Springtime in Italy – Summertime

I can’t believe it’s already time for the last Springtime in Italy post! I’m glad I committed to this series, since otherwise I’m not sure I’d have written here much at all in March. It’s been such a crazy, busy month.

Summertime (1955)

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Director David Lean’s Summertime is a gem, one with much more in common with his quiet, intimate 1945 film, Brief Encounter, than his sweeping sagas like Doctor Zhivago and Laurence of Arabia.  It’s a truly touching, romantic movie, and one that doesn’t seem to be as popular or well-known as it should be.  I absolutely love it.

Summertime is the story of a middle-aged spinster secretary from Akron Ohio, played by Katharine Hepburn.  She has scrimped and saved for years in order to visit Italy, and from the first moment we see her she is brimming with enthusiasm about her adventure.  She’s also clearly eager to connect with those around her, from her fellow tourists to the Italians she meets.

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Hepburn is a marvel in Summertime.  The hope and wonder her character feels at finally being in this place she’s dreamed about for so long is very affecting, as is her loneliness and longing for beauty and romance.

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She finds that romance in a handsome Venetian played by Rossano Brazzi.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the one in which Hepburn, alone at a sidewalk cafe, realizes that Brazzi is gazing at her.

Her discomfiture at being noticed and appreciated by a good looking man is beautifully played.  Here is a woman who isn’t used to being paid attention to in that open, sensual, Italian way.  As much as she is yearning for romance and maybe even sex, she doesn’t know how to handle flirtation. The men in Akron don’t act this way – if they notice her at all, that is. 

Seeing Hepburn’s character come out of her shell – watching her put down the camera and start living life instead of simply observing from the sidelines – is a bittersweet joy.  Bittersweet because opening yourself up to love means opening yourself up to pain, and her admirer is a married man.  This isn’t the perfect, unencumbered romance she’s been dreaming of all these years.  These complications and compromises aren’t what she’s imagined for herself.

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I think Summertime is a movie that’s easier to appreciate when you’re a little older and can see that life isn’t quite what you dreamed it would be when you were young.  Things aren’t always straightforwardly black-and-white.  Is a little bit of imperfect romance in a love-starved life better than none at all?  Are a few days of passion and excitement worth the pain you might feel later?  There aren’t any easy answers – in the movie, or in life.

Or maybe I’m just a sucker for stories of forbidden romance.

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I really like Rossano Brazzi.  He is especially good in this, making what could have been a smarmy character – a married man seducing a naive tourist — into something more complex and difficult to judge.  He’s very attractive and has great chemistry with Katharine Hepburn.

As for Hepburn, “sexy” is not an adjective I would use for her generally, but there are moments in Summertime when she shows that side of herself, and you understand why Brazzi’s character can’t take his eyes off her.

Aside from the touching, poignant story and Hepburn’s great performance, the movie is well worth watching for the gorgeous views of Venice in 1955.

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The city looks glorious in Technicolor, but unfortunately for Katharine Hepburn, the beautiful looking canals of Venice were actually filthy and dangerously polluted.  One of the movie’s scenes called for her to fall into the water, which she gamely did.  She was left with lifelong eye problems because of a resulting infection.

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I have an extremely long list of desert island movies, admittedly, but Summertime is definitely on it, and pretty close to the top, too.  I watch it every year or so, and it always breaks my heart in the most enjoyable way.  If you only watch one of my Springtime in Italy recommendations, I hope it’s this one.  It’s such a special film.

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Summertime is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection.  There’s a good essay about the movie on the Criterion Site as well.

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What a great photo!  It makes me smile just looking at it.

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President Franklin Roosevelt and actress Katharine Hepburn, lunching September 22, 1940 at Mrs. Roosevelt’s Val-Kill Cottage in Hyde Park, New York.  Writers, actors, and musicians met with the President to arrange for a national radio show in support of the New Deal.

I’ll be with you in a minute, Mr. Peabody!

If you ever get a chance to see Bringing Up Baby with the DVD commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, do!  I watched the movie today, and when it was over I started it again with the commentary, figuring I’d just listen to a few minutes of it.  I ended up watching the whole movie all over again!  The commentary reeled me in, which is pretty rare.  Lots of DVD commentaries are dull, dull, dull, but this one wasn’t.

Bogdanovich peppers the commentary with readings of excerpts from interviews he did with Bringing Up  Baby director Howard Hawks in the 1960s and ‘70s, and when he does that he plays both parts, impersonating Hawks.  Pretty funny, like he’s performing a little play.  He throws in a Cary Grant impersonation now and then, too.

BE040044 Hawks, Grant, and Hepburn on the set of Bringing Up Baby, 1938

The best part about the commentary is just how amused Bogdanovich is by the movie, even though he’s clearly seen it many, many, many times.  (He used the framework for the film when he made his own screwball comedy, What’s Up Doc?, with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal in the early ‘70s.  That’s another one on my t0-watch-soon list.)  Bogdanovich can’t help laughing out loud over and over, and it made me laugh out loud with him.

I bet I’ve seen Bringing Up Baby fifteen or more times, (something I should probably be embarrassed to admit, huh?) and I catch something new every time.  The movie is so zany, fast, and full of hilarious bits of dialogue and physical comedy that you can’t take it all in in just one viewing, or even three or four.

