Summer Movies: 30 Sun-Drenched Classics
by John Malahy
Running Press, 199 pp., Hardcover, $24.00 ($30.00 Canada)
On sale now

For all intents and purposes, the summer movie season began in 1975 with the release of Jaws. Set during Fourth of July weekend on the picturesque island of Amity (Martha’s Vineyard), Jaws is to summer what It’s a Wonderful Life is to Christmas. It’s inescapable, and both Summer Movies author John Malahy and Leonard Maltin (who wrote the foreword) use the blockbuster as a launching point. Jaws altered how studios made movies and viewed their audience, especially the large population of teenagers out of school and with an abundance of time on their hands. But as Malahy offers in Summer Movies: “Jaws isn’t just the prototypical summer blockbuster. It’s also a classic example of an underappreciated category of movies—those that depict the experiences, traditions, and delights of the summer season.”

Summer Movies: 30 Sun-Drench Classics, recently released from Running Press and TCM, draws a through-line from Spielberg’s monster movie “to other warm-weather classics, from beach musicals to sun-drenched romances.” Some of the titles you’ll probably anticipate: Summer Stock (MGM’s 1950 musical starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly), Gidget (Columbia’s 1959 surf romance starring Sandra Dee), The Parent Trap (Disney’s 1961 summer camp romp starring Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills); but the pleasure of Malahy’s book is the idea of viewing certain movies in the context of the season, or, better yet: summer vacation. Call Me By Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics’ 2017 hot and humid romance) is one of the better movies in recent memory to capture the stickiness of teenage summertime romance and desire amidst the sheer joy of sunlight and disarming warmth.

Sandra Dee and James Darren in Gidget (Columbia Pictures).

In addition to the above titles, Malahy includes a smattering of international picks: Smiles of a Summer Night (Sweden, 1955), Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (France, 1953), and A Room With a View (U.K., 1986), but for the most part, sticks close to Hollywood offerings. A few other possible titles cropped up while reading (particularly Summer With Monika and La ciénaga), but not many. America isn’t the only country to celebrate summer vacation, but it does seem to have the market cornered on summertime movies.

For each entry, Malahy provides research, synopsis, and context, as well as a vacation inspiration (usually guided by the location of the film). But the highlight of the book is the double feature section where he selects a second film to pair with the main entry. These selections are a little more eclectic than the 30 Sun-Drenched Classics of the title, particularly the pairing of Summer Stock and Floating Weeds—a majestic color comedy from Japanese filmmaker Yasujirô Ozu; Robert Altman’s country musical Nashville with The Music Man; and one new to me: Out of the Blue, a 1947 Eagle-Lion production starring Virginia Mayo. That one goes with The Seven Year Itch—a movie that is more famous than good.

Malahy, who works for TCM, shows himself to be a creative programmer, and on June 21, TCM is giving him the reigns for a night of six films to celebrate the summer solstice. He’s selected Moon Over MiamiGidgetMonsieur Hulot’s HolidayKey LargoYou Only Live Once, and Summer Stock. Malahy will help introduce the selection and talk to TCM host Dave Karger about his picks. It’s been hot for weeks now; high time we make summer official. 

Judy Garland and Gene Kelly in Summer Stock (MGM).