18 Old Hollywood Films for Summer Nights

Friday, June 7, 2019

Something about warm summer nights always puts me in the mood for a classic old Hollywood film. One of my favorite things is to curl up on the couch once evening falls and put on an old film. Here are some of my favorites, from romances to musicals and thrillers.

I N T E R N A T I O N A L   D A R L I N G S

Roman Holiday, 1953. 
A film that instantly conjures up melting gelato, wandering through city streets, and summer romance, Roman Holiday recounts Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck's adventures in Rome. A rouge princess meets American journalist for one magical day. Perfect for a weekend after a sun-drenched day or a lazy Sunday afternoon.

To Catch a Thief, 1955.

Come for the French Riviera, stay for Grace Kelly's icy coolness and stunning costumes (the black bathing suit in the lobby and her flowing blue dress are Oscar-worthy alone). Cary Grant is debonair and relaxed as John Robie, infamous former jewel thief known as 'The Cat.' Roof chases, diamonds, and an 18th century ball later, it's more dashing than it is terrifying. Excellent for Friday nights after dinner and drinks or pre-vacation.

An American in Paris, 1951.

More visual feast than solid plot, you don't even care while watching Gene Kelly's attempts to woo ballerina Leslie Caron throughout all of Paris. They dance through flower markets, fountains, and along the Seine in scenes dripping with luscious, saturated colors and Gershwin's music.

D E L I G H T F U L   C O M E D I E S  A N D  M U S I C A L S

Some Like It Hot, 1959.

I don't have many words for Some Like It Hot other that pure.fun. A precursor to Tootsie, this zany comedy follows Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as musicians on the run from a gang after witnessing a murder...the best hiding place? Dressed as women in a female band. Havoc and hijinks ensue after they both fall for Marilyn Monroe's character while disguised.

High Society, 1956.

Another Grace Kelly film with gorgeous costumes like her stunning pool cover-up above: this time she plays an engaged heiress whose ex-husband (Bing Crosby) is trying to win her back. Enter Frank Sinatra as the society photographer assigned to her wedding only to fall for her as well. Fabulous songs and stellar cast chemistry make this A Philadelphia Story remake both colorful and summery.

Auntie Mame, 1958. 

If you're in the mood for colorful eccentricities and escapades, look no further than Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame. Fabulously rich, clever, and fast-talking, she unexpectedly becomes her nephew Patrick's guardian after he's orphaned. Thrust from an polite, austere background into her glitzy, free-thinking world, he grows up with her mantra that life is banquet.

Sabrina, 1954.

Before the Harrison Ford 1995 version, there was this one with Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden. Audrey is radiant in her Givenchy wardrobe as newly-returned-from-Paris Sabrina, caught in a love triangle between two brothers.

Houseboat, 1958.

Disgruntled Cary Grant is always fun to watch onscreen and this comedy about a single father trying to deal with his many children and new, attractive housekeeper (Sophia Loren) on a houseboat is full of hijinks and witty arguments.

Summer Stock, 1950.

One of Judy Garland's last great musicals, she stars alongside the always-talented Gene Kelly as a struggling farmer who has to deal with the sudden invasion of his theatrical troupe. It's a fun, lighthearted movie filled with various choreographed pieces ("Dig Dig Dig for Your Dinner" where Gene Kelly taps his way across the kitchen and the table is delightful), but most famous for Judy's iconic "Get Happy" number above.

Kiss Me Kate, 1953. 

One of my absolute favorites (for so many reasons: the costumes! the supporting characters! Shakespeare! off-stage drama!), I've watched this more times than I can remember. Based off of the Broadway production of this play within a play, Kiss Me Kate recounts the reunion of two famous theater actors--once married and in love, now bitterly divorced--coaxed back on stage together to play Katherina and Petruchio. Taming of the Shrew is arguably the most of fun of Shakespeare's plays, brimming with sarcasm, sexual tension, and teeming wit (I played Katherina in high school and it was pure fun). The film captures all of that as Howard Keel's Fred tries to win his ex-wife Lilli (Kathryn Grayson) back during the last show, both on and off stage before she elopes with her fiancĂ©. Vibrant, hilarious, and ebullient, it's perfect for summer.

