Summer and Smoke (1961)

Summer and Smoke
Directed by Peter Glenville
Written by James Poe and Meade Roberts from a play by Tennessee Williams
1961/USA
Hal Wallis Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

“You’ll be surprised how infinitely merciful they [these tablets] are. The prescription number is 96814. I think of it as the telephone number of God!” ― Tennessee Williams, Summer and Smoke

Geraldine Page didn’t make enough movies.

The setting is the American South sometime at the end of the 19th Century or the beginning of the Twentieth.  Alma Winemiller (Page) is a preacher’s daughter and has been known as a prig since childhood.  She delights in flowery language and high-toned ways.  Her father is of the fundamentalist stripe and her mother (Una Merkle) is suffering from some form of dementia  that has robbed her of self-control.

Alma has been in love with her next-door neighbor John Buchanan, Jr. (Laurence Harvey) since an early age.  His doctor father has a lot in common with her father.  John, who has just returned from medical school, is still sowing his wild oats with a vengeance.  He expresses some interest in seeing more of Alma but is almost immediately pulled into a tumultuous affair with fiery Latin Rosa Zacharias, whose father owns a notorious road house on the outskirts of town.

Alma struggles mightily with her longing, which eventually drives her into heart palpitations that John treats with some type of tranquilizers.  He repeatedly disappoints her.  When it looks like she may be losing him for good, Alma decides to take drastic action.

There are several tragedies here, not least of which is how the principals work at cross purposes throughout the story.  The film also contains plenty of Williams’ characteristic black humor.

This is one of the better Tennessee Williams adaptations, up there with Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Page makes a perfect Williams repressed spinster and the other performances are first rate.  I am iffy on Laurence Harvey but this is one of his better performances.  Recommended.

Summer and Smoke was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actress (Page); Best Supporting Actress (Merkle); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Trailer