Vacationing in Florence, Italy, are Americans Meg Johnson (Olivia deHavilland) and her 26-year old daughter, Clara (Yvette Mimieux). Years earlier, Clara had been kicked in the head by a pony, resulting in a brain injury which left her with the mental capabilities of a 10-year old. As Clara grew to adulthood, she began being attracted to boys---and they to her; feeling that such relationships could never work given Clara's limited mental state, Meg and her husband Noel (Barry Sullivan) determined that their daughter should be taken abroad and, thus, removed from potential love situations.
Obviously, if one is trying to avoid love, Italy is not the place to visit, for, Clara soon makes the acquaintance of Fabrizio Naccarelli (George Hamilton). Never suspecting that Clara's childlike innocence is because she really is a child, Fabrizio finds her charming and delightful. Clara adores him too---which greatly unsettles her mother. Hoping to nip the relationship in the bud, Meg attempts to explain the situation to Fabrizio's father (Rossano Brazzi), but when she is unable to do so, she determines that the only way out is to leave Florence---and Fabrizio.
After meeting up with husband, Noel, in Rome, and learning that he wants to send Clara to a special school, Meg begins to see the whole situation differently. Although Noel insists that Clara's condition is the same and has not improved, Meg, who has been living with the dream that Clara will one day be able to live a normal life, is convinced that the trip has done Clara good and that she has begun to get well. Further, knowing that Fabrizio adores Clara just as she is, Meg begins to believe that a marriage between them would not only work, but that it would be good for both of them. Despite her husband's instructions to the contrary, Meg is determined to do whatever it takes to see to it that Clara and Fabrizio are joined together in marriage. How it all plays out is the balance of the film.
Rossano Brazzi is incredibly handsome and dashing---very much the stereotypical Italian gentleman. And his lovely accent only adds to his charm! George Hamilton is very good in his role. While there are moments when his character seems a bit too immature to be a 23-year old man, the bulk of the time, he is kind, caring, loving, and sincere. Mr. Hamilton brings Fabrizio beautifully to life.
Yvette Mimieux---in one of her earliest films---is really terrific. She's incredibly beautiful here, and she plays the part of the innocent, childlike Clara perfectly. She was 20-years old at the time, portraying a character who was supposed to be 26. I never took her for 26...and not just because her character's brain injury had left her with a mental capacity of a 10-year old. Had the film not given the age she was supposed to be, because she is so youthful-looking, I would have taken her for about 18, 20 at the most.
Filled with wonderful, gracious characters you can't help but care about, Light in the Piazza is a lovely, charming, heart-tugging film, well worth viewing. Out on DVD, it should be fairly easy to track down. I hope you get a chance to see it!
NOTE: This article has also been published at They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To (HERE), where July 2013 is "Olivia deHavilland Month."