On Location: A 'Summertime' Romance In Venice David Lean's 1955 film about an American woman who falls in love while on holiday in Venice is a love letter to the romantic power of the city that he called his second home, and the movie that the two-time Best Director Oscar winner considered his most personal.
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On Location: A 'Summertime' Romance In Venice

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On Location: A 'Summertime' Romance In Venice

On Location: A 'Summertime' Romance In Venice

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel. David Lean directed some of the best movies of all time: "Lawrence of Arabia," "The Bridge on the River Kwai." But Lean sometimes said that the movie that meant the most to him was the 1955 romance "Summertime." It stars Katharine Hepburn. She plays a single middle-aged woman who finds love in Venice. "Summertime" makes such lavish use of Venetian backdrops that tourism to the city actually surged. As part of our series on films and the places they are set, NPR's Jim Zarroli takes us to Venice of the movies.

JIM ZARROLI: In the 1950s, Europe was still an inexpensive place to travel, and American tourists flocked there in droves. "Summertime" is the story of Jane Hudson, a secretary from Akron, Ohio, who's heading to Venice on the trip of a lifetime. On the train heading into the city, she meets another traveler.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Is this your first visit to Venice?

KATHARINE HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) Yes. Is it yours?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) No. I've been here several times.

HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) Several times, you have?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Yes. I hope you're going to like it.

HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) Like it? I've got to. I've come such a long way. I saved up such a long time for this trip.

ZARROLI: From the moment she steps off the train, Jane is intoxicated by Venice. It's like nothing she's ever seen before: the gondola buses, the ancient fountains and churches, the pigeons in the Piazza San Marco. She walks among them all, looking as though she's rediscovered life. And yet all is not perfect in paradise. Jane is traveling by herself. She says, I'm the independent type, always have been. But amid all this beauty, she feels painfully alone.


HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) Mind if I come along with you? I always buy my guides a drink.

ZARROLI: When she tries to tag along with an American couple at her pensione, she feels like a fifth wheel.


DARREN MCGAVIN: (as Eddie Yaeger) But we're meeting some people.

HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) I'll buy them a drink too. Oh, are there too many of them?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) Just another couple.

MCGAVIN: (as Eddie Yaeger) We're going on to dinner together.

HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) Sure. Have fun.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) Oh, Eddie.

ZARROLI: Salvation comes when she meets Renato, a handsome shopkeeper played by Rossano Brazzi, and falls in love. "Summertime" was based on a play called "The Time of the Cuckoo" by Arthur Laurents. The movie's associate producer, Norman Spencer, who worked with Lean on many of his films, says Lean was asked to direct the movie by British producer Alexander Korda. Lean didn't much care for the script Korda showed him.

NORMAN SPENCER: And Korda said - which is the sort of great man stuff he always did - why don't you go to Venice, have a look around and see what you think?

ZARROLI: In Venice, Lean fell under the spell of the city, and he decided to make lavish use of location shots, so much so that Venice becomes a character in its own right. Leans' biographer, Kevin Brownlow, says British movies hardly ever filmed on location back then because it was too expensive.

KEVIN BROWNLOW: But here he's got Alexander Korda behind him as well as United Artists. And Korda said, for God's sake, don't be shy of showing these famous places. And, of course, David Lean always talked about eyefuls, you know, getting an eyeful of something like a postcard shot.

ZARROLI: Lean and screenwriter H.E. Bates would also change the story, making it lighter and less cynical. In the play, Renato is something of a gigolo. In "Summertime," he's just an antiques dealer who sells Jane a glass goblet and then pursues her. At first, she resists.


ROSSANO BRAZZI: (as Renato de Rossi) Oh, yes. You're sorry I am here. Then, you are glad.

HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) It may be so with you, but I am not an Italian. I am an American.

BRAZZI: (as Renato de Rossi) I thought everything happens so fast in America.

HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) Not this sort of thing. Not to me.

ZARROLI: But soon enough, they're dancing under the stars, and Jane's prim reserve is melting away.


HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) Do you know the words?

BRAZZI: (as Renato de Rossi) Oh, yes. This song, it says that...

HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) I know what it says.

BRAZZI: (as Renato de Rossi) Have you heard it in America?

HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) No.

BRAZZI: (as Renato de Rossi) Oh, si.

HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) Si.


ZARROLI: Norman Spencer says that with "Summertime," Lean wanted to make a film about loneliness and the transformative power of love.

SPENCER: David was famous for having dozens and dozens of women, and he just wanted to show to the world what love of that kind, for a beautiful summer, was like.

ZARROLI: The story of a lonely woman who goes to Italy and then finds love is one Hollywood has returned to again and again, most recently in movies like "Enchanted April," "Under the Tuscan Sun," and "Eat Pray Love." Writer Sarah Ball of vanityfair.com calls these movies gelato for the soul. And she says they all tend to use certain tropes.

SARAH BALL: Typically, the heroine is an already sort of independent woman, and she's suppressed, sort of, the pleasures of life. She doesn't drink wine. She doesn't date. She doesn't have fun. She goes to Italy, and all of a sudden, she's sort of unshackled.

ZARROLI: Ball says the woman always arrives in a tweed travel suit with her hair in a tight bun. Soon, she's wearing loose linen clothing and her hair is flowing freely around her shoulders. She rides a Vespa. She discovers Italian food. The Italy in these movies is a place of unchecked passions.

BALL: You can throw caution to the wind and eat what you want and say what you want and, you know, date who you want and that sort of thing. I think it represents, in these movies, the dissolution of rules.

ZARROLI: As for the Italians in these movies, they often have a kind of casual attitude towards sexual morality. Anna Di Lellio grew up in Italy and now teaches international relations at The New School, and she's not a big fan of these lonely-woman-finds-amore movies.

ANNA DI LELLIO: The Italian men in particular are portrayed in a very negative way. They're both seducers and fickle and untrustworthy, highly sexualized.

ZARROLI: She says that's ultimately true of Renato in "Summertime," who turns out to have a wife and kids.

LELLIO: He's deceiving her, so he doesn't tell her that he's married.


HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) Why didn't you tell me you were married?

BRAZZI: (as Renato de Rossi) Oh, I see.

HEPBURN: (as Jane Hudson) Why? Why?

BRAZZI: (as Renato de Rossi) I was afraid. I was afraid if you knew too soon, you would end us before we begin. Now, I'm afraid I was right.

ZARROLI: Renato convinces Jane that he separated from his wife, and Jane ends up tucking her scruples aside and spending the night with him. Whatever the film's subtext, David Lean meant it to be an affectionate portrait of the city. Biographer Kevin Brownlow says, just like Jane Hudson, Lean had become intoxicated by Venice during his stay there, and he would make it his second home.

BROWNLOW: Venice was in his bloodstream by the time he came to do this picture. And I think that's one reason why he said, I put more of myself in that film than in any other I've ever made.

ZARROLI: And Lean managed to make a lot of other people love the city too. A year after the movie's release, The New York Times reported that it had caused a spike in tourism to Venice, and the city was enormously grateful. For years, whenever Lean went to Venice, orchestras would immediately strike up the theme from the movie he'd made there. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.


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