"I've put more of myself in that film than in any other I've ever made"

David Lean

"Hepburn...As you've never seen her.

Venice...As you've never seen it".

This is how a promotional poster announced the opening of Summertime, a film by Sir David Lean starring Katharine Hepburn and Venice.

This movie has become a sort of a cult picture for Venetophiles and incurable romantics alike. Despite its pre-1960's moral dilemmas it remains unwithered as it deals with a very basic human emotion, loneliness, amid the most gorgeous human-made setting, Venice.

The movie tells the story of Jane Hudson, a "fancy secretary" in her own words, from Akron, Ohio, who after saving money for a long time embarks on the trip of her life to the "city of romance" in search of a missing "something" that she herself is unable to define.


Jane Hudson taken by a red goblet in an antique store in Campo San Barnaba

Jane Hudson on the balcony of Pensione Fiorini

David Lean captures Venice like no other director has ever done it. The master of epics such as Doctor Zhivago,
Lawrence of Arabia and A Passage to India, gives us an intimate portrait of the city through the bewildered eyes of Miss Hudson. Watching the movie one can feel the oppressive heat of a midsummer afternoon in the lagoon, hear the echo of solitary steps reverberating in a hidden alley, almost taste the salty breeze carrying a bounty of smells stolen from the waters.

I do not know when I saw the movie for the first time, probably on TV many years after it first opened in 1955, but I vividly remember, though, when it hit a chord within me: It was soon after my first trip to Venice in 1988. I stayed at a hotel near the train station and everyday I would walk from the hotel to San Marco along Rio del Gaffaro, through Campo Santa Margarita to Campo San Barnaba on my way to the Accademia. I took several pictures of Campo San Barnaba and once back home in California I used them as the inspiration for an ink drawing. As you can see the artistic results are questionable but the time spent fiddling with that corner of Venice, with the little store tucked in between the church and the bridge, made my heart grow very fond of Campo San Barnaba. So when I saw Katharine Hepburn going into the same store and the store becoming such a pivot in the movie, the movie became an instant favorite of mine.

I watched the movie right before my second trip to Venice in 2001, looking for the location of the charming Pensione Fiorini, where Jane Hudson stays during her Venetian sojourn. At the time, not being very familiar with the Venetian geography, I searched for the real pensione high and low but couldn't find it. I soon realized that its location had been David Lean's fabrication. By watching the movie several times and with the help of a good map of Venice I was able to pinpoint the exact spots. The front door of the pensione opens to Rio dei Bareteri, in the sestiere of San Marco, in the heart of the Merceria. The balcony in Miss Hudson's room is way up on Rio de la Salute, in Dorsoduro, overlooking the churches of La Salute and San Giorgio Maggiore, and the captivating terrace on the Grand Canal was in fact a set built in Campo San Vio, also in the sestiere of Dorsoduro. 

Pensione Fiorini
Rio dei Bareteri, San Marco. Same corner from
a different angle

Miss Hudson and Signora Fiorini (Isa Miranda), at the balcony in Miss Hudson's room
Terrace where the balcony must have been built on
Rio de la Salute

Terrace at the Pensione Fiorini
Campo San Vio, where the terrace was built

I read over and over in different blogs, forums and guidebooks that the Pensione Fiorini was in fact the real Pensione Accademia. I don't know how this misconception got started. Perhaps because the Pensione Accademia is also located in Dorsoduro, not too far from Campo San Vio; perhaps because Pensione Accademia is the only pensione that has a magnificent garden overlooking the Grand Canal similar to the terrace in Pensione Fiorini; perhaps because some of the Summertime's crew members stayed at the Pensione Accademia during the shooting. The truth is that all the shots of the terrace looking towards the Grand Canal were filmed on location in Campo San Vio and no scenes, interior or exterior, were filmed at the Pensione Accademia. Still, if Pensione Fiorini was inspired by a real pensione, that must has been the beautiful Pensione Accademia, also known as Villa Maravege (Villa of Wonders.) 

View from Pensione Accademia, before Christmas
Front garden, Pensione Accademia, in summer

Back garden at Pensione Accademia
Pensione Accademia, second floor sitting room

At the San Cristoforo bridge, Miss Hudson meets Mauro (Gaitano Audiero), a homeless local boy who makes his living by selling indecent postcards, fountain pens of dubious origin, and arranging nocturnal and illicit rendezvous for tourists and locals alike. Mauro, whom she affectionately calls "Kookie," becomes her unsolicited guide to the city.


