Stephen Hunter Recommends

We greet the summer solstice thus:

"Summertime" (1955) reminds us that before he made gigantic, exquisite movies, David Lean made tiny, exquisite movies. This is one of his tiniest and most exquisite. It follows Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn), a New England spinster-virgin, on her vacation to Venice, where she meets the suave, romantic Renato de Rossi (Rossano Brazzi) and feels feelings and hopes hopes she's never felt or hoped before. Hepburn, of course, is fabulous as a fragile woman so terrified of pain that it's all she can do to risk even the slightest, and her suspicions about the almost-too-good-to-be-true Italian give the movie its sense of crushing tension. Brazzi is commanding, spectacular, sweeping, charismatic, but is he a lout? A terrific film.

"In the Good Old Summertime" (1949) isn't the best Judy Garland musical by a long shot, but it has the mellow pleasures of the star at her most relaxed, in the bosom of her beloved MGM, that warm and caring parent that would the next year, after she collapsed on the set of "Annie Get Your Gun," fire her. And how can anyone dislike a movie co-starring S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall and Spring Byington that also has room for Buster Keaton? Garland and co-star Van Johnson (the boy next door, 1945- 1955) play employees of Mr. Oberkugen's music store who bicker all day long, then go home to lonely lives relieved only by a correspondence with a lovelorn stranger -- not realizing that the secret correspondence is between themselves. It's a useful structure, first used non-musically in "The Shop Around the Corner" and revitalized many years later in "You've Got Mail." Anyhow, the 1949 film is an artifact, a relic, an old bone, but still easy on the ears and eyes.

"The Long, Hot Summer" (1958) is a Hollywood simplification of the great William Faulkner -- it's based on "The Hamlet," not to be confused with W. Shakespeare's "Hamlet" -- but, on the strength of its great cast, is still worth viewing as a way of killing an afternoon of too much heat and no game on the tube. Any movie starring the incredible young Lee Remick as a gal named Eula has got to be paid attention to! But the big news is Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward as the stars, and the great if somewhat peculiar Orson Welles as the patriarch who may like Newman's nasty Ben Quick more than he likes his own son, Jody (Anthony Franciosa). Let's see, Lee Remick as Eula; Orson Welles doing a southern accent slow as molasses in Nome, Alaska; Angela Lansbury as someone called -- oh, so delicious! -- Minnie Littlejohn; the '50s Production Code forcing the filmmakers to symbolically express what Faulkner more explicitly depicted: Say, is this a movie, or what?

Paul Newman in "The Long Hot Summer" from 1958: Sublimely sublimated in Hollywood's Production Code straitjacket.