Monday, June 13, 2011

SUMMERTIME (David Lean, 1955)

In the mid-50s, this is what passed for hardcore porno to lonely spinsters and housewives across America. Husbandless in her autumn years, Katharine Hepburn carouses through Venice, traipsing and moping from one postcard composition to the next, eventually edging into the arms of a smitten, worldly Continental gentleman dripping with pomade.

He romances her one night on a moonlit balcony - they retire to her quarters, she leaves behind a shoe, tens of thousands of dollars worth of fireworks burst across the Adriatic sky, then burst some more.

In 1955 this was enough to send the evangelicals into control mode. Initially the Production Code Administration refused to classify the film because of its depiction of - gasp - Adultery! (You see, the pomaded Italian is still technically married - though long separated from his wife.) Eighteen feet of footage of implied hanky panky had to be deleted and a line of 'objectionable dialogue' trimmed before the National Catholic Legion of Decency acquiesced and gave the film a B rating, branding it merely "morally objectionable in part".

In the meantime, this gaudy beast has aged as one of David Lean's minor works - if you could call any work by David Lean minor. It's clear he had himself a ball though. In just about every frame you can sense him orgasming on the scenery (long before anybody in front of the camera gets the chance).

This is also arguably one of Katharine Hepburn's minor works. She does what she can to give her droopy spinster some detail. In individual scenes she works wonders, but most of the time she is purely called upon to gaze at decorative roofs and gargoyles with mouth-breathing admiration.

Still, if you ever have to watch someone stare at Renaissance facades for the better part of two hours, you better hope that someone is Katharine Hepburn.



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