JANE HUDSON, A LONELY AND SHELTERED MIDDLE-AGED SPINSTER ON HOLIDAY IN VENICE. HER LONG-DREAMED-OF ROMANCE FINALLY BECOMES A REALITY WHEN SHE MEETS A HANDSOME BUT MARRIED VENETIAN. THEIR ILL-FATED LOVE AFFAIR MAKES FOR A FRESHLY ENDEARING FILM.
There was a time before Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago when David Lean made smaller, more effortlessly picturesque movies, and this splendid Venetian travelogue and love story is one of them--the last, actually, before the epic onslaught started with the Oscar-winning The Bridge on the River Kwai in 1957. "Sometimes I think a schedule in Venice is just, well, all wrong," observes a bewitched tourist to Katharine Hepburn's vacationing spinster near the beginning of Summertime, which is based on Arthur Laurents's play The Time of the Cuckoo. Before the end, however, Jane will have thrown her idealized romantic notions into the canals and embarked on a passionate affair with a married art dealer (Rossano Brazzi). More blissful than Lean's adulterous fable Brief Encounter 10 years prior, but not entirely guilt- or pain-free, this deceptively simple romance is an often-fascinating glimpse at a time when sexual revolution for Americans--and especially middle-aged women--was confined to fanciful European trysts. Plus, with all the architecture, art, Italian conversation, music, and fine cuisine around you (all richly photographed on location by Jack Hildyard), who's to pish-posh a furtive all-nighter between one repressive country and a free-loving one? The two leads are graceful and even musical in their movements and line deliveries. Hepburn's initial outrage at the idea that illicit love is part of her impossibly beautiful surroundings may at first seem outdated, but the Academy Award-winning actress is too good not to suggest as well the poignant, deep fear her character has of opening up emotionally to anybody. Ultimately, Summertime is the movie equivalent of a deep, satisfying sigh. --Robert Abele