This has to be one of Katherine Hepburn's better films, especially mid-career. She's often derided for being a one note actress, but what would Bogart be, then? People criticize Meryl Streep for being a chameleon and showing up everywhere, from Vogue runways to 10 Downing Street.
People like to complain.
In this lush David Lean production, set in Venice and filmed in gorgeous full color that looks bright and new, it seems as if the movie was just made, were it not for all the people dressed like adults, instead of adults dressing as kids, as we do today. Sadly, as nicely as they're dressed, most of the American women look like sausages in hats, frumpy little Mamie Eisenhowers waddling about in sensible shoes. Ms. Hepburn, on the other hand, keeps getting better dresses as the movie progresses, even though her footwear mostly resembles orthopedic sandalry.
Still, she eventually gets a zaftig pair of red heels, and, well, a single shoe hasn't said so much since Dorothy met the Wicked Witch of the West.
Ms. Hepburn, as Jane Hudson, is a single woman, of a certain age (a stale potato chip as she puts it, later in the film) who's come from Akron, Ohio, on her first foreign vacation, to Venice. Given that much of Venice, including the body of St. Mark, was stolen from other places, it's no surprise that Venice steals her heart, early in the film. And then, she meets Rossano Brazzi, as Renato di Rossi, a handsome Venetian merchant, who sells her an 18th century red Murano goblet.
Ms. Hudson is trusting, but not well informed, so when an acquaintence shows up with a whole set of what appear to be the same glasses, for the price she paid for one, she knows she's been cheated. To her defense, there were no iPhones, let alone internet service back then, so to understand that the same goblets were made for centuries, would have required a trip to a library that has english language books... The movie is long enough, so we'll skip that point.
It doesn't take long for Ms. Hudson to fall in love with Mr. Rossi and then only to realize he's married. Of course, what else? But, this is Hollywood's idea of Italy, and Italians, and it's all very far away from Akron, Ohio (in an era when a lot of people went to Cuba to have the sort of affairs they could never have at home) so she makes do with what she's got, and I am thrilled to report that, without Nora Ephron or Nancy Meyers pushing the envelope, we are spared the sight of a middle aged Katherine Hepburn, naked.
This movie works on so many levels. It's a great, romantic story but told from a more adult perspective than so many today. Since sex isn't an option, the discussions and the movie aren't built around it. The dialog though is often sparkling with those spiky lines that Old Hollywood was so good at, before "F" bombs and the like became standard conversation. The clothes are a visual delight; and of course Venice, which is as intgegral to this film as San Francisco is to "Vertigo", comes across every bit as enchanting as you'd want, every scene is somewhere about town, so no matter what the action is, Venice is a part of it in nearly every scene.
Fun. Romantic. Gorgeous. I recommend it, enthusiastically.