Katharine Hepburn was one of the first classic actresses I followed closely when I delved into old movies. I instantly fell in love with her screen presence when I first saw her in The Philadelphia Story, which remains my favorite of Hepburn’s own films, and is one of my favorite movies of all time. Since then I’ve seen about 25 of her films, including the ones that paired her with frequent co-stars Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy, and ones that range from her early work in the 1930s up to her last Oscar-winning role in On Golden Pond. So in honor of her birthday today, I’m taking a look at one of her most underrated performances from the 1955 film Summertime.
Directed by the great David Lean, the film follows Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn), an unmarried, middle-aged secretary from Ohio who’s making her first trip abroad to Venice. Jane is a self-described independent type who claims to be content with traveling alone, though she begins to feel pangs of loneliness when she sees couples and friends enjoying each other’s company as they take in the beautiful city. But as soon as the loneliness sets in, she catches the attention of a handsome antique shop owner named Renato de Rossi (Rossano Brazzi), and the two begin a passionate affair.
Jane Hudson was one of a few spinster-type characters that Katharine Hepburn played in the 1950s, following The African Queen in 1951 and preceding The Rainmaker in 1956. But unlike those two films, Summertime ends with Jane remaining a single woman, leaving behind the man she loves. Jane also differs from many of the characters Hepburn played throughout her career. While she’s most known for playing characters that freely speak their minds, Jane has a much more timid demeanor when socializing with the people she meets in Venice, though she still retains the wit Hepburn often infused in her characters.
In many of her films, Katharine Hepburn acted alongside some of the greatest actors to grace the silver screen, thereby having to share the spotlight with them. Summertime truly belongs to Hepburn, and the film allows her to display her emotive ability as she gives a quieter performance than we’re used to seeing. Much of Hepburn’s performance is felt through her facial expressions, and her eyes perfectly serve as the window into Jane’s soul. We feel her yearning for the romantic adventure she’s envisioned for so long, and we’re along for the ride as she experiences the ups and downs of her summer love affair.
For her work on the film, Katharine Hepburn received her sixth of her eventual twelve Oscar nominations, though she didn’t win. After winning an Oscar on her first nomination for the 1933 film Morning Glory, Hepburn had a long losing streak, earning eight more Oscar nominations without a win in a span of three decades. She needn’t have worried though, and she didn’t seem to care anyway, as she never showed up to receive her Oscars. Hepburn received three more Oscars on her last three nominations, totaling four Best Actress wins, and with that number she still holds the record for the most Oscar wins for an actor.
Summertime gets a little lost among the many iconic turns Katharine Hepburn made throughout her career, and it remains one of her most underrated films. I recommend checking out if you haven’t seen it, especially if you’re a big fan of the actress. Along with the gorgeous Venetian sights, it’s a film worth visiting for Hepburn’s subdued performance.
I wrote this as a part of The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon, where bloggers are writing about Katharine Hepburn in honor of her 109th birthday. Click the banner below to read more posts celebrating the remarkable actress!