Summertree (1971): Anthony Newly’s Vietnam War Drama, Starring Michael Douglas

Summertree, an amteurish, low-budget feature directed by Anthony Newley, was scripted by Edward Hume and Stephen Yafa, based on Ron Cowen’s 1967 play of the same title.

Michael Douglas had been cast in the original Broadway play, but was fired and replaced by David Birney. His father, star-producer Kirk Douglas, then bought the play’s rights as a starring vehicle for his son.

In 1970, Jerry (Douglas) returns to th home of his parents Herb (Jack Warden) and Ruth (Barbara Bel Geddes) after dropping out of his sociology studies at the university, Going through identity crisis, he says he needs “to find himself.”

His parents are worried as they have paid for an expensive tuition. Besides, the Vietnam War is raging and Jerry has lost his draft deferral.  However, Jerry, confident in his self-taught guitar playing, plans to enter a Conservatorium of Music.

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

Jerry accidentally discovers an autographed photo of Vanetta declaring love to a man named Tony (Bill Vint). Tony is her husband–they have separated two years ago but are not divorced yet.

Later, when Tony returns home from Vietnam, he tells Jerry that Vanetta had promised to wait for him, forcing Jerry to leave.

When Marvis’s brother is killed in Vietnam, Marvis takes his anger out on Jerry, which ends their relationship.

Despite impressive audition at the Conservatorium, he is rejected due to lack of formal musical education.

When Herb brings Jerry his draft notice. Jerry buys an old Ford Fairlane, planning to go to Canada. After a family argument, his father urges Jerry to have his car inspected for safety at the local gas station.

On the day he is supposed to take his induction, Herb buys Jerry new tires. While Jerry looks at road maps, he overhears Herb attempting to bribe the gas station attendant to fix Jerry’s car so it can not run.  A tearful Jerry then drives his old heap into another junk car.

In the final scene, while Herb and Ruth retire to bed, a TV news program shows a dying Jerry in Vietnam, carried away by fellow soldiers.

Cast:

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