Summer Movies: Interview with Author John Malahy

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Recently, I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Summer Movies: 30 Sun-Drenched Classics author John Malahy via email. This wonderful selection of summer films and behind the scenes info is expertly curated and features a forward by Leonard Maltin. It includes a wealth of knowledge about many of our collective summer favorites, as well as informative discussions about the more hidden gems. I enjoyed learning from this book, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to ask Malahy about some questions and curiosities I had. Enjoy!

1. In the introduction, you mention that this book was inspired by your love of JAWS. Can you elaborate on that? What thoughts/emotions do you recall from when you first saw that movie?


“Jaws is a movie I find myself watching every year, and it makes me pine for the beach and a crowd of other vacationers on the 4th of July. Regardless of the shark, the setting has always seemed like the perfect summer town, and the epitome of the American summer on the big screen. I think that’s what Amity Island stands for in the film, too – the American ideal, with danger lurking just below the surface. Along with National Lampoon’s VacationJaws was one of the first movies in the book that I ever saw, but I can’t tell you exactly when. It was one of those movies that I grew up knowing about, that my family would refer to often, and I saw it several times when I was probably too young for it. At some point in grade school (after Jurassic Park?) I remember telling people I wanted to be Steven Spielberg when I grew up.

Of course, I essentially rediscovered it when I got older and was getting into film more seriously. I was suddenly aware of the filmmaking prowess, and it is still impressive today. And I think like many film lovers, the more films you see, the more you start seeing similarities and drawing connections between sometimes disparate films. For instance, Do the Right Thing tells just as universal a story of American summertime as Jaws – so the two are actually related in that way. And in turn, Do the Right Thing is connected to other films set during a hot New York summer: The Seven Year Itch, Rear Window, Lonesome. And so on. I loved the idea of showing how the movies depict the season in all sorts of different ways, across genres and styles – and thereby showing how they are all connected.”


2. Aside from JAWS, are there any other summer thrillers you would recommend to readers like myself who are drawn to horror films?


“Despite loving Jaws, I have to admit that thriller/horror is not my favorite genre. There were a few other such movies that almost made the cut, like Friday the 13th, but by and large I found that scary films just didn’t necessarily fit the overall tone of the book or the parameters I had set: movies that depict some sort of universal summer experience. 


But if you like Jaws, I have to recommend a movie I pair it with in the book – the great white shark documentary Blue Water, White Death – which features a diving couple who had also worked on the cage diving sequence in Jaws. It’s not the easiest film to find, but well worth the effort. I also have a soft spot for Crawl from 2019, about a Florida hurricane and a woman and her dad who are trapped in their home’s crawl space with giant alligators. 


For thrillers, there’s always Hitchcock. I had intended to include the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much in the book (it’s about a family vacation that goes awry) but I replaced it with another Jimmy Stewart film, Rear Window. There’s also To Catch a Thief, which is set on the French Riviera. And speaking of Rear Window, I also recommend the earlier film The Window, which has a similar premise. 


I also toyed with including The Talented Mr. Ripley or its earlier incarnation, Purple Noon with Alain Delon. Delon also stars in La Piscine, which was just released by the Criterion Collection – I haven’t seen that one yet, but I’m looking forward to checking it out. In a similar vein, there’s also the suspense film Swimming Pool by French director Francois Ozon, who just released another summer-set film, Summer of 85.”


3. What made you choose Alfred Santell’s HAVING WONDERFUL TIME as a double feature entry alongside DIRTY DANCING?


“Having Wonderful Time was a discovery for me. I came across it as I was doing research – it’s one in a long list of movies that has to do with vacations, people escaping the city and getting out of their routine – but my editor at Running Press knew it and liked it. When I watched it, it immediately seemed spiritually connected to Dirty Dancing: the story of a determined young woman who vacations at lake resort and gets involved with the staff. And there’s another, subtler connection – Dirty Dancing is about Jewish characters at a Catskills resort; and Having Wonderful Time is based on material that featured Jewish characters doing the same (it was whitewashed for Hollywood). 


The earlier movie is a perfect summer film as I define it in the book. (Though it’s not explicitly set in the summer, the characters complain about the heat and humidity in the city, so I assume it’s that time of year.) I knew I wanted to include it somehow. For a while it was listed as one of the main entries, but there was so much competition for one of those 30 slots and I knew Dirty Dancing was similar, and ultimately more iconic and beloved, so I chose to include Having Wonderful Time as a suggested double feature. I think people who love Dirty Dancing (and they are legion) would appreciate the Ginger Rogers version.”


4. I enjoyed reading your assessment of Marilyn Monroe in the THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH entry, where you stated that she gives “one of her most charming and sensitive performances.” In your opinion, what makes Monroe’s portrayal of “The Girl” stand out among some of her other films?


“In The Seven Year Itch, she seems both uniquely on display and also self-aware. Her character is basically a type (she doesn’t even have a name) and there are no illusions about why she was cast here or what she stands for. The film is commenting on her sensual presence (and the way she deals with men) in a way her other movies don’t directly address, at least of the ones I’ve seen. And by hitting the nail on the head (via the script and Billy Wilder’s direction), she actually gets closer to reckoning with her persona than her other films. It’s not deep role, but it’s maybe the most revealing in terms of her stardom. And I think she’s absolutely perfect – wide-eyed at times, but always self-possessed. The movie would fall apart without her.”


5. Were there any new gems you discovered while writing this book?


“The first one that comes to mind is Out of the Blue (1947), which was released on a beautiful new blu-ray while I was planning the book. It’s from ‘poverty row’ studio Eagle Lion and was well under the radar. It actually has some things in common with The Seven Year Itch – a man’s wife of seven years goes out of the city and he meets another woman, this time not a blonde bombshell but an annoying Ann Dvorak (who’s delightfully unhinged). It was written by Vera Caspary, the mystery author who had written Laura, and there’s a serial killer subplot that recalls Rear Window. But the whole thing is actually pretty charming. 


For something completely different, the French film The Green Ray (1986) was another that I had never seen that really blew me away. It’s about an introverted woman who gets stood up by her friend and has to take her summer vacation alone. She eventually meets a man at a train station just as she’s leaving a seaside resort, forms a quick connection, and decides on a whim to stay with him a while. For anyone who has ever felt out-of-sorts during the summer, this is a very affecting and beautiful movie.”


6. In your opinion, what makes the perfect summer film?

“The perfect summer film has to feature some iconic summer experience and a character who gets out of his or her routine and has a life-changing experience. Gidget is a great example. Personally, I love travel and the sense of cultural discovery, so I really enjoy the various movies in the book that were shot in Europe. When I’m not actually traveling, I tend to travel through the movies, and my favorite films are about people discovering themselves through their own journeys. I find it very uplifting.”

You can find John Malahy’s book here at shop TCM.

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