Film & Television

Wishful Thinking at the Multiplex:
Summer Movies of Yesteryear

American Graffiti (1973)

Directed by George Lucas (pre-Star Wars) and produced by Francis Ford Coppola, American Graffiti follows the adventures and misadventures of a group of friends on the last night of summer, prior to their heading off to college. The young cast includes Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Mackenzie Phillips, Harrison Ford, and Candy Clark. And, the success of the film is said to have inspired the long-running television series Happy Days (which also starred Howard). Despite the movie’s muscle cars, letterman sweaters, diners, and cameo appearance by Wolfman Jack, the story is surprisingly sophisticated and bittersweet.

Jaws (1975)

Arguably the most influential summer blockbuster of all time, Jaws effectively kept audiences out of the water for years. A very young Steven Spielberg displayed what would become his legendary directorial gifts, as well as his ability to improvise. When the animatronic shark malfunctioned, Spielberg, working with a tight schedule and budget, had to create the movie’s horror and suspense without it. Rewatching Jaws decades later, I find it still remarkable how little screen time the great white actually has — and how utterly terrifying the movie still is. (And yes, I’m still afraid to swim in the ocean, even though I was thirteen when I first saw it.)

Grease (1978)

One of the most popular songs from this screen adaptation of a hit Broadway musical was “Summer Nights,” and the movie certainly romanticizes the idea of young summertime love. Although none of its stars (including, of course, John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, and the late Jeff Conaway) were of high school age, it’s easy to get lost in the ups and downs of day-to-day life at Rydell High. The singing and dancing are still great fun forty years later. (But feel free to skip Grease 2, whose only redeeming value was a soft launch of Michelle Pfeiffer’s career.)

Dirty Dancing (1987)

High on the list of many women’s favorite films is the romantic story of Mount Holyoke-bound “Baby” and dance instructor from the wrong side of the tracks “Johnny.” Set in a family resort in the Catskills, the movie spawned a hit soundtrack album (the #1 single “The Time of My Life” earned a Golden Globe, a Grammy, and an Oscar.) Jennifer Grey (pre-nose job) is adorable and earnest, while the late Patrick Swayze is a swoon-worthy tough guy. The tremendous cast also includes Jerry Ohrbach, Cynthia Rhodes, and Kelly Bishop.

A League of Their Own (1992)

It was difficult to choose which baseball movie to include here, so I went with the one that best matches our mission at Women’s Voices. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League players were significant change makers — until the war ended and the male players returned. With Geena Davis, Lori Petty, and Tom Hanks, and directed by Penny Marshall, the movie is a terrific choice to watch with a daughter or granddaughter. Other summer-perfect baseball titles include Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and The Natural.

Back now to our current movie options. In less than a month Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again should hit lots of screens at lots of theaters. With its gorgeous Greek isle setting, terrific cast (Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Cher), and infectious ABBA music, it should be the perfect summer movie.

And, perhaps best of all, there won’t be a dinosaur in sight.


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  • Dr. Pat June 26, 2018 at 8:32 am

    Dear Alex,
    I hope Netflix is reading this post! The big studios have
    to produce “block-busters” with the same old themes.
    Our demographic has no reason to go to the movies with
    titles like this summer’s line up. Indie’s, foreign films and
    films that are written by, directed by and starring women
    are what we need.
    Dr. Pat