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Summer Madness (1955)

Main image of Summer Madness (1955)
Directed byDavid Lean
Production CompaniesLopert Films, London Film Productions
Produced byIlya Lopert
Screenplay byH.E.Bates, David Lean
Original play byArthur Laurents
Photography byJack Hildyard
Music byAlessandro Cicognini

Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Jane Hudson), Rossano Brazzi (Renato De Rossi), Darren McGavin (Eddie Yaeger), Jane Rose (Mrs McIlhenny), Mari Aldon (Phyl Yaeger), Macdonald Parke (Mr Lloyd McIlhenny)

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Jane Hudson, a single, middle-aged American woman, finds romance with an Italian man, Renato, during a holiday in Venice, but returns home alone.

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The credits for Summer Madness (1955) proudly proclaim that it was photographed entirely in Venice. David Lean's love for the city shines out in every scene. The film was to become his favourite. It was based on a Broadway play, which explored the old Henry James subject of New World innocence meeting and being seduced by Old World charm and experience, but the city is such a central character in the film that it is hard to see how the story worked on stage. Once again, it was Alexander Korda who brought subject and director together.

It was Lean's third film in colour, ravishingly shot by Jack Hildyard, and an Anglo-American co-production. In its theme of an adulterous love affair (the Italian is married), it echoes both Brief Encounter (1945) and The Passionate Friends (1948). Like Brief Encounter it begins with a steam train thundering into the frame. Like The Passionate Friends it includes a motorboat ride for the lovers.

Lean is not afraid to show all the tourist sites, and he marshals his crowd scenes with great aplomb. In Katharine Hepburn he had a huge star, and the truthfulness of her playing of an ageing American spinster achingly alone in a city of lovers saves the film from being what, suggested critic Dilys Powell, might otherwise have been a novelette within a documentary. Hepburn and Lean became life-long friends, but were never to make another film together.

Some of the symbolism - there is a shoe motif, and the lovers finally come together to the accompaniment of a firework display over the city - may seem too obvious to modern audiences, and the whole film is shamelessly romantic and glamorous, but, like Venice herself, it is hard to resist.

Janet Moat

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Monthly Film Bulletin review
Hildyard, Jack (1908-1990)
Korda, Vincent (1896-1979)
Lean, David (1908-1991)
Morell, André (1909-1978)