Long before his TechniColored melodramas for Universal in the ‘50s (WRITTEN ON THE WIND/’56; IMITATION OF LIFE/’59), Douglas Sirk, on his second American pic, made this near-miss adaptation of Chekhov’s THE SHOOTING PARTY. The farce-inflected tragicomic tone of the great Chekhov plays are notoriously hard to get right in film (on stage, too), but Sirk, working on a shoestring budget for fellow-exile producer Seymour Nebenzal, gets nearly as close as Louis Malle did with his rehearsal film, VANYA ON 42ND STREET/’94 though nowhere near as close as Satyajit Ray did in THE MUSIC ROOM/’58 which has the advantage of not being by Chekhov but merely Chekhovian. Back to SUMMER STORM. Told in flashback from early post-Revolutionary days, the main story follows, in slightly appalled amazement, the romantic climb of Linda Darnell, a peasant girl who captures the hearts of a series of increasingly important lovers/mentors. Sig Ruman & Hugo Haas are fine as her corruptible father & lovesick middle-aged suitor, but the standout perfs come from upper-echelon types, George Sanders as an obsessed Judge, Anna Lee (very beautiful here) as his proper fiancee, and Edward Everett Horton as a supremely supercilious landowning Count in danger of running on empty even before the Communist takeover.* There’s only so much Sirk can do with the modest production values, or with Darnell whose butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth simper is as far as she goes. The passion needed to precipitate all the trouble seems beyond her means. The Production Code forces too many tidy resolutions, but the film retains interest and honesty in spite of it.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *What a performance by Horton! Not the expected serious turn from a long favored jester, but a living response played thru comedy technique. He’s so naturally in tune with the multifaceted Chekhovian spirit it’d make Stanislavski sit up and take notice as this essentially silly man nails one emotion & piece of human folly after another.
DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, try Malle’s VANYA or Ray’s MUSIC ROOM.