Light in the Piazza: Romantic Melodrama Starring Olivia De Havilland, Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton

Guy Green directed sensitively this romantic Hollywood melodrama dealing with the issue of institutionalization, centering on the mental problems of a young, beautiful woman who’s brain-damaged after an accident.

Set in Florenz and Rome, the tale stars vet actress Olivia De Havilland as the rich, overly concerned mother and rising star Yvette Mimieux, as her mentally challenged daughter, who’s 26 but behaves like a teenager.

The rights to the story, which first appeared as a novella in the New Yorker in June 1960, were bought by MGM for Arthur Freed, better known for his musicals with Minnelli. Julius Epstein adapted the tale to the big screen, and the novel version of the story was published later that year.

While the two women take a summer holiday, Clara meets and falls in love with a young Italian Fabrizio Naccarelli (George Hamilton, attempting heavy Italian accent). Smitten, Fabrizio mistakes Clara’s mental problems for genuine naivete. Meg (De Havilland) tries to explain her daughter’s condition to Fabrizio’s father but the opportunity never seems to be right. Fabrizio’s family are taken with Clara–her simple remarks are taken as evidence of charming innocence.

Meg spends the trip trying to keep the two lovers apart, fearing that Fabrizio or his family will discover the truth about her daughter.  She moves their holiday to Rome, hoping that Clara will forget Fabrizio.

The daughter’s unhappiness precipitates a family crisis, and Meg summons her wealthy husband Noel (owner of cigarette company) to visit them. The couple discuss their daughter’s future; we learn that previous suitors have changed their minds as soon as they discovered Clara’s mental condition. Noel wishes to place Clara in a care home for the mentally disabled, but Meg objects, seeing this as no solution.

When Meg realizes that Clara will have a better life in Italy, she returns to Florence to expedite the marriage without her husband’s knowledge. Overjoyed, Fabrizio and Clara make plans for the wedding, and Clara begins the process of religious conversion. The Naccarelli family’s connections in the Catholic Church allows the wedding to take place earlier.

When Fabrizio’s father sees Clara’s passport, he is suddenly alarmed and flees the church taking Fabrizio with him. It turns out that in Italian culture, a young man of 20 cannot marry an older woman without controversy. He tells his son of the age difference but Fabrizio reminds his father that his age is actually 23 and that he loves Clara. The situation is quickly resolved, when Clara’s dowry is increased from $5,000 to $15,000. The wedding takes place in a church in Florence without Noel’s presence.

Though there is romantic attraction between Meg, who’s separated from her husband and Signor Naccarelli, who is married, the film leaves their relationship ambiguous.

“Light in the Piazza” is beautifully shot on location in Italy by the distinguished cinematographer Otto Heller.



Olivia de Havilland as Meg Johnson

Rossano Brazzi as Signor Naccarelli

Yvette Mimieux as Clara Johnson

George Hamilton as Fabrizio Naccarelli

Nancy Nevinson as Signora Naccarelli

Isabel Dean as Miss Hawtree

Moultrine Kelsall as The Minister

Barry Sullivan as Noel Johnson