Review published in The New York Times, November 17, 1961
Bosley Crowther wrote:A FEW of the poignant intimations of solitude and loneliness that rise, like wisps of autumnal aromas, out of Tennessee Williams' play, "Summer and Smoke," do waft from the generally over-crowded, overcolored, giant-sized Panavision screen on which it has been lost in the film version. The movie opened at the De Mille and the Sutton yesterday.
These few intimations are most perceptible in close-ups whensad-eyed Geraldine Page, playing a 1916 spinster opposite Laurence Harvey's roadster-driving rake, makes fumbling, futile endeavors to present her cramped and cloistered heart to him, moved by a virginal adoration that he callously rejects and ridicules.
Miss Page, who is a forceful, tireless actress, has one soggy, melancholy mood to sustain through most of the picture. It is that of a timid girl confused by a complex of sexual inhibitions, moral strictures and social taboos, hanging onto the chilly satisfaction that her body and thus her soul are pure and that, however much her hero humiliates her, she still has her pride and dignity.
Because Miss Page never falters in maintaining this mood and attitude, because she persists in presenting a complete individuality, those few poignant, passing intimations of loneliness and barrenness come through.
There are a couple of times, too, when Mr. Harvey sends up faint, wistful signals of pain and loneliness from his haughty posture of rebellion against conventionality. He is strong and emotionally touching when he, as a weary profligate seeking a little relaxation while home from medical school, endures the abuse of his father or staggers in professional dismay from the bewilderingly passionless repulses of Miss Page.
But these moments—these few wispy moments, when the theme of frustration comes clear and one can see what Mr. Williams was pushing in this intimtate, agonized tale—are pretty much drained of their intensity by the over-powering blasts of hot, thick fumes that come out of a seemingly always torchlit production crowded with noisy characters, gingerbread scenery and bright costumes.
Because of this style of production that Hal Wallis has given the film and because of the pageantesque direction that Peter Glenville has imposed, this slight, period-dress and mannered drama of small-town sweethearts who live in adjacent homes has the air of a "Meet Me in St. Louis," with waiting pauses for the song, "The Boy Next Door."
There are band concerts, gambling-house encounters rooster fights in a smoke-ringed pit and some melodramatic explosions that are made monstrous on the giant screen. A fiery-eyed Rita Moreno dashes in flouncing her skirts, from time to time as though bicycling over from "West Side Story," to which she can't wait to return. Una Merkel dotters on as the heroine's mother, a comical kleptomaniac, and John McIntire snorts fire and brimstone as the hero's hysterical old man.
Thomas Gomez as a gambling-hall proprietor and Pamela Tiffen as the bright-eyed, pink-cheeked girl the hero incredibly succumbs to augment the imbalance of the cast.
Through it all runs a purposely insistent Elmer Bernstein musical score that finally sets one to thinking of the music played for soulful dramas in the silent days.
Indeed, the conclusion of the picture, with the heroine walking off into the night with a musical-comedy traveling salesman, is almost as soulful as "East Lynne."