In the early 1940's, screen beauty Linda Darnell had become stereotyped by her home studio 20th Century-Fox as a virginal young heroine, exotic of look but completely pure of heart. In Mark of Zorro (1940), Blood and Sand (1941) and other films, she had lent her exquisite face but no real acting chops. Then in late 1943, Darnell was sent a script by an agent based on Anton Chekov's novel The Shooting Party. According to Darnell, she begged her boss, Darryl F. Zanuck, to be loaned out for the meaty role of Olga, a seductive Russian peasant. With nothing slated for the brunette beauty, Zanuck agreed, and the course of Linda Darnell's career changed forever.
Not your typical Hollywood subject matter in 1944, Summer Storm is set in pre-Revolution Russia and gave Darnell an excellent dramatic opportunity to lift herself up out of the saccharine doldrums she had found herself in the past couple of years. She plays the role of tumultuous peasant girl Olga, full of fiery passion equalled or even surpassed only by her greed and selfishness. She meets and captivates a chain of men whom she uses to first, leave the pigsty where she lived with her drunkard father, and then advance herself, both socially and financially.
As one of Darnell's conquests, Fedor Petroff, is played by George Sanders, as another, Count Volsky, by Edward Everett Horton, but as Olga works her wiles to her advantage, she pushes things to the dangerous emotional edge, pitting man against man, their passion for her causing ruin all around. As the shallow, beautiful mantrap, Darnell, although limited in her range, does quite well in her first sultry role. Her stock at Fox increased dramatically after the release of Summer Storm (through United Artists). Subsequently, the studio cast her in a succession of seductive vixen roles in films like Hangover Square, Fallen Angel (both 1945) and My Darling Clementine (1946). This persona climaxed with the actress copping the plum role of Amber St. Clare (when Brit Peggy Cummins didn't work out) in the Restoration bodice ripper Forever Amber (1947). Actually, Amber is reminiscent of Summer Storm in theme and character, and Linda smolders in both.
The Russian feel of Chekov's story is translated well. There are good examples of both pre- and post-Soviet garb and much talk of vodka. Mazurka's are played in the background, as part of the Oscar nominated score and the script is peppered with "peasant" in the first half of the film and "comrade" in the second. High production values should be no surprise since the movie was directed by Douglas Sirk, who would hit his peak in the mid 1950's with polished soapers in collaboration with producer Ross Hunter (think Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows).
The formidable George Sanders makes one of his occasional turns as the films male lead. Though very British in appearance and demeanor (his parents were English), Sanders was actually born in the same pre-Revolutionary Russia in which Summer Storm was set (the actor was born in St. Petersburg in 1906). Infamous as an on-screen cad (and sometimes off as well), as Fedor Petroff he still holds his cadhood in good stead, but this time Sanders' character shows the capacity for both love, albeit a posessive, superficial love, as opposed to a deep, self sacrificing one, and a certain degree of conscience. Anna Lee also does a fine job as Sanders betrayed fiancee.
Not often seen by modern classic movie lovers, Summer Storm is a fine little film. The showcase for Darnell, Sanders and Horton is great. It allowed each a chance to stretch their dramatic legs in roles other than those which had previously limited their respective creative juices.