Pass the Popcorn

by | June 13, 2023 | General

It’s summertime, and the living is easy, according to the old song. Among the many warm weather activities many of us will indulge in, movies still make the list. There have been a lot of films that use this time of year as a backdrop, and many of them rely on standby tropes like summer camp or vacations. Romance usually plays a big part, too, along with funny situations. Here are a few good ones, in no special order. How many of these have you seen?

“The Parent Trap” (1961) – This Disney production has Hayley Mills playing a dual role as teenage twins who were separated at birth when their parents divorced. They meet for the first time at a summer camp for girls, and plot to get their parents back together by switching places when camp is over. Yeah, I know—too cute, right? Just accept the premise and roll with it. Along the way, enjoy watching Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara as the clueless parents. This was remade in 1998 with Lindsay Lohan, in her film debut.

“Gidget” (1959) – “Hey, gang—surf’s up!” This is the original beach party and surfer flick, starring Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson, and James Darren. It’s about a teenager’s introduction to the California surf scene and her romance with a young surfer who teaches her how to hang ten, among other things. In addition to inspiring a television series, the film is considered the beginning of the “beach party’’ genre, and is credited as being a big factor in the mainstreaming of surfing culture. It also popularized the nickname Big Kahuna, for Chief (Robertson’s character, a professional surfer and beach bum the kids look up to).

“A Summer Place” (1959) — This romantic drama is a prime example of a steamy soap opera, loaded with melodrama, angst, tears, and sex. Infidelity, pre-marital sex, bigotry, class snobbery, alcoholism, teen pregnancy out of wedlock—there are enough vices here for two movies. The plot, for those who care, concerns two teenage lovers from different social classes who get back together 20 years after a summer vacation at a resort. They must then deal with the passionate love affair that’s developing between their own teenage children from previous failed marriages. It stars Richard Egan and Dorothy McGuire as the middle-aged lovers, and Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue as their respective children. Percy Faith’s recording of “Theme from A Summer Place” spent nine weeks at number one on the Billboard singles chart. You might not have seen the movie, but you’ve probably heard the song.

“Summer School” (1987) — This Carl Reiner-directed comedy stars a pre-“NCIS” Mark Harmon as a high school gym teacher who is forced to teach a remedial English class during the summer break. He’s a former pro athlete who lucked into a Phys-Ed job, but doesn’t have a clue about how to teach or motivate a class of underachievers. The film co-stars Kirstie Alley and Courtney Thorne-Smith. If you’ve seen “The Breakfast Club” or “Welcome Back, Kotter,” the group of misfits Harmon is assigned to teach won’t provide too many surprises, but they seem like a fun bunch.

“Summer Rental” (1985) – Here we have another Carl Reiner comedy, this time starring John Candy, Richard Crenna and Rip Torn. Candy is an overworked air traffic controller who takes his family to the resort town of Citrus Cove, Florida, where he clashes with local big shot Crenna. There are a lot of good sight gags and enough quirky characters to make up for the one-joke plot. Candy is great to watch as the put-upon family man who finally gets pushed to the limit. And speaking of John Candy…

“The Great Outdoors” (1988)– This vacation comedy, written and produced by John Hughes, pairs John Candy with Dan Aykroyd. Supporting roles feature Stephanie Faracy, and Annette Bening in her film debut. Candy once again plays a harried family guy who looks forward to their annual summer getaway at a Wisconsin lake resort. A dark cloud appears in the form of Aykroyd as the brother-in-law from hell, who seems to exist only to make Candy’s life miserable. There are some very funny bits, and the comic timing between Candy and Aykroyd is just right.

“National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983)—The first and still the best of the series (with the possible exception of “Christmas Vacation”), this features the Griswold clan on a cross-country summer road trip to enjoy some quality family time. At least, that’s what Chevy Chase has in mind until they’re actually on the road to Wally World amusement park. Along the way, they take a side trip to visit his mentally-vacant cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid). The whole thing is one mishap after another, with some hilarious gags. Chase’s meltdown and rant toward the end is classic. Like all of the “Vacation” films, you’ll see things that will make you think “Been there, done that.”

“Meatballs” (1979) – This Canadian comedy, about a ragtag group of teenagers at a second-rate summer camp, is noted for being Bill Murray’s first starring role, and for launching the directing career of Ivan Reitman. The two would team up again for “Stripes” (1981) and “Ghostbusters” (1984). Murray is a camp counselor, whose personality and manner will remind you of his lounge lizard character on Saturday Night Live. There really isn’t much to the plot, elements of which were reprised the following year in “Caddyshack” (“The slobs versus the snobs”), but it’s all very funny. The film was hugely successful, and followed by several sequels that had no connection to the original except the name.

“Jaws” (1975) — “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Summer had traditionally been the dumping ground for low-budget drive-in flicks until this one broke box office records and became the must-see movie of the year. A quaint New England island is terrorized over the busy July 4th holiday by a huge shark with an equally large appetite. Director Steven Spielberg supplied plenty of suspense, thrills and adventure, and the cast plays it beautifully. Legend has it that the line about needing a bigger boat was ad-libbed by star Roy Scheider, and it became a popular catchphrase.

“American Graffiti” (1973) – The marketing campaign for this coming-of-age movie posed the question “Where were you in ’62?” That’s considered to be the end of the ‘50s American rock-and-roll era, before the British Invasion. The story takes place on the last night in town for a couple of recent high school grads who are leaving for college the next day. Or will they? Cruising, drag races, sock hops, make-out sessions by the lake, carhops on roller skates, and oldies from car radios announced by Wolfman Jack make this a nostalgic and bittersweet look at more innocent times. Director/writer George Lucas (“Star Wars”) based the story on his own post-HS summer experiences. The cast includes Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark and a little-known actor named Harrison Ford. Look for the film debut of Suzanne Somers as the blonde in the T-Bird who catches Dreyfuss’s attention.

Tim Smith

Tim Smith is an award-winning bestselling author. His books range from romantic mystery/thriller to contemporary erotic romance. He is also a freelance photographer. When he isn't pursuing those two careers he can often be found in The Florida Keys, indulging his passion for parasailing between research and seeking out the perfect Pina Colada.


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