Frank Perry’s “Last Summer,” a timeless coming of age film made a lasting impression on me nearly forty years ago. Based on the Evan Hunter novel, it’s about four teens whose lives are dramatically changed through their interactions. It made a star of Barbara Hershey (briefly Barbara Seagull, after this film), and had an Oscar nominated performance by Cathy Burns. It also starred a pre-Waltons, Richard Thomas, and Bruce Davison.
It’s been out of print on VHS for years and never on DVD.
IF YOU KNOW THE FILM, PLEASE TELL ABOUT YOUR MEMORIES AND IMPRESSIONS.
I"VE BEEN WORKING A LONG TIME TO GET THIS FILM ON DVD.
ANY INPUT IN THIS FORUM WILL HELP!!!!!!
I have never seen the film and always wanted to. I know it got great reviews at the time, and may have led to Thomas getting the part as John Boy. Do you remember Cathy Burns also appearing on an episode of The Waltons as a teacher?
Anway, best of luck. I’d love to see it. Frank Perry made some interesting films.
I do vaguely remember this film. Barbara Hershey played a pretty, cruel “rich girl” sort of character and Cathy Burns was the plain, plump girl who got humiliated by the others. It was one of those pictures that seemed to spotlight how nasty young people could be to each other. It definitely deserves revival on DVD.
Thank you for your responses. First, regarding, Cathy Burns, although I never saw it, here is the reference on her Waltons episode from IMDB:“The Waltons” …. Miss Megan Pollard (1 episode, 1973)
– The Substitute (1973) TV episode …. Miss Megan Pollard
“Last Summer” has four multifaceted characters in a story that’s absolutely timeless. It’s incredibly well written and acted. When it came out, everyone was talking about, and everyone was going to see it. It’s a seminal film from the late sixties that nobody talks about today. Hopefully, we’ll talk more about it here. It’s currently owned by Warners, and unfortunately, sits on the “back burner.”
Let’s all move it to the front. Also Perry’s “Diary of a Mad Housewife.”
Again, thank you for responding…Let’s spread the word.
Another kinda interesting Frank Perry film was his adaptation of John Cheever’s great short story, “The Swimmer.” The story is a model of economy: one of those stories that tells a rather big, strange, compelling tale in a very few pages. It’s about a guy who is on his way home and decides to swim his way there, using every available backyard pool. Along the way, we get an entire sense of his life, ambitions and failure. Perry and his wife, who wrote the screenplay, had to open up the screenplay considerably in terms of inventing scenes and dialogue, but the end result was not bad. Look for John Cheever himself in a blink-and-you-miss-it scene at a pool party.
Yes, brilliant acting by Burt Lancaster—a very sad and moving film. Both Perrys-Frank and Eleanor are ripe for rediscovery-David and Lisa, Mad Housewife, The Swimmer, and what I consider their masterpiece—Last Summer.
Check out this recent article on the Perrys-sadly, both gone, but not their films.
Very interesting article, I don’t recall “Diary of a Mad Housewife” being all that great though — it seemed rather dated when I saw it.
But I’m with you on wanting to see “Last Summer.”
I checked IMDB for Catherine Burns. Still alive, hasn’t acted since 1984. Just dropped out of sight.
P.S. Frank Perry made one of my personal favorites, “Rancho Deluxe,” a film impossible to defend if you don’t tune in to it’s strange, loopy, pothead vibe.
I’ve gone down some dead ends trying to find Catherine Burns, who possibly is still in New York and gave up acting for writing. I have also seen references to her that confuse her with some of the other Catherine Burns’ that are listed on IMDB (one, I recall is a producer, another, an art director). The real Cathy Burns of ‘Last Summer" is Catherine Burns (I) on IMDB. A DVD with commentary by all four actors would be fabulous. I’ve tried Bruce Davison’s website with no response and had a personal letter hand delivered to Richard Thomas (long story). Again, I got nowhere. I don’t know how Barbara Hershey feels about the film today, at the age of 60. The film made her a star, but also had repercussions for her. That’s a story in itself. Forty years later, it would be interesting to hear her thoughts.
