SUMMERTIME (David Lean, 1955)

David Lean’s touristy Summertime, adapted from Arthur Laurents’s play The Time of the Cuckoo, cancels almost everything it gives us, with this bit overturning that bit. The finale is one place where this odd procedure works: American secretary Jane Hudson, on holiday in Venice, capitulates to martyrdom and moralism by abandoning her married Venetian lover, with whom (offscreen) she has known the greatest happiness of her life, only to hope that he shows up at the train station for her departure, which he does, and she waves poignantly, the camera at her back, which is incredibly far out the open window, implicitly foretelling that she will be looking backward now, to her moment of bliss, for the rest of her life. Lean (best director, New York critics) has visually orchestrated a terrific ending.
     But nothing so becomes this ending than that it finally comes; for Summertime in the main is a silly, calculating soap opera, contradictory in its moods largely because Lean never determined whether he was aiming at comedy or something else. It is possible that the play, a flop with Shirley Booth in the lead role in the original Broadway production, provided him with little guidance. He certainly has little luck with his own star, Katharine Hepburn, who, although poised and familiarly tremulous, grates with her grimacing as well as with absurdly fluctuating vocal levels and an artillery of neurotic tics. Hepburn’s Jane is both measuredly sane and certifiably batty. One cannot overlook that Jane Hudson is the name that pulp-novelist Henry Farrell would give the abusive, demented former child star in his 1960 What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
     The on-location film’s real star is color cinematographer Jack Hildyard; but Lean inflates nearly every outdoor shot and should have used black and white.

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