Summertime: David Lean Film Gets Criterion Blu-ray

Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi in Summertime. Courtesy of Lopert Films Inc.

Summertime, the Oscar-nominated 1955 film directed by David Lean, makes its arrival on Blu-ray via The Criterion Collection.

David Lean and company travel to Venice to film entirely on location in this adaptation of The Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents. The film marks a departure for Lean, who spent much of his career at this point filming on soundstages. From here on out, he would make films on the location rather than soundstages. Soundstages certainly have a way of offering privacy to the stars. Some filmmakers prefer location to soundstages. It really depends on what is in service of the story and how it will look on the screen.

The gist of the film is that the lonely Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn) travels from Ohio to Venice after saving up the money for years. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea. She finds herself in this vulnerable position especially at night when she’s all alone. It’s a Katharine Hepburn vehicle so we know she’ll be fine. Right? She eventually meets a shop owner, Renato de Rossi (Rossano Brazzi), and the two proceed to begin an affair. There’s a lot of red because of what the color represents on screen. Of course, this affair would pose problems for the Production Code, leading to cuts in the film. If it’s not the PCA, it’s the Catholic Legion of Decency. The latter was also upset with some of the lines.

It’s very weird watching a David Lean film run under three hours. Ultimately, this film really becomes the last of an era, not that there’s anything wrong with that. After this film, the director would also transition into a period of epic filmmaking. Following Summertime, his filmography would average about three hours in length. Hepburn takes over in the film from Shirley Booth, who won a Tony for the role on stage. Both Lean and Hepburn would earn Oscar nominations for Best Director and Actress, respectively.

The film did cause one unfortunate impact on Hepburn’s life. This comes down to Lean wanting Hepburn to perform her own stunts instead of having a stunt double. As a result, she would develop a rare form of pink eye. It’s all because of the scene where she falls into the canal. It certainly does not help that Hepburn had to film the the scene four times until Lean was satisfied. Maybe it would be different with today’s technology where you can fix it in post. Who knows. In any event, David Lean would go onto say that Summertime is his favorite film.

The film is presented in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio from a new 4K digital transfer from the original camera negative. In some instances, there had been duplicate shots inserted into negatives. In these segments, they use 35mm yellow, cyan, and magenta separation masters. Furthermore, the monaural soundtrack was remastered from the original soundtrack negative.

Summertime is a game-changing end-of-an-era film for David Lean and also features a superb performance from Katharine Hepburn.

Bonus Features

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with film historian Melanie Williams
  • Interview from 1963 with director David Lean
  • Audio excerpts from a 1988 interview with cinematographer Jack Hildyard
  • Trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by film critic Stephanie Zacharek

DIRECTOR: David Lean
SCREENWRITERS: H.E. Bates, David Lean
CAST: Katharine Hepburn, Rossano Brazzi with Darren McGavin, Jane Rose, Mari Aldon, MacDonald Parke, Gaetano Autiero, Jeremy Spenser, and Isa Miranda

United Artists released Summertime in theaters on June 21, 1955. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.