetian lagoon.
In her autobiography "Me", Hepburn remarked, "they called me and said that David Lean was going to direct it. Would I be...they didn't need to finish that sentence". For Lean it was his favorite film, starring his favorite actress. Hepburn said she first lived on the island of Murano, where the famous Murano glass is made, not Venice proper with its maze of narrow streets and bridges. Together with her entourage, she quickly moved to an apartment near the Grand Canale, the major water route, opposite the famous Gritti hotel where David Lean camped She even had her own gondola. Knowing that Venice footed the entire bill of $36.000, Summertime is pure tourist promotion.

Hepburn claims absorbed Lean the city and had a photographic gift for conveying his impressions. Indeed after every minute of dialogue a fantastic breathtaking view of the city is displayed A thin storyline based on the play The Time of the Cuckoo, by Arthur Laurents is made to fit his pictures.

Summertime is about Jane Hudson, a middle-aged "fancy secretary' from Akron, Ohio who saves up for a three-week dream vacation in Venice. Arriving by train to Piazza Roma via the Orient Express, Paris-Venice complete with hand wound single 8-mm camera, she takes the vaporetto, the public water bus rather than am expensive gondola. Some American tourists on board happen to be staying at the same boarding house, Pensioni Fiorini on the Accademia water bus stop where Peggy Guggenheim home is located. On her first day out on the Piazza San Marco, Jane meets a handsome middle aged man, Renato Di Rossi, an antique dealer, and enters into a romance which becomes all the more passionate because he is a married man though separated from his wife. One of the most sought after Venetian tourist items is of course Murano glass: "glass, glass and more glass" according to the dialogue, and Lean had six shades of red goblets especially blown for the film. In one scene, Jane discovers Renato charged almost the same amount for 18th century glass as fresh imitations, a discovery that produces a rage attack. The film crew was considered an irritating obstacle to tourism. Church officials from the San Marcos cathedral insisted that Hepburn wear long sleeve dresses, in the stifling summer heat when filming near the church. David Lean also conveys his own morality play. His intention with the film was to capture a child at play, Jane's awe of Venice and the excitement of new love. An Italian child becomes her escort, one that she at first rebukes: she is not that desperate. "You are like a hungry child that only wants beefsteak not ravioli. Please take the ravioli," says Renato later. "I'm not that hungry", says Katherine. But Renato convinces her of the need for a Latin approach, the ravioli approach to love and sexuality. Her red goblets transform to a pair of sparkling red shoes,as fireworks fill the skies.

One memorable scene is when Katherine Hepburn falls into the Venetian canal. Reportedly, the water temporarily blinded Katherine and today anyone who falls into the canal is advised to take antibiotics. It is the also the water that carries her first flower from Renato, a flower that never quiet stays in her possession even as she pulls away from the city. She has grown up, and if she stays a second longer she will never go. In the UK, the film was called Summer Madness a far more appropriate title.

More Information:
Summertime in Venice
USA/UK - 1955