[Book Review] TCM’s ‘SUMMER MOVIES’ looks at the time of year, not box office, in sampling some of the best summer has to offer


Travis Leamons // Film Critic


By John Malahy, with a foreword by Leonard Maltin

What do you think of when you hear the term summer movie? Do you equate summer with Steven Spielberg’s JAWS or Richard Linklater’s Vienna-at-night romance BEFORE SUNRISE? If your answer is both, then you’re ahead of most, already realizing there’s more to summer than superheroes and spectacle.  

John Malahy’s SUMMER MOVIES: 30 Sun-drenched Classics isn’t about the greatest movies released during the season Hollywood makes most of its money. His approach is looking at movies occurring during summertime. While the musical GREASE begins with “Summer Nights,” the movie takes place after summer – so you won’t find it among the thirty Malahy has selected. 

Thinking it would rehash familiar staples, I flipped through the book’s 208 pages and found myself nodding in agreement with some, thinking what I would have included (Where’s STAND BY ME?), and making notes of those to add to the watchlist. Cover models Sandra Dee, Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello highlight beach-set comedies, whereas Spielberg’s great white shark made swimming a definite no-no the summer of its release. Beyond the beach, Malahy includes works from Ingmar Bergman (SMILES ON A SUMMER NIGHT), James Ivory (A ROOM WITH A VIEW), and Wes Anderson (MOONRISE KINGDOM). 

Rest and relaxation give way to scorching heat waves and violence, as seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW and Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING. Malahy fills his pages with reflections and interesting factoids about his picks, and he even offers thirty more as suggestions for a double feature movie night. Presented chronologically, starting with the 1928 silent Coney Island romance LONESOME through the leisurely languid CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017), SUMMER MOVIES offers plenty of diversity in terms of tone and genre, but not much when it comes to the diversity in the voices – which Malahy freely acknowledges in his introduction. 

Pretty much every major genre is accounted for, including a documentary, dealing with a wide range of subjects (love, coming of age, the joys/tensions of familial life, etc.). If the double feature recommendations are the frosting -– like pairing BODY HEAT with KEY LARGO, both set in muggy Florida – then the “vacation inspiration” sidebars are the cherry, making you want to head up to the Catskills, carry a watermelon, and dance a little dirty.

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