Monday, September 03, 2007

Summertime (1955)

David Lean's paeon to ephemeral love in Venice, despite his finest directorial efforts (the Technicolor really pops), can't help but come off as a wan restatement of things he had already expressed pretty much to perfection in Brief Encounter. It's hoary and predictable in its structure, right down to the scene where someone falls into a canal, and though Lean gives his all and makes Venice look like the most romantic and wonderful city anyone has ever seen, the familiarity of the material is an obstacle he can't surmount. Fortunately, nobody told Katherine Hepburn about insurmountability -- her explosive star turn here single-handedly keeps the film from sinking into a morass of cliche. From the moment she intones, with just the slightest touch of quivering, the line, "I'm the independent type, always have been," Hepburn takes her natural steely gale-force personality and twists it ever so slightly to suggest a woman who long ago gave up on love yet still retains the unmistakable loneliness of the unfulfilled. Her turn here is terrific -- even the more actorly moments, like the early scenes where she's paralyzed by conflicting emotions and allows her face to become a mass of twitching expression come off well; as such, her innate dignity and Northeastern spikiness rescue a number of scenes (i.e. any part of the film in which she has to interact with the insufferable Italian street urchin) that, in anyone else's lap, would dissolve into soggy unplayability. The familiarity is dull, the clumsy contrasts (like Hepburn's honest attempts to connect to her surroundings against the oblivious ugly-American tourists) are unfortunate, but Hepburn makes this film worthwhile.

Grade: B-


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