VIAGRA WASNT AROUND THEN

David Lean’s 1955 Summertime is still the best Venice travelogue ever made. Lensed by Jack Hildyard, it’s the Venice of one’s sunniest dreams—light years away from the pestilence of Death in Venice or the hocus pocus of Dont Look Now. Nevertheless, there’s trouble of the sinking, rotting kind: seldom have the grating voice and peculiarities of Katharine Hepburn been more inappropriate or gaggy. Is there anyone who doesn’t cringe when she’s trying to discreetly spy on Rossano Brazzi in St. Mark’s Square, or when she pretends that her table is booked? I can’t be the only one who wanted to take that damned camera and shove it where the moon don’t shine. How could Brazzi, deemed the foremost Latin lover of his movie heyday, have managed to get it up for this aging fawn with icy bones stuck in an Eisenhower time warp? (Viagra wasn’t on the market yet.) Hepburn’s self-pitying lovelessness is more than upchucky, it’s overt solicitation—the counterfeit grand dame of American movie actresses is whoring it up. While not every scene an embarrassment—we’re thankful when she does something resembling adult behavior, like fixing a drink with her own booze—far too many scenes are, and the insanity of falling into a canal tells us much more than we could imagine: not only a childish worthless plot detail, it also turned out to be injurious to Hepburn’s eyes. Precautions were taken to prevent infections that might result from repeated falls into the green slim, yet no one thought to have Hepburn rinse her eyes out. Thus her frequent tearing in just about every movie afterwards, and progressively worsening in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Doing her usual ditz, Jane Rose as Mrs. McIlhenny is a respite. In England, the movie’s title was changed to Summer Madness. Did the publicity machines know how right they got it?

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