Cast & Crew
Barbara Bel Geddes
Bored with his experience at the university, twenty-year-old sophomore Jerry McAdams decides to bring meaning into his life by becoming a "big brother" to a lonely black boy named Marvis Johnson. One day, while playing football, Marvis scrapes his knee and Jerry takes him to a doctor's office where Vanetta, the doctor's nurse, treats the boy. Vanetta, who is estranged from her husband, a soldier serving in Vietnam, begins to date Jerry, and soon after, Jerry moves into Vanetta's apartment. Over his parents' objections, Jerry, who has delighted in playing the guitar ever since his parents gave him one as a child, decides to drop out of college to entertain at a coffee house while he applies for admission to a music conservatory. When the conservatory turns him down because he lacks formal music training, Jerry's draft classification is changed to 1-A, making him eligible to be sent to fight in Vietnam. Rather than go to war, Jerry decides to flee to Canada, and soon after, Vanetta ends their affair when her husband returns home. Marvis, whose soldier brother has recently been killed in combat, is alienated by Jerry's decision, as is Jerry's father Herb. When Jerry stops to say goodbye to his parents, his father denounces him as a draft dodger, but his mother Ruth defends him, saying that her own father fled Poland to avoid the draft. To prevent Jerry from leaving, Herb arranges for a mechanic to sabotage his car, but Jerry overhears their conversation and feeling betrayed, tearfully drives off. Some time later, Herb and Ruth climb into bed and turn on the television news. As they begin to make love, the television screen shows clips of mortally wounded soldiers in Vietnam being carried to a helicopter for transport from the battle field. Preoccupied, Herb and Ruth fail to notice as the television camera focuses in on one of the soldiers, their son Jerry.
Barbara Bel Geddes
Dennis Clark Fimple
Richard C. Glouner
Douglas was cast in the lead that summer, and the play was so well received that a production was planned for Broadway. Director Jules Irving, however, fired Douglas in favor of another actor, David Birney. That prompted Michael's father, Kirk Douglas, to buy the screen rights so that Michael could play the character in a movie version distributed by Columbia. Michael had mixed feelings about this, as he was already dealing with accusations of nepotism, but ultimately his desire to further explore the character on film won out.
Anthony Newley was hired to direct. He had only directed one film and would not make another after Summertree. He was best known as a British singer and actor, with many British movies and some stage hits under his belt in that capacity. He had also been married to Joan Collins since 1963.
On the New York stage, Summertree had been well received, but on film it was not. It drew poor reviews from The New York Times and other influential outlets, as well as lackluster box office, though industry trade reviews were somewhat more positive. "Except for the considerable charm of the performances," said The Hollywood Reporter, there is little in the film of value save its evident sincerity... Yet Newley's skill with all of the performers is evident throughout; it is his affinity for this kind of sudsy material that will be criticized, not his handling of actors." Variety deemed it "inventively directed by Anthony Newley... [a] handsome vehicle to show off superior acting talents... [Douglas and Brenda Vaccaro] make their love story fresh and believable."
Summertree is also of interest for the rest of its cast, with Jack Warden and Barbara Bel Geddes appearing as Douglas's parents, and a young Rob Reiner also on hand. Brenda Vaccaro had just played a role in Midnight Cowboy (1969) for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe. She and Douglas were also dating, and they fell in love while making this film. Their relationship lasted about five years.
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The credits were taken from a cutting continuity in the film's copyright file. A copyright statement appears in the opening credits that reads: "1970 by The Bryna Company." Copyright records, however, list the claimant and date as "Bryna Company & Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., 1971." David Slaven's onscreen credits reads "unit production manager and assistant director." A November 1969 Variety news item noted that John Korty initially was to direct the picture. According to 1968 news items in Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter, Summertree was the first picture in a production deal between Kirk Douglas' The Bryna Company and Columbia Pictures. Bryna bought the rights to the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which was the first and only written by Ron Cowen, who was also hired to write the film's screenplay, which ultimately was written by Edward Hume and Stephen Yafa.
Summertree was the only film produced by Douglas that starred his son Michael Douglas who had played the leading role in Summertree when it received its first performance at the 1967 Eugene O'Neill Theatre Memorial Foundation in Waterford, CT. He did not appear in the Broadway version, however, which featured David Birney as "Jerry McAdams". Summertree marked Kirk Callaway's only screen appearance and was the first film of Barbara Bel Geddes since the 1961 United Artists release By Love Possessed.
Released in United States 1971
Released in United States 1971