I don’t think Cary Grant was ever funnier than he was as Professor David Huxley, wearing his geeky Harold Lloyd glasses, “tsk, tsk”-ing and “oh dear”-ing all over the place, getting more and more frustrated by the frantic lunacy Katharine Hepburn’s nutty but endearing Susan Vance drags him into.  It’s worth it to spend at least one viewing of the movie keeping your eyes on Cary the whole time.  Every little look, noise, line reading, and bit of business he does is brilliant.  He plays it all straight, that’s what makes it so funny.  Susan’s just plain driving him insane!  And yet she’s making him much more human at the same time, breaking him out of his stuffy, academic rut and rescuing him from the boring, cold fish fiancee who doesn’t even want to go on a honeymoon with the dishy doctor.

 

The character actors in classic movies are some of the best things about them.  There are so many wonderful faces and kooky characters.  I appreciate seeing my favorites pop up over and over — it’s like running into an old, beloved friend.   There’s something comforting about seeing people like Edward Everett Horton, Beulah Bondi, Charles Coburn, Spring Byington or Edward Arnold appear on the screen.  You know them, you love them, and you’re sure you’re going to have a great time with them.

Charles Ruggles is so good in Bringing Up Baby, playing Major Applegate, a big-game hunter and friend of Susan’s Aunt Elizabeth (the also wonderful May Robson).  Everybody in this dinner scene is perfection, actually – even the famous dog, Asta, who plays George.  It’s just so wacky!  The Major doing leopard cries, David repeatedly getting up from the table to follow George outside, hoping to finding the intercostal clavicle, Aunt Elizabeth appalled by David’s behavior and Susan totally smitten by her dear “Mr. Bone”. 

 

“It was probably an echo.”  “Yes, well it was a long time coming back, wasn’t it?”  HA!

I don’t think I could ever tire of this movie.  I find it endlessly amusing and endlessly quotable.  It cracks me up every single time I see it.

Cary Grant’s favorite leading ladies

Irene Dunne

Co-star in “The Awful Truth”, “Penny Serenade”, and “My Favorite Wife”

“I loved working with Cary – every minute of it.  Between takes he was so amusing with his cockney stories.  I was his best audience.  I laughed and laughed and laughed.  The more I laughed, the more he went on.”

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Katharine Hepburn

Co-star in “Sylvia Scarlett”, “Bringing Up Baby”, “Holiday”, and “The Philadelphia Story”

“We got on well, Cary and I.  It was fun to play with him, and I think he had a good time, too.  People liked us together, so we enjoyed it.”

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Ingrid Bergman

Co-star in “Notorious” and “Indiscreet”

When Hollywood shunned Ingrid Bergman for leaving her husband to marry Italian director Roberto Rossellini, Cary was one of the only stars who stayed in touch with her, stood by her side, and remained a friend.  When she returned to movies in the mid-1950s, he co-starred with her for the second time in “Indiscreet”.  “I was very fond of Ingrid,” Cary said.  “She was an amazing woman.  She was one of the world’s most talented women, completely secure and happy.”

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Rosalind Russell

Co-star in “His Girl Friday”.

  Cary introduced Russell to her husband, his friend Frederick Brisson, during the filming of “His Girl Friday” in 1941.  “Cary, you will never know the great joy you have helped bring us both and how much we shall always love you for it,” Rosalind wrote Cary.  “You must know, too, that the wedding would not be complete without you.  You who brought us together.  All love to you, Cary, darling.”  Cary was best man at their wedding.  Russell and Brisson were happily married until her death in 1976.

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Here are Cary and Rosalind at the 1942 Academy Awards.  Wartime, so no tuxedos and evening gowns here.  Looks like they had a fine time anyway.

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Grace Kelly

Co-star in “To Catch a Thief”

Cary absolutely adored Grace Kelly and was a devoted friend for the rest of her life.  “Grace had a kind of serenity, a calmness, that I hadn’t arrived at at that point in my life – and perhaps never will, for all I know.  She was so relaxed in front of the camera that she made it look simple.”  Cary admired women who were elegant, ladylike and refined.  Leslie Caron once said “Cary liked women who had a distinction and a certain education about them.  That’s what he liked about Grace Kelly.”

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 Deborah Kerr

Co-star in “Dream Wife”, “An Affair to Remember”, and “The Grass is Greener”

“His elegance, his wit, his true professionalism were outstanding, and I learned so much from just watching him work,” Kerr said.  “As a person, apart from his talent, he was warm and affectionate and a joy to have as a friend.  He lived simply and was not tremendously social – a very private person.  He was also a keen and shrewd businessman; in fact there was no end to his talents.  I treasure my memories of him.”

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Audrey Hepburn

Co-star in “Charade”

“I think he understood me better than I did myself,” said Audrey.  “He was observant and had a penetrating knowledge of people.  He would talk often about relaxing and getting rid of one’s fears, which I think he found a way to do.  But he never preached.  If he helped me, he did it without my knowing, and with a gentleness which made me lose my sense of being intimidated.  I had this great affection for him because I knew he understood me.  It was an unspoken friendship, which was wonderful.  He would open up his arms wide when he saw you, and hug you, and smile, and let you know how he felt about you.”

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