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Summertree film.jpg
Movie Poster
Directed byAnthony Newley
Produced byKirk Douglas
Screenplay byEdward Hume
Stephen Yafa
Based onSummertree by
Ron Cowen
StarringMichael Douglas
Jack Warden
Brenda Vaccaro
Barbara Bel Geddes
Music byDavid Shire
CinematographyRichard C. Glouner
Edited byMaury Winetrobe
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
June 9, 1971 (New York)[1]
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States

Summertree is a 1971 film directed by Anthony Newley. The screenplay was written by Edward Hume and Stephen Yafa, based on the 1967 play of the same name by Ron Cowen.[2]


In 1970 twenty-year-old Jerry (Michael Douglas) returns to his parents Herb (Jack Warden) and Ruth (Barbara Bel Geddes) to let them know that he has dropped out of university to find himself. His parents are worried not only because they have wasted expensive tuition on Jerry, but the Vietnam War is raging and Jerry has lost his draft deferral. Jerry has plans to enter a Conservatorium of Music as he is confident in his self-taught guitar playing.

Inspired by a television advertisement, Jerry becomes a Big Brother to a black child named Marvis. When Marvis is slightly injured in a fall, they visit a hospital where Jerry meets a nurse named Vanetta (Brenda Vaccaro). They soon fall in love, despite Vanetta being older than Jerry, and begin living with each other.

Jerry accidentally discovers an autographed photo of Vanetta declaring her love to a man named Tony (Bill Vint). Vanetta explains that Tony is her husband and they separated two years ago but are not divorced. Later, Tony (returning home from Vietnam wearing his Marine uniform) arrives at Vanetta's apartment and tells Jerry that Vanetta promised to wait for him. Vanetta arrives home, and Jerry leaves to let them clear their personal issues.

Jerry's streak of bad luck continues when Marvis's brother is killed in Vietnam and Marvis takes his anger out on Jerry, ending their relationship. Despite an impressive performance at his audition for the Conservatorium he is rejected for entry because he has had no formal musical education. Three times lucky, Herb visits Jerry to bring him his draft notice.

Jerry buys an old Ford Fairlane and intends on going to Canada. After a family argument his father agrees with Jerry but urges him to have his car inspected at the local gas station for safety prior to his departure. On the day he is supposed to take his induction physical Herb buys Jerry a set of new tires. While Jerry looks at some road maps he overhears Herb attempting to bribe the petrol station attendant to fix Jerry's car so it can not run for a few days.

Jerry bursts into tears and drives his old heap out of the station into another junk car being towed by a tow truck.

The final scene: night, and Herb and Ruth retire to bed. As they close their eyes, on their television, news of action in Vietnam shows a dying Jerry being carried away by fellow soldiers.

Principal cast[edit]

Actor Role
Michael Douglas Jerry
Jack Warden Herb
Rob Reiner Don
Brenda Vaccaro Vanetta
Barbara Bel Geddes Ruth


Michael Douglas had been cast in the original play on Broadway but was fired from his role and replaced with David Birney. His father Kirk Douglas bought the rights to the play and filmed it with his son in the lead he lost.[3]

The title refers to a tree house that Jerry returns to sit in.

During the low-budget production, Brenda Vaccaro and Michael Douglas initially shared the same trailer, then began a six-year relationship.[4] She guest starred twice with him in The Streets of San Francisco, playing a rookie cop in season 1, episode 15, and a hit-woman in season 3, episode 2, during that time.

Critical reception[edit]

Roger Greenspun of The New York Times did not care for the film:

Variety wrote, "Newley brings individual scenes beautifully to life, with Douglas clearly defining his role as the personable-but-self-centered hero. Miss Vaccaro, despite the character's indecisiveness, is charming. The two of them make their love story fresh and believable."[6] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 2 stars out of 4 and called it "occasionally moving," but found the relationships to "lack believability" and the ending "an ironic statement that is decidedly out of place."[7] Richard Combs of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that Michael Douglas' performance "has an energy and vitality that gives an edge to the theme of wasted youth. Other elements in Summertree blend less successfully—the contrived spontaneity of Jerry's romance with Vanetta and the fragmentary treatment of his relationship with the negro boy. Anthony Newley's direction, however, is surprisingly unselfconscious and reponsive to a talented cast, though there is little he can do with the over-neat tying together of all the ironies in the last half hour."[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The New York Times. June 6, 1971. D31. "'SUMMERTREE' — Michael Douglas stars in the film, arriving Wednesday at neighborhood houses."
  2. ^ "Ron Cowen - complete guide to the Playwright, Plays, Theatres, Agent". Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  3. ^ p.53 Douglas, Kirk Let's Face It: 90 years of Living, Loving, and Learning 2007 John Wiley and Sons
  4. ^ "Michael Douglas & Brenda Vaccaro: Is Out-of-Wedlock No Longer In?". 1974-09-02. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  5. ^ Greenspun, Roger (1971-06-17). "Newley's 'Summertree' Opens:Hume and Yafa Work Revisits the 40's Death of a Serviceman Fixes the Action". The New York Times.
  6. ^ "Film Reviews: Summertree". Variety. June 16, 1971. 15.
  7. ^ Siskel, Gene (July 12, 1971). "Summertree". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 13.
  8. ^ Combs, Richard (February 1972). "Summertree". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 39 (457): 38.

External links[edit]