Lopert submitted the play to the Production Code Administration, the American censor board, for approval and was told that it was "in violation of the Production Code, and a motion picture based upon it could not be approved by us." Production Code head Joseph Breen objected to the play's "promotion and acceptance of adultery." As late as May 1955, the new censor Geoffrey Shurlock would not approve the film for release until certain scenes, including the consummation of the affair by Jane (Hepburn) and Renato (Brazzi), were cut down, along with several lines about adultery. The film was finally approved for American audiences in June 1955.
Censors were not Lopert's only problem. He needed a director and a screenplay. David Lean was not Lopert's first choice; he had been in negotiations with Daniel Mann as early as April 1953. When that failed, Lean inherited the project. Laurents did an adaptation of his play for the screen, but Lean was unhappy with his version, opting to rewrite it himself with several different writers, including Donald Ogden Stewart and S. N. Behrman, with the novelist H.E. Bates co-writing the final draft with Lean, to Laurents' chagrin. Securing Hepburn was much easier. In her autobiography Me, she wrote, "They called me and said that David Lean was going to direct it. Would I be...They didn't need to finish that sentence. I certainly would be interested in anything that David Lean was going to direct. So I said yes and it was of course going to be done in Venice. [...] David was always very fussy about a script and removed everything that didn't interest him - so this movie is really David in Venice. Not necessarily knowing a great amount about the famous treasures, but a person reacting to the beauties and the atmosphere of this remarkable city on a three-week holiday and a love affair, and then leaving on the train. [...] We would shoot in tiny streets only a few feet wide. The sun would come and go in a matter of minutes. It was a very emotional part and I tell you I had to be on my toes to give David enough of what he wanted practically on call. But it was thrilling. And the music he picked was perfect. It was fascinating to work for David. He was very basic he was simple he was true. He told a story. It's a slice of life you understand. In all its detail. He photographed what he saw in his mind's eye. It was a most extraordinary gift. He seemed to me to simply absorb Venice. It was his. He had a real photographic gift. He thought in a descriptive way. His shots tell the story."
Production on Summertime began in Venice in mid-July 1955. The press kit for the film states that ninety percent of it was filmed in and around Venice and the island of Burano. The rest were shot at the Scalera Studios in Venice with Jack Hildyard as Director of Photography. The most difficult shot of the film came when Katharine Hepburn falls backwards into the Venice canal; a shot that Hepburn later claimed caused the chronic eye infection that made her eyes water for the rest of her life. Michael Korda, nephew of producer Alexander Korda and son of his art director brother Vincent, was on the set that day. He wrote of it in his book Charmed Lives. "Nobody in his right mind would risk coming into contact with the water in Venice's canals, a heady blend of garbage, ordure, mud and putrefactions let alone plunging into it fully dressed several times. The health authorities of Venice were anxious to avoid the scandal that would be caused by Miss Hepburn's succumbing to typhoid, skin diseases or dysentery, and suggested that the scene should be shot in a swimming pool. Miss Hepburn herself, having taken a good look at the water in the canal, was anything but enthusiastic about the prospects, but neither Vincent nor David Lean was willing to compromise with realism." A barrier was created with plastic sheets and several different types of swimming pool chemicals were poured into the barriers to sanitize the water. With all the boats in the areas, the chemicals created a mountain of bubbles which had to be blown down the canal with gigantic fans. Hepburn fell into the canal, was rinsed, had her hair and make-up reset and then did it again, complaining, "It still tastes lousy. It's like a swimming pool in California, with all that chlorine. What a way to make a living!" As Michael Korda and his father left the set, a Monsignor worried that the Cardinal would be upset if all the bubbles floated up to the basilica. Vincent Korda shrugged, "Tell him it's a miracle."
With the taglines "It happens to Hepburn - It happens in Venice!", "She came to Venice as a tourist - and went home a woman!", "All the pent-up yearning of her life was finally fulfilled ... amid the splendor of the world's most fabulous city!" and "What 3 Coins in the Fountain did for Rome ... ... Summertime does for Venice!", the film had its world premiere in Venice on May 29, 1955, later released in the United States on June 22nd. Bosley Crowther, in his tepid review of the film for The New York Times, wrote that Venice itself was the star of Summertime more than Hepburn and Brazzi. "The explanation is simple. In adapting for the screen Arthur Laurents' stage play The Time of the Cuckoo, Mr. Lean and H. E. Bates discarded most of the individual shadings and psychological subtleties of that romance. They reduced the complicated pondering of an American woman's first go at love with a middle-aged merchant of Venice to pleasingly elemental terms. And they let the evident inspiration for their heroine's emotional release be little more than the spell cast by the city upon her fitful and lonely state of mind. [...] It is Venice itself that gives the flavor and the emotional stimulation to this film. [...] Miss Hepburn is clever and amusing as a spirited American old maid who turns up in Venice with her guide books and a romantic gleam in her eye. She makes a convincing summer tourist. And her breathlessly eager attitude is just right for the naïve encounters and farcical mishaps that have been arranged."
The film earned Hepburn and Lean Academy Award nominations for Best Actress and Best Director, although neither won. Arthur Laurents was not pleased with the final result of the film, as David Lean later related, "[When] the film was finished, I said [to Laurents], 'Well, what did you think of it?" He hated it, of course. He said, 'Very pretty.' But it was quite a success at the time. In fact, I remember I got a cable from Kate Hepburn saying, 'You made a smash. Love, Kate.' Very sweet of her. I never did make another film with her, unfortunately."
Summertime was shown once more in Venice, nearly fifty years after its release in 2003 when a restored version premiered at the Venice Film Festival. For Arthur Laurents, the film was not the end of his play. He would later collaborate with Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim on a musical version of The Time of the Cuckoo which became Do I Hear a Waltz? which opened on Broadway in 1965.
Producer: Ilya Lopert
Director: David Lean
Screenplay: H.E. Bates, David Lean; Arthur Laurents (play "The Time of the Cuckoo"); Donald Ogden Stewart (uncredited)
Cinematography: Jack Hildyard
Music: Alessandro Cicognini
Film Editing: Peter Taylor
Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Jane Hudson), Rossano Brazzi (Renato de Rossi), Isa Miranda (Signora Fiorini), Darren McGavin (Eddie Yaeger), Mari Aldon (Phyl Yaeger), Jane Rose (Mrs. McIlhenny), MacDonald Parke (Mr. McIlhenny), Jeremy Spenser (Vito de Rossi), Gaetano Autiero (Mauro), Virginia Simeon (Giovanna).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Crowther, Bosley "Screen: Venice Stars in Summertime" The New York Times 22 June 1955
Hepburn, Katharine Me: Stories of My Life
Korda, Michael Charmed Lives
Organ, Steven David Lean: Interviews