Regardless, the real key is getting enough input to George Feltenstein at Warner Home Video for this title, and I know how to contact him. Warners is right up there with Criterion in putting out quality classic product. It took him ten years to get the new “How The West Was Won” on DVD-a pet project of his. That DVD is incredible.
I know he would like “Last Summer” to be released. He told me so about four years ago.
I’m on a lot of forums raising awareness (including IMDB)…. the more people I hear from, the better our chance.
Rodney, I thank you for your support, and everyone who has something to say about “Last Summer”!!!!
Your input is definitely part of the campaign.
Maybe there are some “old-timers” like me who saw it in 1969—-and still can’t forget it.
Let’s hear from you.
I saw LAST SUMMER years ago on late night tv and, while I remember liking it, I barely remember anything else about it. I, too, would vote to see it again and available on DVD.
And THE SWIMMER is a fantastic film, one I’d like to teach.
Thanks for all the info, ZIEGFELDMAN
“Last Summer” is still available on VHS at our local public library! As a fan of films of the late ’60’s this would be a worthy addition to a collection of youth-oriented films including Easy Rider, The Graduate, The Sterile Cuckoo, Woodstock, and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.
I saw “Last Summer” many years after its initial release. (Early newspaper ads for the film show it carried an “X” rating for a while). I was very intrigued by it…Catherine Burns was quirky and heartbreaking. The assault near the end was as powerful, for its time, as Boys Don’t Cry. Could be it was too much for audiences then.
Best of luck in your effort to get it on DVD. (As for Diary of a Mad Housewife, there could be renewed interest after this year’s “Frost/Nixon” with Frank Langella.)
Thank you all for your interest and replies:
First of all, I encourage you to send a letter (more effective than an e-mail) to:
Mr. George Feltenstein
Warner Home Video, Inc.
4000 Warner Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91522
This is the man who can definitely make the decision to get “Last Summer” to DVD. Letter campaigns do work!! And they are more effective than e-mails which are easily ignored and deleted.
Also, yes, “Last Summer” was originally “X” rated and then modified very slightly to an"R". Tom, that’s the version that’s in your library.
Here’s some info regarding this that I posted on IMDB.
I have done extensive research on this film and can tell you the following:
(1) All video versions are the “R” rated version, except for a cable version that has been shown on Starz in which the ending is Severely edited to totally minimize the rape scene.
(2) I have examined the orignal dialogue transcript at the Museum of Modern Art which shows that certain expletive words were changed from the “X” to “R” version.
It is obvious that they were “looped” in looking at the actors and listening to the soundtrack.
(3) Since I never saw the “X” rated version, the biggest mystery is how the ending was altered since the “R” rated version is indeed very graphic. How much more graphic could it have been. the dialogue transcript is not explicit-kind of basically says “they rape Rhoda”-without giving much detail.
Finally, “Last Summer” is a seminal film of the 1960’s but is little known today. I have been waging a one man campaign to get a restored DVD version with “Bells and whistles.” The film deserves no less than this.
The film is now owned by Warner Home Video and has appeared on the DVDSavant wishlist for years.
Again, Thank you all for your interest and help, and please make the time to write to Mr. Feltenstein.
Roger Ebert’s original review of “Last Summer” — August 15, 1969:
From time to time you find yourself wondering if there will ever be a movie that understands life the way you’ve experienced it. There are good movies about other people’s lives, but rarely a movie that recalls, if only for a scene or two, the sense and flavor of life the way you remember it.
Adolescence is a period that most people, I imagine, remember rather well. For the first time in your life important things were happening to you; you were growing up; what mattered to you made a difference. For three or four years, every day had a newness and unfamiliarity to it, and you desperately wanted to act in a way that seemed honorable to yourself. Even if you didn’t read Thomas Wolfe you were more idealistic than you were ever likely to be again.
