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As compared to other Tennessee Williams works like The Glass Menagerie and Streetcar Named Desire, Summer And Smoke is distinctly second rate. But second rate Tennessee Williams is better than a lot of first rate work from most and a really good cast puts this one over.
A cast dominated by Geraldine Page who plays a woman who is carrying a Statue of Liberty torch since childhood for the kid next door who grew up to be Lawrence Harvey. At first glance these two seemed ideally suited for each other, her the daughter of minister Malcolm Atterbury, him the son of town doctor John McIntire. But both have some issues, her's the kind that Tennessee Williams is known for being frank about in his work, him an inability to settle down. As the film opens Harvey has returned to their southern town after medical school a newly minted doctor. But he's got enough seeds for a field of wild oats and he just wants to have a good old time. Page won't give him that.
But when you've got a raging libido like Harvey has, the only kind of girl you want to quench it is Rita Moreno. 1961 was Rita's year to be naughty, she won her Oscar playing gang girl Anita in West Side Story. Had that film not been out, more attention might have been paid to what she did in Summer And Smoke.
As Page is frigid and won't give up a little to land Harvey she resorts to a bit of trickery to break up Harvey and Moreno which ends in tragedy for one of the cast. Ironically both Harvey and Page modify their behaviors, but there's too much that now makes them incompatible. In fact Page at the end is showing hints of becoming a lot like Tennessee Williams's other great character Blanche Dubois.
Four Oscar nominations went out to Paramount for Summer And Smoke, Best Actress for Geraldine Page, Best Supporting Actress for Una Merkel, Best Art&Set Decoration and Best Musical Score. Sadly it did not bring home a statue and poor Una Merkel her portrayal of Page's kleptomaniac mother lost to Rita Moreno for West Side Story.
Summer And Smoke is a base hit for Tennessee Williams, but not a home run. Still devotees of the man and others should enjoy this film.
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