Films to Love: Sultry Summer Cinema
Reading is definitely one of my favorite summer activities (Who am I kidding? It’s one of my all time favorite activities.), but another thing I love to do in the summer is watch movies that capture the sweltering heat, sultry humidity, and corresponding passions that steam up during these few short months. While I am certain that there are a plethora of films that do just that in the modern echelons, today I’m focusing on a few classics. They are, after all, a few of my favorites, and isn’t that what Whiskers on Kittens is all about?
From the opening credits of this Alfred Hitchcock thriller, the mood of those dog days of summer is thoroughly created. Honestly, I can almost hear the oscillating fan with its metal blades whorling the humid air around the room. Centered around a courtyard apartment complex, Rear Windows stars James Stewart who plays Jeff Jefferies, an adventurous reporter/photographer who has broken his leg somewhere on assignment thereby forcing him to remain stationary for the summer months in his New York City apartment. Against the express wishes of his nurse- played with the wry humor and common sense that only Thelma Ritter can deliver, Jeff falls asleep each night looking out the window (with binoculars or a telephoto lens), watching the lives of his neighbors. And, he sees something curious- he witnesses a murder. Or, rather, he suspects a murder has taken place right. Accused by his boss and others of allowing his idle mind to become the devil’s playground, the only one to believe him is Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), his gorgeous model girlfriend who’s flat out in love with him. He’s not sure he’s ready to abandon his bachelor ways, though. Not until Lisa’s life is put in peril, that is.
As Hitchcock was so superb at doing, there is a good dose of sophisticated humor interwoven throughout, balancing those edge of your seat moments perfectly. Maybe it’s the New Yorker in me, but this movie feels like a piece of my childhood. Or perhaps its just because I remember wanting to wear every outfit Grace Kelly does. They are fantastic.
I think the title says it all, but there is something deliciously sensuous about this film starring real life power couple Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. One word comes to mind: seething. While this film takes place in the 1950s South, it’s really a slice of life, delving into what people have and will always grapple with. The window dressing might change, as do the trends, but at the heart, the relational dynamics are the same. Children still want to please their parents and make them proud. Parents still deal with being disappointed with their children and the decisions they make, and ultimately their own inabilities. Women still want to be loved for the depth of who they are, not just as sexual objects. The same goes for men.
Based off of a combination of several short stories by William Faulkner, The Long, Hot Summer evokes that lazy Southern life down to setting out on the veranda with a cool glass of lemonade in the heat of the day, rocking back and forth in a rocker talking about the hopes and dreams for the future.
As Maggie the Cat says: I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof. If that doesn’t perfectly capture what it feels like every time I step foot out of doors here in the South, I don’t know what does. And, considering Tennessee Williams penned this play to take place on a plantation during a sultry summer of southern Mississippi in the late ‘50s, I know that’s exactly what he had in mind. Although Maggie’s remark definitely fits the weather, she’s talking about something wholly different. The crux of this film adaptation hinges off of the relational dynamic between Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) and her husband Brick (Paul Newman). Sinking further and further into alcoholism to dull the ache of some unexplored pain, Brick has largely rejected Maggie. However, Maggie is very much in love with her husband and wants to have a child. Throughout the unfolding of this complex plot that involves not only their marital issues, but also the issues involving Brick’s extended family and the mendacity therein, we come to understand the tension screwed deeply into Maggie and Brick’s marriage, causing a seemingly irreparably breach. Add to this the problem of the entire family lying to Big Daddy (Burl Ives) about the fact that he has cancer, and the smallest spark will set the whole stack of lies ablaze. And that’s precisely what happens one stormy summer night, when winds lash the plantation’s French doors and thunder booms loudly- almost as loudly as the booming of Big Daddy’s favorite epitaph: Bull.
This movie is definitely one of my favorites. The poignancy of watching a fractured family address the lies they’ve constructed between each other and, by doing so, forge a true unity again on a foundation of trust and love is galvanizing and inspirational. But, then again, that’s everything by Tennessee Williams.
And since I breached the dam, I have to mention two more Williams’ adaptations that fit into our summery theme: Suddenly Last Summer starring Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn, and Montgomery Cliff, and The Fugitive Kind starring Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, and Joanne Woodward.
But, perhaps we should take a lighter look at summer. It’s not all simmering passions, sweating, and palpable humidity, right? Some of it’s fun. And who can forget the iconic train grate scene in one of the best summer movies ever?
It’s remarkable that this Marilyn Monroe classic is really a story where Marilyn Monroe isn’t front and center. However, it is a slice of the Big Apple in the midst of the summer months when the Mad Men still sat at the their desks while their family left the hot city for cooler climes in the country or at the beach. Like those families who live on Winthrop Island during the summer months in Beatriz Williams’ The Summer Wives (see post here).
And, if you’re looking for a little exoticism that simply trickles with summertime, then you need to watch:
It’s hard to say what I like the most about this movie. Is it because it takes place in Rome with a plot line revolving around the Trevi Fountain? Or is it Clifton Webb and his incomparable dry wit? Or maybe it’s the sweetness and sincerity of Dorothy McGuire? Or maybe, a very weighty maybe, it’s because Louis Jordan is so handsome? Regardless, this movie sublimely evokes summer. So crack open a bottle of chilled Prosecco or get yourself a scoop of gelato and enjoy.
If you want more Italy, check out this post where I talk about Katharine Hepburn’s Summertime. It may not be Rome, but would you really say no it Venice?
And because I can’t quite address the summer months without mentioning Hayley Mills, here are the two final ones on my list:
If you’re a Dorothy McGuire fan, you’ll enjoy this one. If you’re a Burl Ives fan, you’ll enjoy this one. If you’re a Hayley Mills fan, you’ll like it, too. If you’re a fan of those feel good movies that Disney was so expert at making in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, this little coming of age, romantic musical will be right up you alley. In fact, as I’m writing this little blurb about it, I am really smiling and laughing to myself. It’s a sweet film, a little saccharine to be sure, but something that lets you simply enjoy it for what it is without pretensions.
Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s Hayley Mills I love in this classic or if it’s the wonderful chemistry between Maureen O’Hara (an absolute favorite and inspiration) and Brian Keith (I’m pausing here to fan myself, but my oh my he’s a handsome fella). It might also be the fact that so much of it takes place out in Monterey California where I would spend my summer months visiting my grandparents. Regardless, this is an excellent film for the whole family, and also a slice of what life was like in the early ‘60s. (I also happen to enjoy the remake with Lindsey Lohan, Dennis Quaid, and Natasha Richardson, too.)
To echo Marilyn Monroe is The Seven Year Itch, When it gets hot like this, you know what I do? Well, I don’t keep my undies in the icebox (I might do if I didn’t have this wonderful thing called central air conditioning), but I do whip out these movies to enjoy my summer nights.
What movies do you, dear readers, look forward to watching during the summer? I think televisions series can count, too. Tell, tell!