Category Archives: Summer

Hazy, lazy, crazy—our choices here, from a million possibilities, recall beach-bound days, hot nights, childhood matinees, sweaty exotica, and, notably, the sun-scorched way in which American movies captured summer heat in the 1970s.

The Kings of Summer (2013)

Yet another disaffected-teen indie but one loaded to the brim with energetic personality, comic timing, bizarre non sequiturs and raw script wit. Two high school buddies with generational problems – motherless Joe (Nick Robinson) has commanding widower Nick Offerman dishing him sarcastic shit every day, while Patrick (Gabriel Basso) endures hilariously overripe helicopter parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) – discover a patch of forgotten woods, and decide, with a third kid, the cryptic weirdo Biaggio (Moises Arias), to run away, build a makeshift house in the secret glade, and “live off the land,” more or less forever. The dissection of The Outsiders mythology is deft, and there’s no denying the film’s blast of nonstop drollery (even a running gag about the largest Chinese takeout dumplings on Earth keeps paying off) or verdant hang-out aura.


Stand By Me (1986)

The search for the dead body in the woods is merely a MacGuffin in this Stephen King–derived hit—the four tweens (Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell) could just as well have been hunting for mushrooms for all it really matters. What’s really at stake in Rob Reiner‘s Stand By Me is the recreation of early-1960s childhood summers, before parents began micromanaging their kids’ lives. This film reminds us that once, when summer was summer, not just an excuse for air-conditioning, kids could roam into the next county, along the train tracks, through the leechy swamps, into tree houses, and across mad-dog-guarded junkyards, and nobody thought twice about it.


Jaws (1975)

If you were there, in the theaters in the summer of 1975, you’ve got Jaws in your DNA. Stephen Spielberg‘s film was the last truly communal movie experiences—everyone saw it, twice, and afterward everyone had a new relationship with the beach. But put the man-eating giant monster shark aside for a moment, and you’ve got full-on, real-to-the-touch Atlantic beach community life, back when people listened to transistor radios in the sand and used suntan oil. The actors’ clothes even seem creased with sand and salt air.

famous poster

Chinatown (1974)

Chinatown (1974 film)
Chinatown (1974 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film that first reincarnated the detective-film noir, Roman Polanski’s magisterial movie is all about L.A., so it’s not shadowy and expressionistic—it’s blistered by July sunshine, and is no less affecting for the turnabout. One of the unarguable gems of the American canon, this film can and should be seen for a variety of reasons, but the glare-and-heat seasonal mood is particularly impressive, especially in view of how the hero—Jack Nicholson’s supercool private dick Jake Gittes—rather hedonistically spends his sweltering mid-days: hanging out and avoiding authority, kinda like a kid.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Planet of the Apes (1968 film)
Planet of the Apes (1968 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before there was “the summer blockbuster” (a label that now describes a studio’s box-office hopes rather than a film’s actual success), there was the matinee movie, meant as a respite from summer heat for kids with nothing to watch at home (in the days before videos, DVDs, and the like) and brainpans overflowing with Marvel comics, Aurora models, and backyard G.I. Joe scenarios. This beautiful, conceptually fearless piece of all-American pulp—forget the 2001 Tim Burton remake—remains resonant and unforgettable, but it also invokes memories of an entire decade of summers (what with its many sequels and frequent rereleases) for a lucky generation of kids, whose cerebellums are permanently branded with the image of Charlton Heston kneeling on the beach before the wrecked Statue of Liberty. Ah, to be lost on this “desert planet” once more. . . .

Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

Ingmar Bergman, summery? This famous art-house favorite isn’t the Swedish moper’s only comedy, but it is his funniest, largely restricted to intertwining boudoir farce reminiscent of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (and reinvented decades later as Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music), but occasionally embracing love in a haystack at dusk.

Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), Swedish stage and ...
Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), Swedish stage and film director, and Ingrid Thulin (1926-2004), actress. Photo: During the production of The Silence (Tystnaden), 1963. Svensk Filmindustri (SF) press photo, Photographer unknown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Morocco (1930)

A legionnaire (Gary Cooper) dallies with a world-weary desert-oasis diva (Marlene Dietrich), who isn’t exactly as cynical and experience-toughened as she thought. The first, epochal American Marlene Dietrich–Josef von Sternberg film is the muggiest, woozy with hot, moonlit Saharan nighttime. Of course, it was all shot on the Paramount lot, with shadows. According to von Sternberg’s uproariously self-aggrandizing memoir, the Pasha of Marrakesh asked him, years later, why the filmmaker had not visited him when making the film in Morocco, which he’d recognized firsthand; Von Sternberg maintained he’d never been to the country, and Cooper, in his foreword to the book, expressed doubts that the windy director could’ve found the nation on a map.

Cropped screenshot of Gary Cooper and Marlene ...
Cropped screenshot of Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich from the trailer for the film Morocco (Photo credit: Wikipedia)