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What novelist Zane Grey was to the wild, wild West, playwright Tennessee
Williams was to Deep South gentility. His florid, full-throttled female
leads have always been the most sought after, while his deeply personal
works not only made celebrated stage stars out of Jessica Tandy, Barbara
Geddes, Elizabeth Ashley, and Jessica Lange, but created film legends out
Vivien Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor. Fortunate in having a large number of
his prize-winners transferred successfully to film, Williams seldom
to pique interest with his old-fashioned reveries of sexual longing or
depravity. 1961's "Summer and Smoke", set in small-town Mississippi in
1916, is a refulgent exercise in the former.
The original Broadway version opened a year after the resounding success of Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1948), and though it doesn't match "Streetcar" in brilliance (what does???), it has a luminosity all its own, with Geraldine Page, arguably the finest American theater actress of her time, providing most of the wattage. Page is one of the more fortunate stage stars to have had the honor of recreating a Williams' heroine for the screen. She did so again a couple years later with the equally potent "Sweet Bird of Youth."
Ms. Page portrays prim, genteel Alma Winemiller ("Miss Alma"), a minister's daughter chided as a youth by her school mates for being such. Far removed from experiencing life's libidinous pleasures, the grown up Alma has consigned herself to living a respectable, straight-laced, unbearably lonely existence as one of the town's more prideful, eccentric symbols of religious piety. Still living at home, her drab life consists of teaching voice lessons and leading bible studies with matronly ladies twice her age. Adding to the drudgery is the obligation of caring for her elderly parents, especially her emotionally erratic mother who delights in taunting Alma with cruel remarks while humiliating her in front of town folk with random acts of shoplifting. The malcontent but dutiful Alma bravely bears up under the weight, living a spinster's life way before her time.
Enter Laurence Harvey's John Buchanan, an exceptionally handsome, hard-living playboy who lives on life's edge. A next-door neighbor to Alma, whose first passionate schoolyard crush was Buchanan, the prodigal son has been sent back home to straighten out his reckless ways. But life's sinful pleasures prove far too tempting and soon he is back to his old habits of cathouse carousing and cockfighting matches. Buchanan's return rekindles Alma's youthful stirrings, for underneath the thick, confining layers of corsets and bustles still lies a heart teeming with unbridled desire.
As she reinserts herself slightly into Buchanan's life under the religious guise of soul-saving, the effort leads to a brief, life-altering romantic interlude for Miss Alma. To witness the bipolar directions the two end up taking is the essence and fascination of Williams' elegiac piece.
Geraldine Page (Oscar-nominated) is spellbinding as Alma, showing brilliant range and delicate power as the fading wallflower who suddenly over-blooms. Laurence Harvey gives a remote, synthetic performance as the roving Lothario which, I suppose, is consistent with the character, yet his rakish good looks and polished charm cannot be denied.
As Alma's maddening mother who reverts to childlike behavior, Una Merkel stands out among the supporting cast with a brittle, flavorful Oscar-nominated performance. Malcolm Atterbury appropriately shows unflinching, old-town values as her stiff, aloof minister of a father. Beautiful Pamela Tiffin, in her early career, plays Alma's young songbird student and object of attraction for Harvey with youthful vibrance. And having just won an Oscar for "West Side Story," Rita Moreno unfortunately returns true to form in one of her many spitfire stereotypes as Harvey's jealous, round-heeled paramour. John McIntire is all gruff and grimace as Harvey's deprecating old man, while young energetic Earl Holliman has a poignant, show-stopping scene with Page in the final reel as a traveling salesman.
Leisurely paced with fine, frilly attention to period detail and atmosphere, the film earned Oscar-nominations for its art direction and lovely, lyrical Elmer Bernstein score.
Required viewing for Tennessee Williams fans and a must for those who love to lose themselves in costumed romantic drama.
"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.
When this was released I quickly made my way to the Fox West Coast Fine Arts
Theater in Beverly Hills, California during its first-run engagement.
Advance reviews were quite positive but I was unprepared for the power and
yet the delicacy of Geraldine Page's performance as Alma Winemiller.
Although I was never a fan of Laurence Harvey, who was cast in so many top
films of that era, he joined his fellow players in affording Miss Page some
very solid support. Una Merkel and John McIntire were especially worthy of
praise, Earl Holliman acquits himself manfully in a brief role in the
chilling final sequence, and Pamela Tiffin was touchingly beautiful as a
heedless young thing. However, Rita Moreno, who has since complained about
all those "spitfire" roles with which she was saddled during her earlier
Hollywood days, probably counts this appearance as one of those she'd prefer
we forget. (But, parenthetically, she has more than reason to be grateful
for a list of credits that had already included the lovely Tuptim in the
mega-box office hit, "The King and I," an Academy Award for her supporting
role in "West Side Story," resulting in a career that continues to this day,
outlasting many of the top stars who had led the casts of her earliest film
Peter Glenville's direction (whose filmography is notably sparse) marshalls his actors and the top-notch production values with aplomb, aided by one of Elmer Bernstein's best scores. The VHS version does not appear to be letterboxed, thus losing cinematographer Charles Lang, Jr.'s elegant Panavision framing, which was one of this film's handsomer attributes.