Miss Hudson and Mauro at the San Cristoforo bridge

Ponte San Cristoforo is located in the sestiere of Dorsoduro, a stone's throw away from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, right behind Ca' Dario in Campiello Barbaro and not too far from Campo San Vio. Incidentally, the San Cristoforo bridge was used by Woody Allen in his movie Everyone Says I Love You for an encounter between him and Julia Roberts. Coincidence? I believe not.

Julia Roberts and Woody Allen in Everyone Says I Love You
San Cristoforo bridge, in 2005, after minor restoration

In Piazza San Marco, Miss Hudson meets Renato De Rossi (Rossano Brazzi) who smiles ever so subtly but provokes in her a cascade of emotions that sends her packing, hiding behind her sunglasses. Miss Hudson's mix of repression and frustration is evident in one of the most poignant scenes, when immediately after the Piazza San Marco incident, she sits all by herself by the canal in Campo San Moisè and her face becomes one with those of the sad stone lions at the water level.
Jane and Renato in Piazza San Marco

A red goblet in an antique store window catches Miss Hudson's eye. She enters the store to inquire about the goblet to discover that the antique dealer is Signore De Rossi. The same kind of goblet, which apparently was especially made for the movie, can still be purchased in Venice around Piazza San Marco; it is called the 'Summertime' goblet.

A few years ago I visited the same store in Campo San Barnaba and talked to the owner, a tall, middle-age man with the aristocratic face of a Venetian Doge. He recounted that when the movie was shot, his father -a wood carver and gilder, owned the store. Semi-retired at the time of my visit, his father still made some of the beautiful wood pieces on display in the store. No red goblet in sight, I bought one of his small wooden angels carrying snow flakes. Since then, I believe that he has relocated the store just around the corner, on Calle del Tragheto, but the store in Campo San Barnaba still operates, though under a different ownership.
Campo San Barnaba after an unusual snow storm

On a sultry midsummer afternoon, Miss Hudson sets out to find Signore De Rossi's antique store, but gets lost in the attempt, overwhelmed by the Venetian geography; until Mauro comes to the rescue. She promptly enlists him to guide her to Campo San Barnaba.

Finding the location where this scene was filmed wasn't easy. After pondering on the shape of the campo, the openings to side streets, the cast of shadows, and with the help of a very good Venice map, I concluded that it must have been filmed in Piscina Sant'Agnese in Dorsoduro, not too far from the Accademia bridge and Campo San Vio. It helped in my elimination process to notice that the scene was shot at two very different times of the day, morning and afternoon, as the shift of shadows from one side of the street to the other, from one frame to the next, indicates. That could only mean that the street has a North-South orientation. One of the first things I did on my next trip to Venice in 2002 was to find Piscina Sant'Agnese.

Piscina Sant'Agnese, 2002
Julia Roberts jogging in Piscina Sant'Agnese in
Everyone Says I Love You

Is it coincidence, again, that Woody Allen chose Piscina Sant'Agnese for one of Julia Roberts' jogging scenes in Everyone Says I Love You?

It's been said that Summertime is David Lean's Valentine to Venice. Then it follows that Everyone Says I Love You must be Woody Allen's thank-you note to David Lean.

Miss Hudson on her way to Pensione Fiorini walks across Campo Santo Stefano
Woody Allen on his way to meet Julia Roberts runs across Campo Santo Stefano

With Mauro's help Miss Hudson finally gets to De Rossi's store to find out that he had played hooky. She comforts herself by taking a shot of the store with her film camera but in her zeal to capture it from the perfect angle she falls in the canal while backing up. Mauro manages to get the camera before she falls.

One of my favorite passages in the film is a conversation between suave Renato and hesitant Jane, when he is trying to persuade her that she should yield to her passions. He says to her: 'You are like a hungry child who is given ravioli to eat. No, you say. I want beefsteak. My dear girl, you're hungry. Eat the ravioli!'
'I'm not that hungry', she replies.
But sooner or later Miss Hudson eats the ravioli which must have tasted like real beefsteak, judging by the fireworks they elicited.
In the movie, Renato's apartment is located on Rio de San Felice, at the foot of Ponte Chiodo, in the sestiere of Cannaregio. Is it a metaphor that Ponte Chiodo is the only bridge in Venice without parapet?

Crossing Ponte Chiodo, going to Renato's apartment
Ponte Chiodo, in 2004

No more clues on how the movie ends, in case you haven't seen it. It is the perfect movie to watch before your first, second, or third trip to Venice or after you have come back for the nth time. I hope the information provided here will help you retrace Katharine Hepburn's steps next time you are in Venice. Enjoy.....