But on top of the desire to be brave and honorable, there was also the compelling desire to be accepted, to be admitted to membership in that adolescent society defined only by those excluded from it. Because you were insecure, like all teen-agers still groping for a style and a philosophy, you tended to value other people’s opinions above your own. If everybody else disagreed with you, then how could you be right? And so sometimes you repressed your own feelings, rather than risk being shut out. And yet, inside, there was still the strong force of that idealism, and occasionally it occurred to you that the way you handled these years might decide the worth of your life.
Frank Perry’s “Last Summer” is about exactly such years and days, about exactly that time in the life of four 15- or 16-year-old adolescents, and it is one of the finest, truest, most deeply felt movies in my experience.
As “Last Summer” opens we are introduced to three affluent teen-agers, two boys and a girl, who are spending the summer on Fire Island with their parents. Sandy, the girl, is more familiar and experienced with sex than the boys, or so she would have them believe. The two boys are, naturally, unsure of themselves. They are not men and yet must be concerned with manhood. In the hot sun, during the long summer, the three friends circle the knowledge of sex like skittish colts.
But the movie is not really about them. It is about Rhoda, a plump and painfully idealistic girl from Ohio, who is also staying on the island. She forces herself into the group, her loneliness overcoming her shyness. And although she seems the most insecure of them all, she is the only one who knows her own mind and whose decisions are not determined by insecurity.
What happens then — how the story is brought to a conclusion — is not really important to the greatness of the movie. Indeed, the sensational last scene doesn’t strike me as particularly valid. A quieter conclusion would have made the point.
But the movie makes its point anyway, with dialog, with exquisitely drawn characterizations, with a very accurate examination of the adolescent character. Some months ago I attacked a lousy movie, “The First Time,” because it demonstrated no knowledge of how teen-agers really talk and think. Godard tells us that the only valid act of film criticism is to make another movie; “Last Summer” will serve as the definitive criticism of “The First Time.”
One scene: Rhoda has just been taught to swim by her friend Peter. They rest on the beach, and she talks about some of the things she believes in, and then he does, and then with infinite delicacy they realize they “like” each other.
Another scene: Sandy and the two boys sit on the beach, drinking beer, fooling around, skirting the awareness of their own new sexuality. During this scene the friends become unequal; Sandy is now in control.
Another scene: A rainy day. Sandy, Peter and Dan experiment with pot. On an impulse, they wash each other’s hair. They talk. They kill time, Rhoda arrives and feels excluded by the camaraderie. They convince her to tell “the worst thing” in her life. Reluctantly, she does; in a brilliantly acted monolog, she describes the death of her mother by drowning. The way Rhoda’s ambiguous feelings are presented makes this the best scene in the film.
There are many other things I want to say about “Last Summer,” but I don’t want to diminish your experience in seeing the film for the first time. So a longer article will have to wait. But let me add that the performances of the four teen-agers are the best that could possibly be hoped for; Cathy Burns, as Rhoda, clearly deserves an Academy Award nomination. Barbara Hershey’s character, Sandy, seems easier to play but there is a marvelous subtlety in the way she gradually alters her relationship with the other three, Richard Thomas, as Peter, and Bruce Davison, as Dan, perfectly capture the ambiguity, the self-doubt, of, adolescence.
Thank you-Ebert really nailed it—-it is one of the finest, truest, most deeply felt movies in my experience.
There are virtually no adults in “Last Summer.” The film is timeless; four teenagers, any beach, anywhere.
The film is most famous for the ending, still startling and very disturbing—but there is something else than lingers all these years. And that is the film’s final shot of Peter (Richard Thomas), as he realizes the full impact of what has just occurred.
In searching out another Criterion Forum, there is quite a bit of interest in Frank Perry and “Last Summer”. I am trying to keep the ball rolling on this. Anyone on the “Band Wagon” with me, please post here.
