Thursday, February 5, 2015

Film of the Week: Summer and Smoke, 1961

Tennessee Williams was responsible for writing some of the most beautiful, and bleak, dramas in American theater history. Many of his plays were made into feature films which continue to move and startle us to this day.

In 1945, Williams began work on a play that he called, Chart of Anatomy. He later changed the name to Eccentricities of a Nightingale and later, to Summer and Smoke based on a line from the Hart Crane poem, "Emblems of Conduct.”

Summer and Smoke centers around the residents of the town of Glorious Hills, Mississippi at the turn of the Twentieth Century. True to his usual Southern Gothic themes, Williams has woven a tale of repression, manners, debauched behavior and betrayal.

Geraldine Page
 At the middle of the story is neurotic Alma Winemiller whose religious-nature and tragic home life make for a difficulty in forming relationships. She has an unrequited affection for Dr. John Buchanan, Junior—a young doctor whose passions and wildness continue to be a disappointment to his family. Alma cares for her mentally ill mother and fills the role of “wife” with her father. She’s the grudging head of the household upon whose shoulders the burdens of the family rest. By the end, constant disappointment and a growing addiction to tranquilizers lead Alma away from her true nature, or, perhaps toward a path of truth for which she was unprepared.

The film starred Laurence Harvey(as John Buchanan) and Geraldine Page (as Alma Winemiller) with Rita Moreno, Una Merkel, John McIntire, Thomas Gomez, Pamela Tiffin, Malcolm Atterbury, Lee Patrick and Earl Holliman. Produced by Hal Wallis and directed by Peter Glenville, the film received four Academy Award nominations including Best Actress for Geraldine Page’s performance and Best Supporting Actress for Una Merkel’s portrayal of Alma’s off-kilter mother.

This beautiful Technicolor film features accurate Victorian sets and turn-of-the-century costumes which create a wonderful setting for this story of despair and confusion. No, Tennessee Williams never offers up a laugh-riot, but his drama is top-notch. This is further proof of his brilliance.

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