Summertime Killer (1972): Chris Mitchum Turns Up the Heat on Revenge

Hot town, Summertime Killer. 
Chris Mitchum’s gonna get dirty and gritty.
 Get down, with this review 
and find out if it was great or shitty. 
All around, people getting shot dead, 
and the action’s getting hot, hotter than a match head. 

Right, now that I have that Lovin’ Spoonful parody out of my system, I'll start this review in earnest. The sweltering heat of summer has definitely arrived here at The Lair, and unlike the main character of today’s film, I don’t have a houseboat to moor in the Mediterranean. If I did, I would probably also do more dirt biking than I do now. Until then, I’m going to be here bringing you films like today’s, Summertime Killer. It’s a story of revenge, kidnapping, and action all set against the backdrop of a Spanish heat wave.

Chris Mitchum gives up his seat for no one!
When Ray Castor (Chris Mitchum) was only a lad, he saw his father beaten, kicked, and drowned before his impressionable eyes. Some kids would turn into Batman and fight crime, but Ray has other ideas. After growing up with a mother who taught him to hate, he embarks on a campaign to take down the mob boss responsible for his father’s death. The first few kills go easy, but when one goes wrong, Ray changes his plan. Kidnapping the mob boss’ daughter Tania (Olivia Hussey), he plans to use her to draw her father out in the open. When feelings start to grow between captor and captive, Ray begins to feel the heat from all sides. Ex-cop John Kiley (Karl Malden) is on his tail, and if everything doesn’t go to plan, it may be the end of Ray’s summer once and for all.

He's so good he can ride along bushes. 
Summertime Killer unfolds much like a summer day. First, it’s lovely and mild, the action heats up a bit with a few killings on dirt bike, Karl Malden shows up to add a bit of class, and Chris Mitchum shows off how much he does, and doesn’t, look like his Dad. Then comes the mid-day. It feels like it goes on forever, like a day where the heat radiates off the road. Everything slows down. Olivia Hussey is introduced, but she has little to do save for be a captive, Mitchum wanders around shirtless, and Malden goes solo as he tracks down the killer. Then the day begins to end, the heat wanes, but that just means it’s time to party. There’s a bullfight, a great car chase, and a compelling ending which packs an emotional punch and feels satisfying. I’ve long held that how a movie begins and ends affects the viewing experience more than anything else, and Summertime Killer is a great example. While the middle portion is deadly slow at times, what I remember most is the great opening and the fantastic climax.

It is the East and Juliet is the sun.
Spanish director Antonio Isasi-Isamendi clearly had a grasp on action, but the pacing of Summertime Killer seemed all wrong. It begins as a revenge picture, and I would have been pleased if it stayed that way throughout. Instead, the kidnapping sequence is what brings the film down. I also had a large problem with where the events in the film took place. Was it Spain or San Francisco or maybe even New York? At times it was impossible to tell. Cinematographer Juan Gelpi captures the action well, and the saving grace of the middle portion is the creative work he does with the confined space of the houseboat. He also captures Olivia Hussey’s loveliness, but that doesn’t exactly seem like a terribly hard task. The other standout slice of Summertime Killer was the score composed by Luis Bacalov (Django, The Boss) and Sergio Bardotti (The Tenth Victim). The score perfectly fits the film, and some of it might even strike you as familiar. The theme from Summertime Killer was repurposed for Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 2 where it plays as The Bride enters Bill’s home.

The nose knows.
As I mentioned earlier, Chris Mitchum (The Last Hard Man, The Executioner Part II) is the son of screen legend Robert, and like his brother James, who was the very image of his father, Chris followed him into the business. At times, despite the mop of blonde hair atop his head, there is something in Mitchum’s eyes and posture that tip a hand to his paternal link. He also enhances Summertime Killer with the cold demeanor of a man bent on revenge. It’s the same kind of look you can see on Robert’s face in the classic Cape Fear. Now I’m not saying the performances are comparable, but Mitchum the younger does well as Summertime Killer’s focus and he carries most of the film. I also feel like he probably did a considerable amount of the stunts including most, if not all, of the trick riding. The other stars of the film Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet, Black Christmas) and Karl Malden (The Cincinnati Kid, The Cat O’ Nine Tails) do what they can with their limited roles, but both felt underused. Malden, as always, draws the eye to him when he performs, and I enjoyed his small scenes of clever detective work. Hussey, while lovely as ever, has a confusing character arc, and it even seemed like the actress was confused as to why her character experiences such a drastic, sudden sea change.

Revenge in rose colored glasses.
While even the Summertime Killer's original title, Un verano para matar, translates from Spanish as A Summer to Kill, there is very little reason to make a distinction that the action takes place over a summer. The only mention of it comes when Hussey’s character says that she only gets to see her felonious father during summers home from school, and hence, she was ripe for the kidnapping. While the time of year had little bearing over the film’s events, the actors are all drenched in sweat, and the Spanish heat can practically be felt radiating though the screen. As far as revenge movies or kidnapping films, there are better offerings to be had, but Summertime Killer scores on enough fronts to garner a sunny outlook and an average score. If you’re a fan of Chris Mitchum or Olivia Hussey, this is a must see, but other viewers may feel like the film’s middle leaves them high and dry.

Bugg Rating

I love, love the style of this trailer, check it out!

 This second video is a mashup of a number of clips from films set to the Theme from Summertime Killer used in Kill Bill 2 .


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