Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, September 27, 2018


Geraldine Page and Laurence Harvey
SUMMER AND SMOKE (1961). Directed by Peter Glenville.

"Ask for all -- and be prepared to get nothing." -- Alma.

In a small Southern town around the turn of the century, Alma Winemiller (Geraldine Page) has been in love with her next door neighbor, doctor's son John Buchanan Jr. (Laurence Harvey), since they were children. Alma would prefer a more spiritual romance with John, while the lusty and somewhat wild and free-wheeling John would prefer just the opposite. Alma's father (John McIntire) is the town preacher and her mother is mentally disturbed, having had a breakdown years before. John's father is incredibly stern, which perhaps leads his son to take up with the daughter (Rita Moreno) of the owner of the local gambling den. Alma eventually commits what John deems a betrayal, but the bond between them still exists, until both realize that the tables have turned ... This very odd "romance" is based on the 1948 play by Tennessee Williams (revised some years later as Eccentricities of a Nightingale); Page played the part in a 1950's revival. Page, who received an Oscar nomination, gives a very strong performance, although at times she seems overly theatrical. Harvey is good but not in her league.  Una Merkel [Destry Rides Again] also received an Oscar nomination for her notable performance as Alma's mother. Earl Holliman does some nice work as a traveling salesman that Alma encounters at the finale. Pamela Tiffin [The Fifth Cord] was "introduced" in this film as the daughter of a madame played zestfully by Lee Patrick [Caged]; Tiffin never developed into a major star.

Geraldine Page as Alma
I basically think Summer and Smoke is an absorbing and interesting picture with a good storyline, but it does have some problems. Page and Harvey were both in their thirties at the time, perhaps a little too old for their roles; Page was nearly forty, in fact. Younger actors -- assuming they were good actors -- might have added a certain degree of veracity. Considering the obsession that Alma has had for John over the years, I thought her reaction at a development at the end of the film is a bit too subdued. But the film has a good score by Elmer Bernstein (which even adds suspense to the proceedings). some lively and poignant sequences, moves quickly, and boasts an essentially fine performance by Page. Her scene when she finally declares her love for John is superb.

Verdict: Star-crossed, touching romance with some wonderful acting. ***. 


angelman66 said...

This is a Tennessee Williams I have not yet seen; seems like one of his lesser efforts but I love Geraldine Page and the divine Laurence Harvey. Lee Patrick pops up in so many things, one of the unforgettable character actresses--love her too! I'll look for this!

William said...

It's not one of his greatest but it is a good play, and he tinkered with it quite a bit over the years. I agree with you about Lee Patrick, she could do everything from Topper's befuddled wife on television to hard-boiled molls and do it equally well.