Review: Summer and Smoke DVD

Summer and Smoke DVD boxSTUDIO: Olive Films | DIRECTOR: Peter Glenville | CAST: Geraldine Page, Laurence Harvey, Rita Moreno, Dick York, Una Merkel
RELEASE DATE: 10/26/10 | PRICE: DVD $24.95
SPECS: NR | 118 min. | Drama | 2.35:1 widescreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

The film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play Summer and Smoke, finally released on DVD, stars Geraldine Page (A Trip to Bountiful) in the role that established her as one of American’s finest dramatic actresses.

Initially a failure on Broadway in 1948, Williams’ study of passion and repression in a pre-World War I Mississippi town was resurrected in its 1961 film version by the “witchery” (Williams words) of Page, who in 1959 had triumphed in a new Williams play on Broadway, Sweet Bird of Youth. That said, Summer and Smoke is a souvenir from a rich period in American theater history.

Page received her second Oscar nomination (following one for role opposite John Wayne in Hondo) for Smoke, her second film. She is poignant and ridiculous, frigid and sensual, perfectly capturing the duality of a preacher’s spinster daughter, Miss Alma.

1930s ditsy comedienne Una Merkel (42nd Street, et al) scored a dramatic success and a supporting Oscar nomination as Alma’s kleptomaniacal mother. She lost the award to Rita Moreno (for West Side Story) who also is Smoke, cast as Alma’s romantic rival Rosa; her Latin fire a contrast to Alma’s Protestant ice. Rosa is an early study for another of Williams’ great gifts to actresses: Serafina in The Rose Tattoo.

As Dr. John (another passive male object of desire in Williams’ canon), Laurence Harvey (The Manchurian Candidate) is elegantly handsome and cruelly detached. A pre-Bewitched Dick York (he had worked with Elia Kazan on Broadway) brings charm to the film’s ambiguous final scene: Is it Almas’ road to degradation or two innocents brought together by an angel?

Director Peter Glenville’s atmospheric direction opens up the play without losing the claustrophobic atmosphere of a town where people watch each other from their bedroom windows.

Summer and Smoke is the work of a great American writer, served up by actors who really knew what Williams was cooking.

The DVD doesn’t deliver any special features, which is a shame, because there’s plenty of opportunity for a featurette on Williams, the time period and these great classic actors.


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About David

David Leopold is an actor, writer and videographer who would take a Sherpa ride up a Tibetan mountain to see an Edwige Feuillère movie.