1950s cinema: ‘Summertime’

sue ellen ewing

The dank, miserable evenings of the first week of January are perfect for summer holiday films. Watching golden, glorious sunshine is no match for the real thing – that is certainly true. But it reminds you that we are in the countdown to spring already. Even though it is only a fortnight since the shortest day of the year, almost imperceptibly, the daylight hours are stretching. Hope is on the horizon.

A 1950s summer romance film set in Italy, is a treat for the eyes.

Having seen Audrey Hepburn burn up the screen in ‘Roman Holiday’ at the Lighthouse Cinema last year, I decided to give a film by her namesake a viewing this evening. For my entertainment was the film ‘Summertime’ (or ‘Summer Madness’ as it was called in Ireland and Britain). Made in 1955, directed by David Lean, and filmed in glorious Technicolor, it stars Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi.

La Hepburn plays Jane Hudson – a middle aged, spinster schoolmarm (a role she played convincingly, and regularly) who has been saving her money for several years for a grand summer trip to Venice. Travelling alone, the film opens with her arriving by train in the historic heart of the city. She is residing at the Pensione Fiorini, a grand old house run by the Signora Fiorini. Mesmerised by the beauty of the city, she refuses to take a gondola and decides to walk everywhere. She is befriended by a barefoot eight year old child called Mauro – whom she bribes with cigarettes (the 1950s were a different time) to be her guide.

Slowly it dawns on her how lonely she is. Surrounded by romance and couples, she steels her will against this unwelcome feeling. Sitting one afternoon in the famed Piazza San Marco she locks eyes with Renato di Rossi (the swelteringly sexy Rossano Brazzi). A romance fitfully develops. He is younger than she, and runs an antique store.
Their blossoming love affair faces some unexpected obstacles – mainly his wife and children. Resisting temptation, Jane tries to tell him to leave her be. He is persistent. She buys a pair of red shoes. He seduces her. The symbolism of the fireworks as she loses her virginity has the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

I swooned at the romance of it all. It positively gave me the vapours.

Will it have a happy ever after ending? Well I can hardly give the entire plot away now, can I?

It’s a lovely film, with stunning location shoots and a poignant, sad performance by Hepburn, who is portrayed as feisty and independent. The loneliness of solo travel is portrayed quite accurately, but at least she is never painted as any kind of desperate figure.

Well worth checking out.

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