Hello, Dolly, 1969.

Another colorful, joyous musical, this is Barbra at her finest as Mrs. Dolly Levi, a matchmaker determined to marry the cranky millionaire (Walter Matthau) from Yonkers who has his sights set on another woman. Directed by Gene Kelly, it's an epic romp through New York featuring a young Michael Crawford, gorgeous parks and parades, Louis Armstrong, and the magic of falling in love.

Jupiter's Darling, 1955.

It wouldn't be a Old Hollywood summer list without an Esther Williams film. While all of her films feature beautiful swimming scenes, Jupiter tops the rest. A re-imagining of Hannibal's planned invasion of Rome gone awry after his encounter with Roman darling (Esther), it's a gorgeously shot film. Howard Keel is thunderously perfect as Hannibal, the costumes are technicolored brilliance, and Esther's swimming scene where Roman statues come to life and join her is perfect.

What a Way to Go, 1964. 

I hadn't heard of this until Rebecca featured Shirley MacLaine's gorgeous costumes and I rented it on Amazon. Shirley plays Louisa, a four-time widow whose rich husbands keep dying accidentally in this parody of various film styles. As long as you take it for what it is--a fantastical plot with luxurious sets and an elaborate wardrobe--What a Way to Go is as delicious, light, and frothy as sparkling rose.

S I N I S T E R  F I L M S  F O R  H O T  N I G H T S

Rear Window, 1954. 

My gateway drug into Alfred Hitchcock's films and the beginning of a life-long obsession. Rear Window is summer in all of its worst: oppressive heat tempered with restless boredom that leads us to anything that can pass as a diversion, no matter how dangerous. Jimmy Stewart is a apartment-bound photographer recovering from a broken leg. Trapped in his small walk-up with nothing but occasional visits from his fiancĂ©e (Grace Kelly) to break the boredom, he passes his time by watching his neighbors in the building through their windows. A microcosm teems in the various apartment windows beneath his eyes until he sees--or doesn't see--someone who should be there. Hitchcock is one of the most influential filmmakers for good reason--his use of shadows, tight framing, and tension-building shots make him the "Master of Suspense." Best for hot, dark nights with a glass of wine.

A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951. 

Everything about Marlon Brandon as Stanley in Streetcar oozes raw, primal sexuality and anger as he grapples with his quiet wife Stella and her arrogant but mentally fragile sister, Blanche DuBois. Set in the steaming, seedy belly of New Orleans, the film adaption of the Tennessee Williams' play depicts Blanche's desperate struggle for sanity in a world that turns on her.

North by Northwest, 1959.

Another Hitchcock masterpiece, this one is the most travel-heavy as Cary Grant flees via train, plane, and even mountainside after being mistaken for a secret agent. A proper spy thriller filled with stunning chase sequences.

Sunset Boulevard, 1950 

Easily the most depressing film on the list, Sunset is Hollywood's first real look at itself and the effects of famous actors. Gloria Swanson plays an aging silent film star struggling with the transition to talking pictures. She convinces a young screenwriter to work together on her comeback script but he soon finds himself drawn into her dark, convoluted world of fantasies.

Suddenly Last Summer, 1959.

Not a film for the faint of heart. Another Tennessee Williams adaptation, this one focuses on Catherine, a young woman institutionalized after witnessing the mysterious and traumatic death of her cousin Sebastian. The psychiatric doctor assigned to evaluate Catherine (Elizabeth Taylor) for a potential lobotomy grows increasingly suspicious that she may be sane. The majority of the film takes place in the institution, filled with shades of white and grey. This is a slow burn of gradual emotional suspense and a horrifying revelation.

Dial M for Murder, 1954.

Rounding up the suspense category is Dial M for Murder, made during Hitchcock's peak film years. A professional tennis player, angry that his socialite wife (Grace Kelly) has cheated on him, blackmails an old acquaintance into trying to murder her. The ploy? A telephone call late at night. Don't watch this alone at home.

There you have it...eighteen old Hollywood films perfect for any mood on a summer night. There's many more, but these are my top picks. Let me know if there's any I missed!

1 comment:

  1. This was the list I didn't even know I needed for this summer. Thank you, Grace!!!