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Film / Light in the Piazza

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Light in the Piazza is a 1962 film directed by Guy Green.

Meg Johnson, a mid-forties married lady (Olivia de Havilland) and her astonishingly sexy daughter Clara (Yvette Mimieux) are touring Italy, and currently have taken up residence in Florence. Meg, a helicopter parent before the term was invented, is extremely protective of Clara and never leaves her side. She reacts very negatively when a handsome young Italian boy, Fabrizio Nacarelli (George Hamilton), notices Clara in the square and begins aggressively wooing her.

Eventually the reason for Meg's overreaction is explained. When she was a child, Clara was kicked in the head by a Shetland pony. She suffered some non-specific brain damage, and, as a result, has the mental state of a 10-year-old child, even though she's actually 26. Meg has made it a habit over the years of taking would-be suitors aside and telling them the truth about Clara, but due to his limited English skills (and the fact that he himself is not all that bright), Fabrizio does not notice anything amiss. Clara and Fabrizio's whirlwind romance soon gets very serious, leaving Meg with a major dilemma, wondering what to do.

Barry Sullivan shows up in the third act as Noel, Meg's husband and Clara's father. This film was based on a 1960 novella. In 2005 the story was again adapted, this time into a Broadway musical titled The Light in the Piazza.


  • Bathtub Scene: Clara's bath is both Yvette Mimieux Fanservice, and also emphasizing her childlike nature, as she takes a rubber ducky with her into the bath.
  • Better as Friends: Signor Nacarelli, despite being married and also knowing that Meg is married, starts putting the full-court romantic press on her himself. She obviously enjoys this. This culminates with him kissing her. With a tinge of regret she turns him down, saying, in an echo of a comment she made about Clara, "I, too, have been carefully brought up."
  • Childhood Brain Damage: Clara. It's not that obvious to the observer, but eventually the things she says and does—like having her mom read her bedtime stories, or asking why she can't have a little brother when Meg is clearly past reproductive age—eventually give her away.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Meg sees Fabrizio and Clara cavorting at the pool, and says she wants a cigarette. Later she catches the two of them kissing, and the movie cuts to the next scene where Meg is smoking up a storm.
  • Disturbed Doves:
    • The pigeons in the main square in Florence are scattered in the opening scene, when Fabrizio rushes after Clara to return her hat.
    • They provide Book Ends when they're disturbed again as Clara and Fabrizio walk out of the church after their wedding.
  • Girls Love Stuffed Animals: Unlike most instances of this trope there's a reason for Clara to go to bed with a stuffed animal, and for her to squeal with joy when Fabrizio gives her a stuffed dog.
  • How Do You Say:
    • Fabrizio, who is played by George Hamilton as if all American stereotypes about Italy took human form, says, "I see you in the square, how do you say, the bigger square." (The Piazza della Signorina in Florence.)
    • This may be something Italian men say when romancing American women, because Sig. Nacarelli, after finally kissing Meg, says "You do not find it, how should I say, distasteful?".
  • Innocently Insensitive: Clara as a result of being not quite right in the head. Meg, making small talk, compliments Miss Hawtree's brooch. Clara then blurts out, "Mother, when I wanted to buy one like it, you said you wouldn't be caught dead in it."
  • Italians Talk with Hands:
    • Fabrizio leans on this trope hard, gesturing everywhere as if he's conducting a symphony while first chatting with Clara and Meg.
    • Sig. Nacarelli combines this with Driver Faces Passenger, taking his hands off the wheel to talk with his hands at Meg, and nearly hitting an oncoming truck.
  • The Lady's Favor: Meg, frantic to stop the blossoming romance between Clara and Fabrizio, whisks her off to Rome. To prove that she will see Fabrizio again, Clara leaves her stuffed animal with him at the train platform.
  • Lingerie Scene: Seemingly for no other reason than to show Olivia de Havilland was still fit and attractive in her mid-forties, Meg is shown in a slip in the hotel a couple of times, including once when she answers the phone.
  • Meet Cute: Fabrizio meets Clara when her hat is blown off her head in the public square in Florence, and he picks it up and rushes over to return it to her.
  • Parents Walk In at the Worst Time: Meg finds out events are slipping beyond her control when she and Fabrizio's father enter a room in the mansion and find Clara and Fabrizio kissing.
  • Pool Scene: Provides an opportunity for the film to show Clara splashing about in a bikini and still-shapely Meg sitting in a pool chair in a one-piece. Meg is horrified when Fabrizio, who has been following them everywhere (he's getting tips from the desk clerk at the hotel), comes up out of the water and joins Clara in pool frolicking.
  • Serious Business: When Sig. Nacarelli abruptly cancels the wedding and yanks Fabrizio out of the church, Meg thinks that somehow he's figured out Clara's problem. Nope, instead he called a halt to the wedding when he discovered that Clara, aged 26, is a whopping six years older than his son. And it gets even sillier when Fabrizio tells his father that he's actually 23, and Dad was off on his own son's age by a full three years.
  • Sexy Figure Gesture: Fabrizio, explaining how he saw the Johnsons before in the square, mentions the singer who was performing, a woman. He says she was "fantastica" and makes the "big breasts" gesture.
  • Social Semi-Circle: A very obvious use of this trope when Sig. Nacarelli meets Meg and Clara for the first time. Meg and Clara are sitting on opposite sides of a square dinner table with Fabrizio between them. When Sig. Nacarelli shows up, he awkwardly sits down next to Fabrizio, with the two of them squeezing together on one side, rather than him sitting on the open fourth side and putting his back to the camera.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: Clara, with the lack of maturity of a mental 10-year-old, takes this to the next level by pulling the emergency brake, screeching the train to a halt so she can get off and say goodbye to Fabrizio. Instead of Clara getting arrested, everybody sort of shakes their heads at her and the train starts back up and leaves the station.
  • Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: Lampshaded. Clara squees over Fabrizio's dog and asks "What's his name?". Fabrizio answers "His name is Stella and he had five children a little while ago."
  • Younger than She Looks: Mentally. Clara looks like a lovely woman in her mid-twenties, but acts and thinks like a 10-year-old.