Set in a small, insular town in the deep South, this is a gripping drama of miscommunication and repressed passion. Geraldine Page's powerful performance becomes progressively more harrowing as her character, the spinsterish Miss Alma, struggles to forge a connection with the man she has always loved--the handsome, dissolute son of the town's respected doctor (Laurence Harvey, perfectly cast). In the process, lives are forever changed--in ways none of those involved could have predicted. Page is simply incredible in this movie, delivering a climactic soliloquy that will leave you emotionally shell-shocked.
SUMMER AND SMOKE has long been one of my favorite films, as I love Tennessee Williams, and loved Geraldine Page after seeing her in this brilliant, Oscar-nominated performance.Page captures all the poignancy and need of longing and loneliness, and Williams spells it out in lyricism. Page's monologue near the end will tear your heart out, and the final fade-out will give you chills. Tennessee Wlliams is as much of a poet as he is a dramatist, and the screenplay captures some of his best bon mots. For example,in a conversation between John Buchanan and Alma in the movie, John (Laurence Harvey) describes her heart as "that little red fist that keeps knocking, knocking at the big, black door." Or, Alma's mad, kleptomaniac mother (Una Merkel)can't put a jigsaw puzzle together, and , in a panic, cries, "The pieces don't fit! The pieces don't fit!" Also made in 1961 was another Williams work, THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE, starring Vivien Leigh which I recommend highly.I certainly wish SUMMER AND SMOKE would be released on DVD!
This is one of the most underrated Films from a T. Williams source. Its
star , sadly is Laurence Harvey and even more underrated actor.
Many folks had such huge hopes for a long career for Mr Harvey when it was cut so short we often ponder " what would have been" This film gives us some wonderful insight as to the heights that could have been.
Harvey plays Dr. Buchannon on a multitude of levels of emotional detachment..and is superb. Fitzgerald delivers in her role as the tortured Alma and stalwarts, John MCintyre and Rita Moreno supply the sparks.
Lost in all of this is a fine performance by the large version of Thomas Gomez..who proves again his versatility. I love the irony of the ending with the appearance of Earl Holliman as ' Archie" Good Drama is never dated and Peter Glenville (dir) makes it all happen..also ..one wouldn't be surprised to note that Hal Wallis is the producer..one of the all time best that Hollywood has ever had.
I saw this movie at a theater in Springfield, Ohio, at the time of its original theatrical release. I don't know if memory makes things seem better than they really were but I rate this as the most memorable movies I have ever seen. I thought it was fantastic. I've not seen the video and I'm not sure that I would want to since this VHS edition is not letter-boxed. It would have a 1.33 aspect ratio instead of the wide, 2.35 aspect ratio of the original Panavision film. I think that would destroy much of the film's visual appeal. If this movie ever comes out on DVD, in the original Panavision aspect ratio, I'll be certain to buy it!
Tennessee Williams is at his best here in this great play made into a
startling motion picture.
The phenomenal Geraldine Page is absolutely brilliant here as a repressed spinster who finds love with the doctor next door only to throw it away.
Williams continues his never ending attack on religion, rebelliousness, drug addiction and dysfunctional love.
Una Merkel, who received a supporting Oscar nomination for her role as Alma's (Page's) mother, is excellent here. She is weird, a manipulator and pulls out every stop in a very good performance. Too bad that her role was concentrated solely at the beginning of the film.
Laurence Harvey has what it takes as the wild doctor brought down to reality when his lifestyle causes the tragic demise of his father.
Miss Page exhibits every nuance in playing the part that made her such a great actress- a neurotic woman, in conflict with society, or is she a victim of it?
Enjoyed this dramatic love story which involves a girl named Alma Winemiller, (Geraldine Page) a pretty young gal who is a preacher's daughter and very straight laced. Alma grew up with the boy next door named John Buchanan Jr., (Laurence Harvey) and unknowing to herself she fell in love with him a very long time ago. Alma always looks out her window in order to see what John is doing and simply cannot stop watching his whereabouts in life. John's father is a medical doctor who sends John off to medical school and when he returns back home, Alma is all grown up and still has a heart throb for Johnny. However, John has changed and became a ladies man and is a wild guy who loves women and drinking. John finds a Spanish girlfriend named Rosa Zacharias, (Rita Moreno) and they are always making romantic love and living it up every weekend. Alma shows an interest in John and goes after him for a date and John decides to take her out on a date and finds out she is not willing to make love to him, so he calls her a cold fish and predicts she will become an old maid. Great film and excellent acting.
In my opinion, Geraldine Page was the greatest American Actress in the
20th Century. I believe that had she not spent much of her time on the
New York Stage, she would have won several more Oscars, but was
considered somewhat a Hollywood outsider.
She should have won for Summer and Smoke, and Sweet Bird of Youth. She carried these movies by her great acting skills and hard work.
All of her movies need to be on DVD. It is particularly surprising to me that Summer and Smoke has not been converted to DVD.
Does anyone know if any of her Stage Plays have been captured on video, and if so, where such videos could be obtained?
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