The most perfect tourist movie ever. Spinster Katharine Hepburn vacations to Venice alone, not-so-secretly hoping to end up in a great romance with a handsome, exotic Italian man, and that’s exactly what happens when she meets shop owner Rossano Brazzi. Turns out he is married with grown children, so she is suspicious, but they have their great romance for a day or two, then she abruptly leaves for home. Movie looks like it was produced by the Venice tourism board, every shot a postcard.
Lean’s technique has never been smoother and more tactful, never more supportive of a star giving a bravura performance in a difficult role. He takes his time, lets the movie breathe; Summertime’s principal drama is Jane’s changing state of mind… Jane drinks quite a bit, and she holds on to other couples, bravely offering to be the third or fifth wheel for an evening, then withdrawing at the first sign of resistance. She has the longtime defenses, the starts and hesitations and refusals of a person with too much pride to give up the loneliness she hates… The love affair itself may be formulaic, but Hepburn falling in love is a miracle. Her opening up to passion—she did it again and again in films—is the main reason she remained a star despite all her upper-class mannerisms and by-golly declarativeness. Suddenly, the heat comes up right through her cheekbones; her red hair seems to burn.