Must-see classic movies to watch this summer

The summer blockbuster offerings are pretty lackluster this year with sequels we never asked for and the endless parade of superhero films. To beat the heat and have a fun time in doors, take in a good ol’ classic film. Here are some of my favorite films that take place in the summer time for the scorching hot days that are better spent inside.

The Long Hot Summer (1958, Dir. Martin Ritt)

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The first film to team Hollywood’s ultimate #relationshipgoals couple, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, is a sexy drama set in the south. Newman plays Ben Quick a drifter who arrives in Mississippi after he’s accused of burning down a barn. His arrival shakes up the dynamic of the powerful Varner family and he’s pushed into marrying the eldest daughter Clara (Woodward). The all-star cast includes Orson Welles, Angela Lansbury, Lee Remick and Anthony Franciosa. It also gives us plenty of shirtless Paul Newman scenes and this glorious gif:

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A Summer Place (1959, Dir. Delmar Daves)

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The iconic theme from A Summer Place has stood the test of time. It’s a beautifully romantic song that continues to dazzle audiences as much as it did in 1959 but the film it’s from may not be as well remembered today. A Summer Place is a melodrama that came out at a time when these dramas erupting in small towns were the craze. Films like Peyton Place and Imitation of Life dealt with themes of sexual deviance, morality, and gossip within these seemingly perfect communities were big hits for audiences escaping their own 1950’s suburbia or seeing the tales of their own neighborhoods play out onscreen. A Summer Place stars Richard Egan and Dorothy MacGuire as lovers and Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue as their respective children who also fall in love. It takes place at a summer resort in Maine and the hormones are rising as fast as the temperature. “Must you persist in making sex a filthy word?” asks Egan as he confronts his wife who slutshames their daughter throughout the film. His wife’s attitude towards the dirty deed depicted in the film is outdated and will make you want to pull out your hair but it’s a fascinating portrait of the time and of the notion that ‘sex is bad, don’t have sex or you’ll die’ that still persists today.

The Parent Trap (1961, Dir. David Swift)

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What’s better than Hayley Mills? A double dose! The Disney starlet portrays twins in this memorable romp about long lost twin sisters who meet at camp and then decide to switch places in hopes of getting their parents back together. This is a film I would rewatch all the time when I was younger and I appreciate even more now as an adult. Mills is stellar in the dual role but Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith are absolutely delightful as her divorced parents. The film was remade with Lindsay Lohan in her breakout role which still keeps the spirit of the original but if you’ve never seen the ’61 version, it still proves to be a must watch.

Summertime (1955, David Lean)

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When we think of David Lean, his epics Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai, are usually the first films to come to mind. In 1955, Lean released this masterpiece about an American woman vacationing in Italy who unexpectedly falls in love (when it’s Rozzano Brazzi, how could you not?). Katharine Hepburn is stellar as the lovely Jane who is living out her dream vacation in Italy with her camera and her enthusiasm but soon realizes going it alone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Make no mistake, Jane isn’t some spinster here, she’s perfectly content at being independent, for me seeing her transformation never felt like she was giving up any part of herself and that’s why I really enjoy it. The film also captures the magic of being on vacation in a place as beautiful as Italy. After watching it, you’ll understand why Lean considered it to be his personal favorite among his work and like Liz Lemon, you’ll ‘want to go to there.’

In the Good Old Summertime (1949, Dir. Robert Z. Leonard)

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Judy Garland and Van Johnson team up in this musical remake of the 1940 classic The Shop Around the Corner (the film that was later remade again as You’ve Got Mail).  Ironically the film takes place mostly in the winter instead of the summer but it’s a fun watch. And would it be an MGM musical if it looked real or made sense? (Looking at you, Esther Williams) This was one of Judy’s final films for the studio and she’s just as bubbly as ever. Look for Buster Keaton in a small role and everyone’s favorite Hungarian,  S.Z. ‘Cuddles’ Sakall, as the shop owner.

What are some of your favorite summer themed classic movies? Let me know in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “Must-see classic movies to watch this summer

  1. Carol says:

    Excellent article as always, Diana. Really interesting topic. I love what you said about Summertime, one of my favorite Kate movies.

    I also liked the ‘Looking at you, Esther Williams’ comment, haha!

    • Diana B says:

      Thanks so much! I love Esther Williams but her movies are more like dreams playing out onscreen. There’s nothing wrong with them, I love escapist fare. 🙂

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