I found myself thinking back to my time in Florida and some movies sprang to mind that captured the sense of time and place that I remembered. I grew up on television shows like Flipper and I Dream of Jeannie, both set along the Atlantic Coast.
I grew up in the panhandle of the state — the “Redneck Riviera.” Movies about the panhandle are hard to find, but two that stood out in my mind were Ruby in Paradise and A Flash of Green. The second based on one of Ross McDonald’s better books. Victor Nunez also did Ulee’s Gold similarly set in the Tallahassee area. An offbeat documentary is Errol Morris’ Vernon, Florida
Some movies take you back to another time and place like Martin Ritt’s ode to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings in Cross Creek, even if Mary Steenburgen was a bit too delicate for the role. The Yearling was adapted from Rawlings’ children’s books. Nunez similarly based Gal Young’Un on another one of her stories. There was also the wonderfully titled Wind Across the Everglades about early ecology efforts in Florida, starring Christopher Plummer and Burl Ives.
The Flamingo Kid captures the end of an era in Florida. Jon Voight offers a poignant performance in The Champ, along with young Ricky Schroder, set in and around Miami. There was also John Sayles’ Sunshine State. Mira Nair takes a look at immigration in The Perez Family, in which Cuban refugees come together to foil the INS. Jim Jarmusch winds his way down to Florida in Stranger Than Paradise.
Classics include Key Largo, and Kane’s Florida mansion in Citizen Kane. The Marx Brothers lampoon the Florida Land Boom in Cocoanuts. Beneath the 12-Mile Reef is a melodramatic father and son movie set in Tarpon Springs. And, of course, Where The Boys Are, perhaps the seminal Spring Break movie.
Silver Springs was quite the location back in the 50s, drawing Esther Williams, more famous for movies like Jupiter’s Darling than she was a competitive swimmer in 1940. The underwater scene from this film was shot in Silver Springs. Gary Cooper also visited this idyllic local for the filming of Distant Drums, a movie about the Second Seminole War. It also served as the setting for the shlock film, Revenge of the Creature, a sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The Day of the Dolphin sticks out in mind. Body Heat introduced the sultry Kathleen Turner opposite William Hurt, in this interesting update of Double Indemnity. There was also Darker Than Amber, one of the few Travis McGee novels adapted to the screen. Elmore Leonard has had more luck in this regard with stories like Get Shorty, which starts out in Miami and ends up in LA. Unfortunately, Carl Hiaasen’s Strip Tease didn’t fair so well. Someone forget to tell Demi Moore it was a comedy.
Burt Reynolds is no stranger to Florida. He played football at Florida State before going onto to be a 70s action movie icon in such movies as Gator. Stick, another based on an Elmore Leonard novel, was filmed in Florida. He got his start in such television shows as Flipper and Gentle Ben. You can check him out in this clip. He would get a chance to play ball again in The Longest Yard.
Goldfinger starts out in Miami Beach before ending up in Fort Knox. It’s too bad what happened to Jill Masterson. Other Bond movies similarly used Florida locations. Miami Vice was more compelling as a movie than a television series. Al Pacino turned in a lurid performance as Tony Montana in Scarface.
On the horror side, an odd movie called Frogs featured Ray Milland as a wheelchair patriarch who finds his family reunion ruined by menacing reptiles and amphibians. The movie was shot in my own “back yard” and I got to play one of the extras. Jaws 2 was filmed at Navarre Beach, although the setting was still Amity Island. There as also the unusually lurid Color Me Blood Red. But, the most grisly movie in recent years was Monster, in which Charlize Theron played the crazed interstate highway killer, Aileen Wuornos.
Some other movies set in Florida included Cocoon, about getting one’s second youth; Making Mr. Right, an amusing romp with Ann Magnuson and John Malkovich, ostensibly set near Cape Canaveral; Harry & Son with Paul Newman and Robbie Benson; The Truman Show which used Seaside, Florida, as its idealistic town; and Volker Schlöndorff’s moody Palmetto, filmed in Sarasota. The Greatest Show on Earth was also filmed in Sarasota.
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