I wrote the following post on “Last Summer” – I’m not telling you the heading or else I will spoil the fun. But the story is indeed true:
There is one film that probably nobody on this board ever heard of that is still one of the most disturbing movies I have ever seen. Sooooo bad in fact, that I have YET to watch it all the way through after this many years cause alls I do is get upset. And that film is called “Last Summer” with Barbara Hershey, Richard Thomas, Bruce Davidson, and Cathryn Burns. In a nutshell, it’s basically a study about how cruel teenagers can get. The movie is honest. It is perhaps the most accurate portrayal of teenagers ever to this day – it was made in 1969. But damn, I can barely get one hour into it and my heart starts racing a tad and I ALWAYS say “No, can’t do it”, and end up turning the movie off. And I might add, I’m 48 now. I originally saw the film as a second feature (they used to have double features at one time) with “Romeo and Juliet”. What makes this even more amazing is that two theaters were showing the same double bill. One had it as an "R"rated program, and the other a “PG” rated program. NATURALLY I went to the PG one so I could get in to see it. Only years later did I learn that the very print shown at the “PG” theater was, in fact – now get ready for this – the “X” rated version!! So I managed to crash an “X” rated movie at age 13. Hehehehe. But at what a cost – “Last Summer” is still one of the most disturbing movies for me, and it took years before I would convince myself that a) IT WAS ONLY A MOVIE and b) Barbara Hershey was ACTING – she is probably a really nice person in real life……………
Thank You Chuck:
You nailed it. This film is so important. It has to be revived and seen. Barbara Hershey was so confused with her character, Sandy, at the time, that she was effectively blackballed for years, until films like “Beaches”, “Hoosiers,” ’The Stunt Man," ’Hannah and her Sisters." You name it.
Let’s keep this going.
Happy New Year to everyone. I believe so strongly in this film that anyone in his/her fifties (or approaching it ) knows this film which has never appeared on DVD, and am trying to keep this topic from getting buried in some of the bottom pages. This is an incredible forum and I thank everyone for their responses and interest. Again, the film is owned by Warners so please contact
Mr. George Feltenstein
Warner Home Video, Inc.
4000 Warner Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91522
or take a brief moment to inundate him with e-mails at
Campaigns do work!!
Many, many thanks
TO: Ziegfeldman (et al)
Last Summer is one of my “Top 10” movies. I, like you have been waiting for its release on DVD (i would actually settle for a tape version but can not find that either.)
I was wondering what progress you might have made in your quest.
Sorry for the multiple boxes … there was no “Your Comment Has Been Posted” notice when i hit send and i resubmitted 3 times. Oooops!
I remember Cathy Burns chancing upon Barbara Hershey with a seagull on the beach, saying “What are doing to the bird? WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO THAT BIRD?” Weird line to remember, but … Is that why she changed her name???
I tho’t The Swimmer was an interesting film but wasn’t crazy about it. I was, however, most fond of the much-maligned adaptation of PLAY IT AS IT LAYS. Love everyone in that cast.
I’m also a fan of RANCHO DELUXE but had forgotten that Perry directed it.
He is also responsible for the execrable Streisand STAR IS BORN, as I recall.
I read the book last year. Did not think much about it although I do like the film and thought Burns’ monologue very good. Complete control of the screen and she made you listen. The supporting actress lineup that year was excellent. Except for Sylvia Miles whom I thought gave a so-so performance. For me, it really was a tough toss-up between Burns and York. A tie would’ve been terrific.
MARK - thanks … you’re the first reply i’ve gotten. Its been so long since I posted that comment i’ve just about forgot the details of the story. I’m so out of it I didn;t even realize the was a book first. (Which now I will hunt for and read. so thanks for that info! I was hoping there was a place to search to at least find a VHS version of the movie but so far no luck. I’m still trying.