Image via The Hollywood Reporter
BY CASSANDRA LITTLEWOOD
Jane Hudson, played by Katherine Hepburn in the 1955 movie, Summetime, is the pinnacle of the single woman. Unfortunately, the depiction of the “single woman” in the ‘50’s is a little different than what we think it to be today, thanks to many characters we’ve seen on shows like, Sex and the City, or Girls. Despite that, Summertime remains a worthwhile film because of the critique that can be made on femininity.
This movie is memorable first and foremost because of its sheer beauty. It is shot almost entirely on location in Italy and it is clear through how the camera pans over the architecture and Venice’s canals that one of the goals of the film was to show off how scenic Venice is. Even Jane, whenever possible, whips out her own camera to take footage of everything Venice has to offer.
Aside from showing off Venice, the story centers around Jane, a lonely secretary, who, after saving money for years, gets to travel to Venice. Throughout the duration of her trip she meets Venician resident, Renato Di Rossi and so, Jane’s unexpected romance ensues, until unexpected secrets in Renato’s past arise.
The movie starts out, reeking with Jane’s loneliness. She emerges into Venice and finds herself in a line of male cab drivers. Confused, she stumbles amongst them until a man directs her to a bus (which turns out to be a large boat, because, Venice). One of our opening moments with Jane emphasizes that she does not have a man in her life and that she is utterly, alone. What makes Jane so endearing is that she is eager to marvel at every part of Venice that will lend itself to her.
Despite Jane’s enthusiasm, she still finds herself lonely, which is driven home with the female characters that surround her. The first lady we are introduced to is Mrs. McIlhenny who is visiting Venice with her husband. She’s old, he’s old, they’re celebrating their retirement by taking a trip all around the world and spreading their All-American attitude wherever they turn. Signora Fiorini, the owner of the bed and breakfast Jane stays at is widowed but thriving under her new business. She employs Giovanna as a maid, who according to Fiorini, goes out with the same boy every night and is always recuperating from the previous night just to go out with him again. Our last gal pal is Phyl Yaeger who is recently married to a brooding artist and is a spicy blond bombshell in her own right. All these women are foils to Jane’s spinsterhood and show a woman at the different stages in her romantic life; dating, newly married, married for decades and widowed. All these women are confident in themselves, a quality that the movie implies comes from their wealth in romantic life.
Seeing how far our perception of singledom has come since the ‘50’s is apparent when looking at this film, but also still remains in the same. When we think of single women in movies and T.V. shows we think of characters who are great at their careers, are confident and “don’t need no man” (until they almost always find one). While we can say that we celebrate single women more, there also still exists a lot of pressure, especially for women, to “settle down”.
Jane takes a different route by giving up her romance, knowing full well that it is going nowhere. This can easily be compared to similar movies like Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love where women have gone to travel and “find themselves.” While both films focus more on the internal journey of the heroine, the fact that each woman finds a partner by the end of each film adds a little (corny) bow on top. Jane’s ending, on the other hand, lacks the bow that ties the present up- it’s left more open ended.
Looking back at Summertime, it’s clear that the filmmakers were playing off of the fear of not finding a husband, which today, while is not totally diminished, is a great deal better. By leaving Jane with an open ended romance, it leaves us with a realistic ending. Sure a nice Italian fling is good but would Jane move from the States to be with this guy? Would he move from Italy to be with her in Ohio? Probably not. While it maybe a tragic ending, and some would argue, just adds to Jane’s tragic romantic life, I think it reveals a progressive attitude. Jane’s story shows that despite wanting a relationship, she knows that it is not one that will remain a fulfilling one in her life. Instead of ending with a happily ever after, we see a woman who, once alone by circumstance can now be alone by choice.