Today: February 22, 2024

Jubilant July

Wimbledon. The Tour. The Olympics. If this July’s sporting events – and the weather – leave you cold, then join FilmJuice as we turn up the nostalgia thermostat and revisit some of the hottest July film releases of yesteryear …

Wimbledon.
The Tour. The Olympics. If this July’s sporting events – and the weather –
leave you cold, then join FilmJuice as we turn up the nostalgia thermostat and
revisit some of the hottest July film releases of yesteryear …

The
‘60s

In 2012, US audiences can watch two, new home-grown
movies a day, all year, and still not see every film release. Back in the
1960s, though, the film industry was a much smaller beast, and cinemagoers had
just 20-30 new films a year to look forward to. Inevitably, that left some
months a bit thin, entertainment-wise. In fact for half the decade, there were
no films released in July at all. Luckily, a few fine flicks still managed to
creep into the mix.

For thriller fans, it was July 1966 which saw
the release of Hitchcocks’s Torn Curtain
which is often cited as one of the Brit director’s most underrated films. It
also, oddly enough, shares many elements with another July spy gem – the dark
and gritty, Le Carre adaptation, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.
However, the movie which perhaps best summed up the spirit of the ‘60s was Easy Rider. And, with such a stunning
soundtrack, and rebel without a cause theme, is it any wonder? You’d have to be
a trainspotting accountant to listen to Steppenwolf’s
Born To Be Wild
or Hendrix’s If 6
Was 9
and not want to kick start your Harley and get your motor runnin’.

The
‘70s

Although widely criticised by civil rights
groups at the time, ‘70s blacksploitation movies were both hugely popular and
gave many black actors an opportunity to break into mainstream films. Some,
such as Superfly (1972), with its
killer Curtis Mayfield soundtrack,
remain required cult viewing. However, there’s one film in the genre which stands
head and shoulders above the rest. Released on 2nd July 1971, Shaft was a quality product – and
audiences knew it. From the moment you hear Isaac Hayes’ funky wah-wah guitar, it’s clear that this is a film
which is going to be both stylish and fun. Yet there’s more to Shaft than a
super cool soundtrack. A huge part of its success is down to Richard Roundtree, whose grittily
likeable lead has been compared to both Dirty
Harry
and James Bond. Despite
his reluctance to be typecast, Roundtree was tempted back to the role for two
sequels — Shaft’s Big Score and Shaft In Africa — along with a
short-lived TV series. In fact, it’s fair to say that, despite appearing in
everything from Magnum to MacGyver, from Alias to Heroes, this is
Roundtree’s most famous role. In 2000, he even returned for a cameo in the Samuel L. Jackson’s spin off movie of
the same name. Finally accepting, perhaps, that there are some roles that are
just too big to walk away from.

The second ‘seminal’ movie of the ‘70s couldn’t
be more different. Say the words ‘banjos’ and ‘backwoods’, and one film
immediately springs to mind: Deliverance.
Released on 21st July 1972, Deliverance was directed by John Boorman and starred Burt
Reynolds
and Jon Voight in a
taut, terrifying tale of an adventure holiday gone bad. The excellent novel by James Dickey, on which the film script
was based, makes an equally shocking read. But best not take it on that next
camping trip.

The
‘80s

There seems to be no middle ground on this.
People either love John Carpenter’s
work or hate it. Dark Star, They Live,
Halloween, The Thing, Assault On Precinct 13
… Carpenter’s CV is
literally littered with cult classics. And you can’t get more cult than Escape From New York (Main Picture) and Big Trouble in Little China — both of
which had July release dates (1981 and 1986). Like all of Carpenter’s work,
what really makes these films stand out from the crowd is that, behind the
seemingly lightweight facade, they have a social message, strong female
characters and black actors who don’t die in the first reel. Oh, and they’re
darn good fun.

Borrowing from the likes of Hong Kong movies,
such as Mr Vampire and Close Encounters Of The Spooky Kind,
Big Trouble is arguably up there with The Thing as one of Carpenter’s very
best. While Escape From New York has the distinction of being the only film
that Carpenter ever directed a sequel to. There was even talk, back then the
‘80s, of a third movie, tentatively titled Escape
From Earth
. That never materialised, but a reboot has been discussed since
early naughties with both Gerard Butler
and Jeremy Renner both linked to the
role of Snake Pliskin. Watch this
space for updates.

The
‘90s

July was certainly a month for cult movie
releases. Tron (1982), Back To The
Future (1985) The Black Cauldron (1985), Lost Boys (1987) and Wolfen (1981)

all made their US debuts during this month. Yet, while many of these movies
have started to look a bit dated to us 21st Century sophisticates, there’s one
July release which just seems to get better and better with every viewing – RoboCop. Released in 1987, Paul Verhoeven’s dystopian cop drama
has since spawned two sequels, a television series, two animated TV series, and
a television mini-series. And there’s life in the old franchise still. A remake
is in the pipelines with Joel Kinnaman
playing the role of RoboCop/Murphy. Whether the Swedish-American actor will do
as good a job as Peter Weller,
though, remains to be seen.

July also saw the release some of the most
talked about blockbusters of the 1990s. There was the Kevin Costner, mega-budget flick, Waterworld (28th July 1995), Arnie came back bigger and better than
ever in T2 (3rd July 1996), while
the Americans saved the world (again) in Independence
Day
(3rd July 1996). However the biggest July hit of the era was another Will Smith vehicle, Men In Black (1997). Based on the
comics by Lowell Cunningham, MIB was
a phenomenal success, although fans had to wait 15 years to finally see MIB 3. Of course, not all July releases did that well at the box
office. Though, perhaps now is the time to revisit some of them. Take, for
example, the excellent horror comedy, The
Frighteners
whose creative team included Peter Jackson (yes, that one), three-time Oscar winner Francis Walsh, with Danny Elfman along to provide suitably
atmospheric music. Or how about Small
Soldiers
— a wonderful movie which pitted the Commando Elite (voiced by
actors from The Dirty Dozen) against
the peace-loving Gorgonites (voiced by Spinal
Tap
). In fact, with this many classics to rewatch, who needs silly sport
anyway?

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com

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