Summer doesn't officially end for another few weeks, but I tend to think in terms of semesters, even though I've been out of school for many years. Labor Day weekend used to signify a return to classrooms, but these days kids go back to school even before that three day weekend, which seems like a cruel trick. Our end-of-summer three day weekend always meant trips to a lake somewhere, someone cutting their foot on a pop-top pull-tab from a can of Coke, and my Dad watching the Jerry Lewis telethon until he fell asleep.
There's a distinct change in movie attitude as you shift from summer to fall, and the Oscar-weighty movies start appearing out of the woodwork like ants at a picnic. No more spectacle movies, and on to the talking head snoozers that kids just can't stand. The bright lights of fall are Thanksgiving and Christmas, but those are but blips in a sea of other movies. To celebrate the end of the season, this list is about those movies that capture the true spirit of summertime.
Stand By Me
It's hard to believe that 23 years have passed since this movie came out, although it's fairly evident if you happen to catch a glimpse of Jerry O'Connell in anything, since he went from chubster to pretty boy in the intervening years. This movie crystalizes those summer moments of wandering in the woods with friends and having adventures that you'll talk about for years to come. More childhood truths and friendship are forged in circumstances like there than in any classroom ever created. Of course my buddies and I never found a dead body. That might have pushed us over the edge.
Best line: "Chopper, sic balls."
The Seven Year Itch
Marilyn Monroe. In a dress. With an air vent blowing it up and exposing her shapely legs. Do I really need to say more? Most people even forget the basic plot of this movie since they can't see past Marilyn's gams: Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) sends his family away for the summer so he can work and enjoy the bachelor life. However, his plans, and his resolve, get tested when the blonde bombshell of Monroe moves upstairs. You can almost feel the summer swelter of Manhattan as much as you can feel the heat waves of Marilyn's sexuality. Apparently some of her scenes took up to 40 takes in the movie, but I doubt anyone minded.
Best line: "When it gets hot like this, you know what I do? I keep my undies in the icebox!"
National Lampoon's Vacation
Probably the quintessential summer vacation movie of all time, which the sequels tried hard to capture but missed. Christmas Vacation comes close, but European Vacation just tanks and we won't even mention Vegas Vacation. Musical Rustys and Audreys didn't help either. Still, the first film, written by John Hughes and based on his "Vacation '58" short story, manages to perfectly capture that certain something about traveling with your family: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Everyone can identify with at least one character in this movie. For me it's the slightly deranged father who just wants his family to have a good time.
Best line: "Sorry folks, the park's closed. The moose out front should've told ya."
This movie based on a short story by John Cheever had mixed critical reactions when it came out in 1968, but it remains one of Burt Lancaster's strongest and most poignant roles. He plays Neddy Merrill, a man living in a wealthy suburb of Chicago who decides he's going to swim his way across wealthy Westchester County by hopping from swimming pool to swimming pool. On his journey, we are presented with snapshots of life ranging from the lap of luxury to the chlorine choked waters of the public pool. It's haunting and profoundly sad when the movie reaches its conclusion, and Lancaster holds the entire movie together. He was also 52 when he shot this, and in fantastic shape.
Best line: "Oh, normal mustard wasn't good enough for Mrs. Merrill, she had to have dijon mustard."
The Parent Trap
The 1961 Hayley Mills version, not the 1998 Lindsay Lohan version, thank you very much. Before The Patty Duke Show, there was The Parent Trap. Both featured actresses playing dual roles, and in Parent Trap's case that's Hayley Mills playing identical twins who were separated at birth. They meet at summer camp, and after getting to know each other they begin a sneaky plan to try and get their parents back together. This was a perfect example of the Walt Disney Studios' live-action moviemaking machine when it was running at full speed. They churned out some great movies in the 60s and 70s, and The Parent Trap is one of the best.
Best line: "Congratulations. In the history of this camp, that was the most infamous, the most disgusting, the most revolting display of hooliganism we have ever had."
Roy Scheider's Sheriff Brody struggles with trying to keep beachgoers safe, while also trying to appease all of the business owners in the small town of Amity Island, which lives and dies by their summer season. The problem is that when a giant shark starts chomping up the tourists, it doesn't make for good commerce. What better way to rectify this than to bring in Robert Shaw to hunt the thing down and kill it? For my money, Richard Dreyfus is the best thing about this movie. His shark expert Matt Hooper is sandwiched right between Shaw's Quint and Scheider's Brody, yet he comes through in the end, making him one of the first believable (and heroic) movie nerds. Most people who have seen this movie can't go to the beach for the rest of their lives without wondering about a possible shark attack.
Best line: "You're gonna need a bigger boat."
This is one movie I just can't ever seem to get rid of. I've thought about giving it to Goodwill in piles of movies before, but somehow it keeps sneaking back into my collection. It's a near-perfect movie about summer, and although it strays into a pure fantasy a couple of times, it's like a Stand By Me for the younger crowd: they had Chopper, The Sandlot has Hercules, aka "The Beast." The reason it works so well is because yes, little kids actually do talk like this. Most movies with kids in them either have kids who talk way too smart for their age, or they have dialogue so dumbed down that it feels like you're watching talking ventriloquist dolls. Plus it features one of the best on-screen explanations of s'mores ever.
Best line: "You're killin' me, Smalls!"
There are hundreds of other "summer" movies out there. What's your favorite?