The first film that British director David Lean shot on location abroad, the smoothly crafted Summer Madness is a sensitive account of a love affair between a middle-aged American spinster (Katharine Hepburn) and a married Italian antiques shop owner (Rossano Brazzi), who meet while she is holidaying in 50s Venice. Showing in a freshly restored print which does justice to the film's lush Technicolor cinematography, its comparatively modest scale makes for an interesting contrast with Lean's later, much more famous epics such as Lawrence Of Arabia and Dr Zhivago.
Nearly 50 years after its original release, Summer Madness seems quaintly old-fashioned in its depiction of a holiday romance, with an outdoor fireworks display, for example, serving as the visual metaphor for the couple's lovemaking. Lean, however, does succeed in conveying how Hepburn's character, Jane Hudson, emotionally responds to summertime Venice.
It's the trip of a lifetime for this secretary, and, as she explains to a fellow passenger, she has to enjoy her first time in Europe because "I've saved up such a long time for it". Enthusiastically brandishing her cine-camera, she's overwhelmed by the beauty of the churches, piazzas, and canals. Desperate to drink in all her new experiences, she finds herself alone amidst the couples (both elderly and young) who are staying at her Pensione Fiorini.
"THE FILM BELONGS TO HEPBURN"
Whilst Brazzi is perfectly adequate as the worldly-wise continental charmer whom Jane first notices at an outdoor café, the film belongs to Hepburn, who's able to convey the vulnerability and sadness beneath Jane's outer cheerfulness and excitement. "You make many jokes but inside you cry," observes her lover. And thanks to Hepburn's performance we can feel how this woman's past romantic disappointments have made a passionate affair seem so simultaneously appealing and frightening.