There is nothing I want more in summer than spend every spare moment outdoors. It’s the time of year when watching a film is not my favourite activity of the evening anymore. But this doesn’t mean I don’t find time for revisiting a favourite classic, especially at a gathering with friends or family, or on a stormy night in. I assure you I’m not making a habit of creating tops of movies or movie genres, but not having found one reliable listing of the best summer classics of all-time, I wanted to have my own shot at that. I am not a fan of light-hearted movies (nor of light-hearted reading) for the summer, so my picks are a little more different than that, even though most of them are set in a dreamy location, carrying an inescapable feeling of endless summer – it’s part of what makes them irresistible. Here are my first ten choices, in random order.
Plein soleil (1960), directed by René Clément. A grasping thriller, based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, set in the beautiful sun-drenched Italy, with stylish Alain Delon and Maurice Ronet as an additional visual distraction. It’s the beautiful scenery, enticing plot and Delon’s terrifically good role together that carry you away. Here are my thoughts, in detail, on the film and the style.
The Graduate (1967), directed by Mike Nichols. Recent graduate Benjamin, Dustin Hoffman, finds himself having an affair with Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s business partner, only to fall in love with her daughter, Elaine. I love the free spirit and straightforwardness of this satirical comedy-drama, in which Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross play their roles to perfection. And how about the soundtrack? Every time I hear the song Mrs. Robinson, I play it in my head for days.
The Seven Year Itch (1955), directed by Billy Wilder. The opening sequence always makes me laugh so hard, when we get to see Tom Ewell, packing his wife and children off to summer vacation, like thousands of other Manhattanites, and staying behind to work at the office. Anything can happen in the hot city, with the wife and children away, especially when one meets Marilyn Monroe. She has an arresting presence. “Oh, do you feel the breeze from the subway? Isn’t it delicious!”
La piscine (1969), directed by Jacques Deray. One of the most beautiful on-screen and real life couples, Alain Delon and Romy Schneider, alongside another stylish duo, Jane Birkin and Maurice Ronet, the nonchalance and laid-back glamour that inevitably come along with a French film set on the French Riviera, a bohemian atmosphere and apparent calmness take over you, only to reveal a suspenseful and dark plot. And, once again, I have to mention the style, as the costume design is one of the most referenced in the history of cinema.
Bonjour Tristesse (1958). Based on Françoise Sagan’s book by the same name, which became one of my all-time favourite books last summer, Otto Preminger’s golden-age film gets hold of you with the striking contrast between the sun-drenched hues of summer in the South of France and the present, a Paris shot in a chilly black and white – there is a lurking tension lying in the backdrop of the idyllic holiday, which urges you to enjoy it while it lasts. Plus, Jean Seberg’s style continues to be an endless inspiration for summer vacation wardrobes.
Rear Window (1954), directed by Alfred Hitchcock. With its perfect blend of suspense, style, technical mastermind and sharp humour, it’s not only one of my best-loved Hitchcock films, but one of the best choices to watch on a hot summer night (it’s both the row of events and the summer heat wave that make James Stewart edgy, and it transmits it to you too) – one of my reader’s favourite summer traditions. And then there is that memorable scene: Lisa’s playfulness and Jeff’s priceless look when she tells him she’s going to spend the night over. The film was recently covered on Classiq, and I had previously written about Grace Kelly’s costumes, my favourite wardrobe in a Hitchcock film.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), directed by Woody Allen. It’s a new film, but it definitely has a classic quality about it. And this is one of my favourite Woody Allen movies of the last two decades. I don’t have too pleasant memories from the very hot and humid summer holiday I spent in Barcelona, but this film is so beautiful and fun, and enveloped in that golden Spanish light, and it captures so well the vacation mindset that you feel that the film really seizes a moment in time and you yourself are the tourist. Vicky Cristina has a natural vivacity and sun-drenched splendour, the luscious beauty of Barcelona playing a major role, but it’s Penélope who brings it to life. The film belongs to her.
Summer with Monika (1953), directed by Ingmar Bergman. The story of two teenagers at their first love, who leave their families and jobs and escape the city, and the imminent prospect of adult responsibilities, by taking a boat and heading off to the archipelago off the Baltic coast, where they spend an idyllic summer, still surprises today with its freshness and sensuality, even if it turns sour towards the end.
To Catch A Thief (1955). It’s Hitchcock again, it takes place on the glamorous French Riviera, it’s got wit and humour, and it’s Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, which means it has style in spades. This is, after all, one of the most stylish films of all time. Here is my take on the costumes.
Summertime (1955), directed by David Lean. Even if the story is bittersweet, you are charmed from the very beginning with the detailed depiction of a middle-age redheaded woman, Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn), travelling to Venice, to spend her summer there. You get lost in the vividly captured colours and the spirit of the Italian city, an ideal summer background, where Jane rediscovers herself.
Two other notable and more recent suggestions would be The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella’s own adaptation of the book by the same name, and The Two Face of January, which you might still catch in cinemas – it’s what I would suggest.
collage by me, from top left, left to right: stills from the films: 1-Plein soleil | 2-The Graduate | 3-The Seven Year Itch | 4-La piscine | 5-Bonjour Tristesse | 6-Rear Window | 7-Vicky Cristina Barcelona | 8-Summer with Monika | 9-To Catch A Thief | 10-Summertime