There is a plethora of good films for summer viewing, so I have limited my suggestions for this list to five true treasures and two guilty pleasures. Six of these take place entirely during the summer season.
1. The Blue Lagoon (1980) with Christopher Atkins, Brooke Shields, Leo McKern, and William Daniels: This Randal Kleiser movie is not nearly as bad as most critics think it is. Living naked and practically naked on the beach of an otherwise deserted tropical island certainly has its appeal. Two children and a cook survive a shipwreck. After the cook dies, the children survive alone and eventually have to deal with all the problems that come with adolescence. Chris Atkins and Brooke Shields add their own beauty to this idyllic setting. If you don’t like the dialogue, hit the mute button and enjoy the scenery.
2. The Chalk Garden (1964) with Deborah Kerr, Hayley Mills, John Mills, Dame Edith Evans, Felix Aylmer, and Elizabeth Sellars: The moment Malcolm Arnold’s music score introduces the Universal Pictures logo you know you are in for a real treat. This is one of my all-time favorite films, and the cast is about as perfect as you can get. Deborah Kerr – I have been madly in love with her my whole life – plays a mysterious woman who is hired as a governess for a precocious teenager. Hayley Mills, in one of her best roles, plays the teenager who is obsessed with burning the house down and with exposing the secrets of her governesses and getting them fired. John Mills (Hayley’s father) is superb as the rather independent butler who feels the Belfontaine estate is his own home – he opens it to others only four months out of the year. Dame Edith Evans is the grandmother who wants to prevent her daughter (Elizabeth Sellars) from taking her granddaughter away. She invites an old friend, a judge (Felix Aylmer), to come for a visit to get his advice. The problem is that the governess and the judge know each other! Dialogue doesn’t get much better than you will hear in this motion picture, and it’s being delivered by some masters.
A favorite exchange – John Mills to Dame Evans: “I have to hurry to have lunch ready.” Evans to Mills: “Hurry, Maitland, is the curse of civilization.” Comeback line: “The fact that I hurry, Madam, gives certain people the leisure time with which to make such observations.”
3. Last Summer (1969) with Richard Thomas, Bruce Davison, Barbara Hershey, Catherine Burns, and Ernesto Gonzalez: Here are Richard Thomas, before he became John-Boy Walton, and Bruce Davison, before winning his Golden Globe for Longtime Companions, in a somewhat decadent film about the relationship of two boys and two girls one summer on Fire Island. A college colleague explained why he did not like this movie: “It’s void of any redeeming social values.” Maybe so, but nevertheless, it is extremely well-done. Barbara Hershey, after playing the sister in TV’s family drama The Monroes and before she shot Robert Redford in The Natural, provides what may be considered the love interest for the youngsters Thomas and Davison. Catherine Burns shows up and puts a damper on the others’ amoral escapades. This is an interesting film that is directed by Frank Perry and is based on a novel by Evan Hunter. Unfortunately, it is rarely mentioned in connection with its three durable main stars.
4. Lifeguard (1975) with Sam Elliott (above, right), Anne Archer, Stephen Young, Parker Stevenson (above, left), Steve Burns, and Kathleen Quinlan: Sam Elliott plays a 30-something lifeguard, and everyone seems to wonder what he will be when he grows up. The problem is that he not only likes what he is doing, but he is also very good at it. Will he give it all up, wear a shirt, sell Porches, and marry his old high school sweetheart who now works selling high-priced paintings? Happiness versus security. Quite a dilemma. Paul Williams and others add to this flick with some pretty good music.
5. Summer Lovers (1982) with Peter Gallagher, Daryl Hannah, Valerie Quennessen, and Barbara Rush: A gorgeous cast is placed in the beautiful summer haven of Santorini in Greece, justifiably known for its nude beaches. A young man (Michael) and his girl friend (Cathy) rent a house for the summer. Down at the beach, he spots the nude, mesmerizing Lina, who happens to work as an archaeologist. Problems develop briefly between Michael and Cathy, but eventually Lina moves in with them and a good time is had by all.
The critics hated this Randal Kleiser film almost as much as The Blue Lagoon, but it definitely has its assets.
6. Summer of ’42 (1971) with Gary Grimes, Jennifer O’Neill, and Jerry Houser: This is one of the classic coming-of-age films. Gary Grimes, as 16-year-old Hermie, is infatuated with a beautiful older woman. Jennifer O’Neill, as the older woman, is the wife of a soldier who is fighting in WWII. Jerry Houser, as Hermie’s best friend Benjie, is eager to lose his virginity to someone closer to his own age. If this were not taking place at a beach town, you might not realize it is summer vacation. On the cool beach, Hermie never even takes his shirt off. The movie is both humorous and sensitive, and it is nearly stolen by Michel Legrand’s memorable music score.
7. A Summer Story (1988) with James Wilby, Imogen Stubbs, and Susannah York: Set in the countryside and a beach resort in 1902 England, this is one of those little-known gems that should be more appreciated. The conflict in this film is a clash of cultures. A London lawyer (Wilby) and a farm girl (Stubbs) fall in love. He wants her to marry him, but she believes that she should be his mistress instead because she could never fit in to the society in which he worked and lived. He disagrees until he meets an old school chum and his beautiful sister at a wealthy beach resort. He begins to have second thoughts as to whether a marriage to a farm girl will work out. What does he decide, and what will ultimately result from his decision? Warning: the last frames of the final scene may break your heart. This is a good one.
by David Offutt, July 2006