For Lori Singer and Anthony Edwards, Marriage is Murder
DIRECTED BY MICHIE GLEASON/1987
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: AUGUST 30, 2022/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
At a mere eighty minutes and on Blu-ray with barely any extras, this is an unsubstantial bit of summer heat that won’t last long. Lackadaisical and hollow (even with the brief run time), director Michie Gleason’s film is built upon a bed of unspoken marital tensions in the middle nowhere circa 1937. (as demarcated specifically by Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night on a passing movie house marquee. That film, very unlike this one, swept all major categories of the Academy Awards. It’s the story of a mismatched love that works out. This is the story of a too-well matched love that does not). One might justifiably take one look and deduce that the movie in question, 1987’s Summer Heat, is something that no one would enjoy watching based on a book that no one would enjoy reading.
In that deduction, one would only be half right. Based on Louise Shivers’ acclaimed debut novel Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail (1983), Summer Heat is very much a proto-Bridges of Madison County, albeit with a particularly dark turn. The central appeal, however, tends to be the same: escape from a crummy marriage into the arms of a passionate manly man who appreciates a good woman when he nails one. What we’ve got here is a small-town women’s picture with every interior permeated by a permanent haze and every exterior plagued by peeling paint and splintery wood. All of it is permeated with dirt. It’s tautness and streamlined nature would be a plus for many other movies, but with this one, there’s a lingering sense of post-production defeat. One wouldn’t be surprised to learn that an entire subplot or two got lopped out. “Let’s just cut our losses and release what kind of works.”
Lori Singer plays Roxy, a rail-thin mother of a baby named Baby. She has little connection to her toddler and less to her checked-out husband, Aaron (Anthony Edwards). Some unseen future-Roxy narrates this tale (voice of Dorothy McGuire). At first the vocal intrusions are ridiculously perpetual and invasive. Then, as things amble on, they stop. One look at her out there working on her ramshackle house, tools a swingin’, leads one to wonder, is she a hard-working woman of the land, or just an actress who can only drive a nail by the miracle of movie magic? Roxy is intended as an introvert (“She always looked like she’d be afraid to say boo to a goose”), surprised as anyone to find her bliss in the form of her husband’s farmhand friend who comes to live with them, Jack (Bruce Abbott). Initially, it seems that Roxy is wondering along with us whether Aaron and Jack are more Brokeback than not. That might’ve been quite the interesting avenue in 1987. That is not this movie.
Summer Heat is exactly one R-rated sex scene away from being an ideal made-for-basic-cable movie of the week. We get that sex scene, looking every bit like it was shot after the fact in a dark corner that could be anywhere. It’s indicative of Summer Heat working hard to seemingly reinvent itself from prestige miserabilism as just another ‘80s sex drama, so popular on video rental shelves at the time. Kim Carnes, with her appropriately gravelly voice, sings the full-on adult contemporary theme song, “The Heart Must Have a Home”. One might go out on a limb and guess that that was the intended title of this movie, and not the misleadingly salacious sounding “Summer Heat”.
One of the increasingly few selling points for Summer Heat on Blu-ray (here it is, courtesy of KL Studio Classics) is its picturesque location cinematography and set dressing. These pleasing factors, maximized in HD, help this warm breeze of a movie to whisp by all the more quickly. The leads may not warrant the drawing power they once did, though in the decade following its release, the name of costar Kathy Bates might’ve generated some interest at the ‘ol Blockbuster Video. The very recently departed Clu Gulager enriches the film in a fine supporting role, as well. These days however, the biggest name involved with Summer Heat worked entirely behind the scenes and below the line. Only sharp-eyed watchers of credits will notice that Peyton Reed, director of the Ant-Man films, some great episodes of The Mandalorian, and other cool projects, served in the Art Department as Assistant Lead Man. (Probably doing his share of furniture hauling with the swing gang in a project of this small scale). Unofficially, Summer Heat has to be the least exciting project on Peyton Reed’s filmography.
Summer Heat, in trying to pass itself off as a hot n’ sultry summer catch, ends up being more of a fling to be flung away unthinkingly. The results aren’t exactly murder, even when they want to be. This Roxy, even then, was not the name on everyone’s lips.