I didn’t like this movie. Sure, David Lean, sure Katharine Hepburn, sure Technicolor, sure boring. I think this is one of those films that doesn’t age well in terms of its accessibility to audiences. It plays pitch-perfect to pre-sexual revolution morality for the vast majority of the film; at times there are startling moments. The word sex is said! In 1955! And the laissez faire extra-marital affair is also a bit striking for the time. Perhaps there is a bit of prescience to the film in this regard. However, Hepburn’s character, Jane Hudson is a probably-virginal spinster in her late 40s who has come to Venice, somewhat subconsciously, looking for a fling. She finds one, but her Akron, Ohio bred prudity, repression of desire, and defensiveness keep her from giving in for quite a while. The first 40 minutes or so of the film are filled with her looking alternatively wistful and frightened. There really isn’t much plot apart from the sought-after golden year’s sex romp, although there is a tiny bit of pathos at the end when she must leave her Venetian shopkeeper while she still can.
Lean’s direction appears to illustrate an indecision in regard to what kind of film he is making. Much of the film functions as a travelogue, almost too touristy, and some of the shots are deliberately filmed to reflect what Hepburn is chronicling on her little 8mm [that apparently works in Technicolor!]. Then there are bits of slapstick with Hepburn’s character, she’s not good at comedy, her mishaps all seem contrived to be more about Hepburn doing comedy exclamation point, than integral parts of the film. The romance seems to have the most focus, but apart from one awesome scene where the Italian dude scolds Hepburn for being prude, it isn’t very romantic. It probably seems so very romantic for Hepburn’s character though, since she’s so inexperienced. The dramatic episodes are pretty facile, too. All in all it seems like the whole production was just having a good time filming in Venice and wasn’t too concerned with filming in Venice. The film is extraordinary in this regard. Technicolor was well suited as an homage to the city of Venice. Too bad the story itself wasn’t.