Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Summer views: Summertime, 1955

SUMMERTIME, 1955. David Lean’s entrancing film of Arthur Laurents’ “The Time of the Cuckoo” effortlessly draws one in again, no matter now many times one has seen it. I wonder though what it would be like if the homlier Shirley Booth, who played it on the stage, had re-created her role as Jane Hudson, the spinster secretary from Akron, Ohio, on the loose in Venice. Jane considers herself independent and happy to go it alone, but you can feel very alone in a strange, new beautiful city, we can feel her ache with loneliness among the crowds in the Piazza San Marco, then suddenly she is aware of the handsome man who is watching her … 

The angular Katharine Hepburn is fascinating here, whether shooting film with her camera, or (famously) falling into the canal. There is also of course the obliatory cute kid to show her around. She wears a fascinating collection of outfits too. Rosanno Brazzi is the very essence of a romantic handsome Italian to set any unmarried woman aflutter, even though it turns out he is married. The other American tourists are amusing cartoons, and Isa Miranda has the most fabuous little hotel with great rooms and views (actually a mix of different locations and a purpose-built set). At least the film catches Venice in the mid-50s before the endless tourists and giant cruise ships which may now be causing damage to the lagoon. 

Our lovers meet in his shop with those red glass goblets and soon he is taking her to Murano that island where the glass is made, she meets his son (Jeremy Spenser) too which makes her realise Vittorio is married. The climax as Jane leaves on the train, after that night of passion, endlessly waving goodbye is certainly an emotional one  … surely she won’t be going back to her old life back in Ohio? Surely Venice and her little romance has awakened her …. It is one of Lean’s perfectly shot and directed “little” films before he went for the larger canvas of his later opuses. Hepburn too scores one of her best ‘50s films.

Arthur Laurents though, at his waspish best, who wrote the original play “The Time of the Cuckoo” is less than enamoured with star and director in his memoir, writing that “Shirley (named Leona Samish) came by boat to Venice on a budget holiday, her clothes were bought on a secretary’s salary, and with an ordinary camera. Kate Hepburn’s Jane Hudson flew to Venice in gowns by Adrian. On arrival she whips out an expensive movie camera and proceeds to photograph everything in sight with the expertise of a professional. She comes to Venice to change outfits, flirt archly with a good-looking man, but preserve her very-long-held virginity at all costs. She does lose it – as a screenload of fireworks in the Venetian sky tells us – and to her surprise she likes what it takes to lose it. But at this point Jane decides to leave Venice... 
Why? Because the picture has gone on long enough. Her given reason is that she has always stayed too long at a party. The picture itself is a beautifully photographed travelogue, a coffee-table book on film. What little story it tells is mawkish and sentimental, made more so by the maudlin performance of its star whose weeping threatens to overflow the troubled canals. At the very end of the movie there is a moment, wonderfully shot and conceived, where Di Rossi runs frantically along a railway station platform with a flower for Jane, who is on a fast moving, departing train. He doesn’t catch up and she is left, looking back at him, her eyes leaking like an old faucet.... 
SUMMERTIME was moderately successful at the box office and Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar. The screenplay was credited to H E Bates, a first-rate English novelist, it should have been credited to Hepburn and Lean, true believers that stars can do anything they want, even write. In this aspect of the movie business they were unoriginal. 

Kate scored again though in 1956 with DESK SET (which I like a lot), from another play which Shirley Booth had originated on stage! She and Kate had become friends during the stage run of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY where Booth had played Kate Imbrie. Booth of course had won her own Oscar with COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA, from the William Inge play, in 1952 and also appeared in other films like THE MATCHMAKER (the origin of HELLO DOLLY). Laurents’ book is one of those fascinating show-biz memoirs, with all the best stories, including his long time relationship with Farley Granger.  
Venice scores here too, usually it is the background for death or plague as in DEATH IN VENICE or DON’T LOOK NOW….

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