"Summertime, or Summer Madness as it was called in Britain, was David's favorite film, starring his favorite actress. It was made in Venice, once of his favorite places in the world. As he told a friend, "I've put more of myself in that film than in any other I've ever made."David Lean, A biography by Kevin Brownlow, St Martin's Press, NY, 1996
After the film was released, a Japanese fan magazine asked David what he wanted to achieve with the film. His answer survives in the form of notes. It is unusually candid, perhaps because he thought his comments would not be circulated on home territory.
"I have never yet made a picture," he wrote, "with any object in view other than to translate into moving pictures a story, a character, a love affair or a place which appeals to me and I would like to show to others. In a sense it's a child's desire, for like a child who finds a new toy, a strange animal or a brightly colored flower, I want to show my discovery to others. I suppose that quality is what has made me become a film director.
"What appealed to me in the idea of SUMMERTIME? Loneliness. Why? Because I think that loneliness is in all of us, it is a more common emotion than love, but we speak less about it. We are ashamed of it. We think perhaps that it shows a deficiency in ourselves. That if we were more attractive, more entertaining and less ordinary, we would not be lonely.
"The film is about a lonely woman who falls in love, and as I know no better remedy for the complaint, I hope you will find it sympathetic."
David added that his film was entirely about Americans and Italians, and under normal circumstances he wouldn't feel himself knowledgeable enough to make films about foreigners - one reason he had never gone to Hollywood.
"But American tourists come to Europe in the thousands. Their voices are at this moment echoing around St. Peter's in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and London's Piccadilly Circus. Their films have flooded all our cinemas. The American dollar has taken the place of gold, and beside my bed in Tokyo lies an American Bible. It really is too much, and in SUMMERTIME I couldn't resist having a good (and I hope affectionate) dig at them."
... "Ilya Lopert said to Korda, "there's a marvelous play in New York called The Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents.' Korda, doing his usual thing of coupling things together, said, 'David! Wonderful idea. Read it, tell me what you think.'
"One way of keeping in with the money men is to accept their ideas. David did not care for it as a play, but he liked the idea of a sex-starved, spinsterish schoolmistress from Akron, Ohio, going to Venice and being overtaken by the Latin approach to sex. That's what hit David."
... On 13 April they traveled to Rome to begin casting, using the Excelsior Hotel as their headquarters. Casting people brought in photographs and a great many actors were interviewed. One of them was Rossano Brazzi, an extremely good-looking man of thirty-seven. David, who disliked him on sight, had to admit he was perfect for the role.
"We were slipping all the time towards the jeune premier," said Norman Spencer, "the idealized romantic leading man, and away from the Laurents play. Brazzi, by the way, had a wonderful wife [Lydia]. She was an exact replica of the Michelin man. She was enormous and in Venice would go around in the tiniest bikini, totally unselfconsciously. She was a wife-mother, as it were; she looked after him, gave him money to spend, told him what to do, acted almost like his agent."
[In Venice], "H.E. Bates was a wonderful writer ... I became very friendly with him and liked him enormously. A very charming, warm character... he and I wrote the script together. We rarely disagreed. On one occasion he bowed to me and perhaps I shouldn't have been so persuasive. He wanted the Rossano Brazzi character to be an Italian gigolo, who picked up American and English women in the tourist season. I remember he brings flowers for her at the end and runs along the platform. H.E. wanted the woman to reach out for the flowers but not to get them and for the train to disappear. The gigolo throws them onto the railway line and goes off down the platform thinking, "Now who shall I pick up?"
"I thought it was too cynical, too hard. I'm not sure what I would have done today."
... Venice hosted the world premier of SUMMERTIME on 29 May 1955. One hundred newspapermen were brought to Venice by Ilya Lopert from all over Europe and even from the United States. Variety estimated the cost of this at $36,000 and said that the City of Venice had paid for most of it. Even though neither David nor Katharine Hepburn - who was with the Old Vic company in Australia - were present, Isa Miranda and Rossano Brazzi were in attendance, together with such stars as Gloria Swanson, Sylvana Pampanini and Joan Greenwood."
Unable to remain alone, she heads off on a walking tour of Venice. Eventually hearing the sound of majestic cathedral bells, she runs toward the sound and finds herself in the Piazza San Marco, the heart of Venetian life, dumbstruck by its beauty. Seating herself in a cafe, she takes in the majestic sights and sounds of this ancient and venerable Piazza, and catches the eye of a handsome man seated behind her, reading a newspaper. As if the "magic" she so longed for has already begun to work, she senses his presence behind her, and turns, startled, wary ... so completely unhinged by the sight of him that her initial instinctive reaction is to run away and hide. But the magic has begun to work, and and this first encounter in the Piazza San Marco begins the passionate affair between the lonely middle-aged American seceretary and the middle-aged Italian shopkeeper Renato Di Rossi (Rossano Brazzi). Quite simply, he changes her life.
(Not to mention completely stealing the entire scene right out from under veteran actress Katherine Hepburn with a brilliant, classic reactive performance and only one word of dialog. To this day, Rossano Brazzi's incomparable first scene in Summertime is still one of his fans' favorites. There is no improving on it -- it's a gem!)
