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Summertree film.jpg
Movie Poster
Directed by Anthony Newley
Produced by Kirk Douglas
Screenplay by Edward Hume
Stephen Yafa
Based on Summertree by
Ron Cowen
Starring Michael Douglas
Jack Warden
Music by David Shire
Cinematography Richard C. Glouner
Edited by Maury Winetrobe
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
6 June 1971
Running time
88 minutes
Country  United States
Language English

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.[1]


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 Jerry 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. Tony pops in for a visit wearing his Marine uniform with Vietnam decorations. Tony tells Jerry that Vanetta promised to wait for him with Jerry leaving for Vanetta and Tony to clear their personal issues.

Jerry's streak of bad luck continues when Marvis's brother is killed in Vietnam with Marvis taking his anger out on Jerry ending his 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 tyres. When 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 petrol station into another junk car being towed by a tow truck.

The final scene is in Herb and Ruth's bedroom where the television news of Vietnam shows a dying Jerry being carried away.


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.[2]

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.[3]

Principal cast[edit]

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

Critical reception[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ron Cowen - complete guide to the Playwright, Plays, Theatres, Agent". Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  2. ^ p.53 Douglas, Kirk Let's Face It: 90 years of Living, Loving, and Learning 2007 John Wiley and Sons
  3. ^ "Michael Douglas & Brenda Vaccaro: Is Out-of-Wedlock No Longer In?". 1974-09-02. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  4. ^ 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. 

External links[edit]