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Since childhood, spinster Alma Winemiller has loved handsome young Dr. John Buchanan, Jr.. But John has fallen hard for Rosa Zacharias, the town's sultry vamp, and descends into a seamy nightlife while ignoring Alma's dreams of romance and possible marriage. Written by
"Summer and Smoke" is another Tennessee Williams southern drama that, after debuting as a play, was made into a film and later an opera. Set earlier in the 20th Century, it's the story of repressed passion, unrequited love and desperation. Geraldine Page stars as Alma Winemiller, the uptight daughter of a minister. She teaches voice, sings a little, and lives with her father and an insane mother (Una Merkel). Alma, since childhood, has been in love with the young doctor next door, John Buchanan (Laurence Harvey), the son of a doctor and a playboy. Buchanan has recently returned to town and is still a reckless playboy. Now he's involved with Rosa Zacharias (Rita Moreno), a girl from the wrong class and the wrong side of town. On the evening that something could have happened between Alma and John, she runs from him. One night, while a wild party is going on at the Buchanan house, Alma goes next door and learns that Rosa and John are going to be married. Upset, she calls John's father (John MacIntyre) at the hospital and urges him to return home. The result is tragedy.
This is a very powerful and poignant story of two people, one interested in earthly pleasures and one focused on the soul and spirit. Neither one is entirely right or wrong, but it creates a chasm between them. When each realizes what the other has been saying, it's too late for them.
Geraldine Page, who played this role to great acclaim on stage, brings her magnificent portrayal to the screen. The role was based on Williams' sister, who eventually went insane. If physically Page is a little less delicate looking than one imagines Tennessee Williams' female characters, her portrayal contains all of the fragility of the role. The final scene between Alma and a salesman, played by Earl Holliman shows the shocking contrast between Alma in the beginning and at the end of the film. Geraldine Page gave us all too few gems on films, as she concentrated on the stage. We have to savor what we have.
Laurence Harvey is very handsome and desirable, but probably a little too refined for the role of John. The role needs someone whose sexuality is less ethereal and more earthbound. Una Merkel is excellent as Alma's mother, a truly disturbed and frightening woman.
Very good film based on a Williams play, worth seeing for the wonderful Geraldine Page and its thought-provoking story.
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