When journalists asked Rossano about his best work, he tended to mention Noi Vivi -- oddly enough, he tended to perceive Summertime as "lighthearted", "sweet", "charming" -- obviously, he was always gratitifed by the public's response to it, but didn't always seem to share - or even understand - their point of view. But the effect of his Summertime performance has lasted for forty years and continues to enchant first-time viewers, even today. Even more surprising is that the passage of time has changed the nature of their relationship in his character's favor: the audience that once identified with Hepburn's reticence and understood her abandonment of him has changed over the last forty years. That he was married (though separated) was a tremendous shock to her character in the 1950's. And may have even elicited shock from the audience -- think back on the Ingrid Bergman-Roberto Rossellini scandal and the shockwaves from that relationship! It might also help to know that in 1955, divorce was illegal in Italy, and would not become legal until 1974. That Di Rossi had a wife effectively destroyed any future between Jane Hudson and himself, and, again, this was a period of time where marriage was the only legitimate outcome of any relationship, or the woman was essentially considered a prostitute. It was a situation we can't even imagine being an impediment today. Now, says one viewer, "If I turned around in the Piazza San Marco and saw a man like Rossano Brazzi looking at ME like that, I would have manacled myself to his shoes! What a b*tch that Hepburn was -- why didn't he just dump her?" Another: "I love that movie, but she treats him so badly you just wanna smack her." A third: "What an idiot she is!" (Renato di Rossi would have loved this generation ...!)The Filming
"In summer, a festive atmosphere pervades Venice, that ancient grand survivor of flood, the rise and fall of empire and centuries of invading tourists ... rumors that Summertime was a story about an illicit love affair and that it contained indecent scenes had preceded Kate [Hepburn]'s arrival. Of more concern to director David Lean was the Venetians' fear that the filming of it would disrupt the tourism necessary for their economic security. In the first few days there existed a possibility that the gondolieri might go out on strike if the company did not move elsewhere. These problems immediately evaporated after a generous contribution by the film company to the fund for restoring the Basilica of San Marco and a guarantee to the cardinal that there would be "no bare arms or short skirts in and around holy places." This last had been prompted by a scene shot of Kate in a sleeveless dress standing outside San Marco, which was then reshot with her in a long-sleeved blouse tucked demurely into a full skirt ... " ... Summertime had been adapted from Arthur Laurent's successful play, The Time of the Cuckoo. Jane Hudson, the middle-aged American spinster Kate portrays, comes to Venice to fulfill a life-long dream. She meets and falls in love with a charming, married antique dealer (Rossano Brazzi). The affair is brief and one of great delicacy, but when Jane leaves Venice less than two weeks later, she carries with her a memory to light up her lonely future ... " ... Uncomfortable in the muggy heat that settled on Venice that summer, upset by a growing discord between [Spencer] Tracy and herself, Kate had not been too gracious to any of the members of the company. After Tracy's departure, she complained, "Nobody asked me to dinner. They went off and left me alone. I felt rather angry about that. I wandered off by myself through Venice feeling very lonely and neglected, and sat down by the canal looking in the water, and while I was sitting like that a man came over to me and said, "May I come and talk to you?" Only it wasn't Rossano Brazzi. It was a french plumber. I was glad to talk to anyone who looked reasonably alright, so we went off together for a walk through Venice. I suppose they [the film company] all thought I had madly exciting things to do and left me to it. It's my own fault entirely. I have brought it upon myself. I am rather a sharp person. I have a sharp face and a sharp voice ... it puts people off, I suppose."Katharine Hepburn: A Remarkable Woman.
We mentioned we were looking for the Italian version of the Theme from Summertime, and lo and behold! Mrs.
Lee Yon Whang cheerfully provided the Italian lyrics! Once again, we've provided them, thanks to Mrs. Whang, along with the
English translation of the Italian lyrics ... not exactly the same song we printed before, but the sentiments are almost
Un sogno romantico
Venezia ed il sole splendido!
non li potro dimenticar!
Di quest'estate sul mar
Non potran morir in me
i dolci baci ed i sospiri
Un sogno romantico
Venezia ed il sole splendido!
Di mille canzone
l'ecco lontana portero
Questa laguna addormentata ricordero
che parla al mi cuor solo d'amor
A romantic dream
Venice and the splendid sun
Wherever I may be,
I cannot forget them
Of this summer on the sea
not able to to die in me
The sweet kisses and the sighs
A romantic dream
Venice and the splendid sun
Of a thousand songs
I carry with me far away
This dormant lagoon I will remember
That speaks to my heart only of love,
always of love.
There are several books that refer to the making of the movie SUMMERTIME. For DAVID LEAN, by Kevin Brownlow , click on the icon.
For DAVID LEAN AND HIS FILMS, by Alain Silver, click here. There are several biographical books about Katherine Hepburn as well. For THE PRIVATE
WORLD OF KATHERINE HEPBURN by John Bryson, click here.
For KATHERINE HEBURN, by Katherine Hepburn (a video), click here. Lastly, for KATE: THE
KATHERINE HEPBURN ALBUM, click here.
For books on the lives of, and films of Rossano's other co-stars and other topics, search the database under their names, using the form below: