Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Summer was a different movie season before 'Jaws'
by Susan King

Besides scaring swimmers everywhere, "Jaws" changed the summer movie landscape.

Before the release of the Steven Spielberg-directed thrill ride on more than 400 screens on June 20, 1975, about a great white shark on a feeding frenzy around fictional Amity Island (Martha's Vineyard), the summer blockbuster didn't really exist. The studios' major films, such as "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Sound of Music," would play in a big city's movie palace sometimes for more than a year before heading to the neighborhood theaters.

The studios knew, though, that the box office was stronger during the summer and released several now-classic movies during those summer months, but they were of a much wider variety than the diet of comic-book, sequel, animated and teen fare we see now. Here's a sampling of some of the seminal movies that were introduced during the summer:

"Blood and Sand"

Moviegoers couldn't get enough of superstar heartthrob Rudolph Valentino 89 years ago in this silent epic in which he plays a bullfighter whose successful career is derailed when he is torn between two women. "Blood" was a huge box-office hit and solidified Valentino's status in Hollywood. But sadly, his success was short-lived; he died four years later at the age of 31.

"The Wizard of Oz"

Most moviegoers got their first chance to see Dorothy and the gang in this beloved musical that made a superstar out of Judy Garland on Aug. 25, 1939, though it opened earlier that month in a few places, including Hollywood, New York and Oconomowoc, Wis. The most expensive MGM production of the time — its budget was a whopping $2.7 million — it didn't recoup its cost until after several reissues.

"Miracle on 34th Street"

Along with "It's a Wonderful Life," this delightful holiday fantasy is one of the top Christmas movies of all time. Ironically, the film, which won three Academy Awards, including one for supporting actor Edmund Gwenn, as the Macy's Santa Claus who insists he's the real deal, didn't open during the yuletide season. This "Miracle" arrived on May 2, 1947. It was 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck who insisted it come out during the summer to attract bigger audiences. The studio's promos kept the fact that it was set during Christmas a secret.

"Stalag 17"

William Holden won his only Oscar in Billy Wilder's dark World War II comedy, which arrived in July 1953. The film is set in a German POW camp where one of the prisoners is considered a German traitor. The No. 1 suspect is the slick Sefton (Holden), a cynical, gruff prisoner who barters with the Germans for all sorts of goodies. Charlton Heston was the original choice to play the role of Sefton, but as the character got darker, Wilder went to Holden, who had starred in his 1950 classic "Sunset Boulevard."


Movie audiences probably didn't have a clue what to expect if they attended opening day — June 16, 1960 — of this Alfred Hitchcock masterwork. Filmgoers were accustomed to being scared by the master of suspense's films, but this black-and-white thriller about an innkeeper, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), with a mother fixation, was a shock to audiences. It ended up being Hitch's best-known film, and Janet Leigh earned an Oscar nomination as the ill-fated Bates Motel guest.


Roman Polanski had been living in Europe since the brutal murder by the Manson family of his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, in 1969. But he agreed to return to Hollywood to direct this classic, which was released on June 20, 1974. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards — ultimately winning for Robert Towne's screenplay — "Chinatown," set in L.A. circa 1937, starred Jack Nicholson as private detective Jake Gittes and Faye Dunaway as the mysterious and beautiful Evelyn Mulwray.


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