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The working title of this film was The Time of the Cuckoo. The picture is also well known by its British release title, Summer Madness. The opening and closing cast credits vary in order. Although many contemporary sources list Rossano Brazzi's character name as "Renato Di Rossi," he is listed as "Renato De Rossi" in the onscreen, closing credits. According to the October 22, 1952 Variety review of the Broadway opening of Arthur Laurents' highly successful play, The Time of the Cuckoo, Laurents wrote the lead expressly for actress Shirley Booth, for whom the play's producers waited a year because she was committed to other projects. When various Hollywood studios became interested in the play, there was much speculation that Booth would star in the film version. According to contemporary news items and information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, producer Hal Wallis and agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar were among those interested in purchasing the play for production on the screen.
A December 17, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Wallis wanted to purchase the play, but Booth was refusing to work with him because he had told her that she was "too old" for the film version. The item further noted that Katharine Hepburn had expressed interest in the project, and that Wallis hoped to buy it for her and Ezio Pinza. According to a April 7, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item, Ilya Lopert had acquired rights to the play and was "still running with Shirley Booth in the star role." The article also announced that Lopert was considering Anatole Litvak to direct the picture, which would be "an American-Italian production, with Angelo Rizzoli as [Lopert's] partner." On April 12, 1953, however, New York Times reported that Lopert was negotiating with Daniel Mann to direct, and that Laurents would be writing his own adaptation of the play for the screen. According to a modern source, Laurents' screenplay was unsatisfactory, and after director David Lean tried unsuccessfully to improve the treatment with the help of associate producer Norman Spencer, writers Donald Ogden Stewart and S. N. Behrman were brought in to work on the screenplay. Finally, Lean met with novelist H. E. Bates and the pair wrote the screenplay together.
According to the April 12, 1953 New York Times article, Lopert intended to meet with noted Italian director-actor Vittorio De Sica about playing "Renato." On April 20, 1953, Los Angeles Times reported that after Lopert bought the rights to the play, Roberto Rossellini had been interested in directing it with Ingrid Bergman as the star, but that Olivia de Havilland was then considering starring in the project. According to an January 11, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, United Artists, along with an unnamed "Italian firm," was to participate in financing the film. Hollywood Reporter later reported in June 1954 that the picture would be "financed entirely" by Robert W. Dowling and City Investing Co. The Motion Picture Almanac and modern sources note that British producer Alexander Korda and his company, London Film Productions, Ltd., were also major partners in the production.
According to the film's pressbook, ninety percent of the picture was shot in exterior locations in Venice, including the island of Burano. The remaining ten percent, all interiors, were shot at the Scalera Studios in the commercial district of Venice. In the onscreen credits, it is noted that the music score was "Recorded in Rome," and the cinematography credit reads: "Photographed entirely in Venice by Jack Hildyard, B.S.C." Some modern sources assert that before filming began, rumors circulated in Venice that the picture would be censored by the Patriarch of Venice due to its licentious story, and that the gondolieri would strike if shooting disrupted tourism. Allegedly, the problems were solved by a generous contribution to the restoration fund of the Basilica of San Marco, along with a promise that costumes showing bare arms or short skirts would not be worn in holy places and the hiring of a large number of gondolieri.
Reports from modern sources conflict as to the story that Hepburn contracted a serious, lifelong eye infection due to the famous sequence in which she falls into a canal. Some sources state that the sequence required at least two takes, and that despite adding chlorine and protective tarping to the water, Hepburn's eyes were infected, while others dismiss the story as apocryphal, stating that Hepburn often swam in the canals at night after shooting. Modern sources do agree that after the film's release, tourism in Venice increased dramatically, and one of the spots frequently pointed out during tours is the canal into which Hepburn fell. The Pensione Fiorini was actually a composite of two exterior locations and one interior built on a sound stage.
Information in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals that when Lazar originally submitted Laurents' play to the PCA in December 1952 for the office's opinion of its suitability for filming, he was told that the "basic story is in violation of the Production Code, and a motion picture based upon it could not be approved by us." Office head Joseph I. Breen informed Lazar that the play's acceptance and promotion of adultery was the main reason for their disapproval. In May 1955, new PCA head Geoffrey Shurlock told United Artists' officials that the film as then screened could not be approved because of its depiction of adultery. Shurlock suggested that if the sequence in which "Jane Hudson" and Renato first consummate their relationship was trimmed, along with certain comments during their idyll in Burano, then the intimation of adultery would be sufficiently lessened for the PCA to approve the picture. Although the majority of the balcony sequence footage, in which Jane and Renato watch fireworks and kiss, was retained for the final film, a June 14, 1955 Daily Variety news item reported that eighteen feet of footage was removed from the sequence and the picture was approved by the PCA. In late May 1955, Variety had noted that "several state censors already have okayed" the picture for exhibition. The June 8, 1955 Motion Picture Daily review mistakenly reported that the PCA had rejected the picture.
One of the most contentious items in the picture for censors was a line spoken by Renato when he chastises Jane for her simplistic attitude toward sexual relationships. In the released film, Renato tells her that she is like a hungry child and should eat the ravioli in front of her. According to a August 24, 1955 Daily Variety article, the National Catholic Legion of Decency strongly objected to the sequence as it was originally shot, in which Renato said: "You are like a hungry child who is given ravioli to eat. `No' you say, `I want beefsteak!' My dear girl, you are hungry. Eat the ravioli." Although the PCA had not objected to the line, the legion threatened to issue a condemned rating for the film unless the line about "beefsteak" was deleted from the picture. The line was eliminated and Summertime eventually received a "B" rating from the Legion of Decency. One modern source suggests that it was Lopert's partner, Robert Dowling, who ordered that the "beefsteak" line be deleted.
On June 8, 1955, Daily Variety reported that the film' s Venice premiere was to have been shown "on the famed St. Mark's square so that most of the entire city could view it-until the Catholic Church nixed the idea." The article elaborated that the Church objected due to the relationship between Jane and the married Renato. The premiere was held instead at the Palazzo Grassi. According to the New York Times review, the film's New York premiere was a benefit for the American National Theatre and Academy "Salute to France." Summertime received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress and Best Director. Lean was named Best Director of 1955 by the New York Film Critics Circle. Summertime marked the first time that Lean shot a picture entirely on location, a practice that he continued for the rest of his career. The picture was also Lean's last set in a contemporary period. Modern sources report that Summertime was Lean's favorite of his pictures, and that he became so enamored of Venice, he made it his second home. The picture's score has enjoyed continued popularity throughout the years.