PCA Retro Review – Summer Fun Edition: Summer Holiday (1963)

All summer long PCA reviews pop culture’s greatest summer films…reminding you that the world’s best films are not in the “New Release” section at your local Blockbuster.

Summer Holiday (1963) – Before the Beatles, the Brits had their own rock n’ roll heartthrob with Cliff Richard, and every kid with a guitar throughout the British Commonwealth were trying to emulate The Shadows.  Thus, just like the American film industry used youth culture’s obsession with rock n’ roll to bring them into the movie houses and drive ins each summer with films staring heart throbs like Elvis Presley and Frankie Avalon, it wasn’t long until Cliff Richard was singing and dancing on the silver screen as well.  However, while Elvis and Frankie’s films were campy and of questionable quality, Cliff Richard found himself driving a double decker bus in a charming romp across Europe in the delightful musical Summer Holiday.

Cliff Richard and the gang travel across Europe in a double decker bus in search for music and romance in "Summer Holiday" (1963)

The plot is as simple as any of its American counterparts, but for some strange reason Summer Holiday stays timeless.  Cliff Richard plays Don, a London bus mechanic that makes a deal with his boss that if he and his three pals, Cyril (the wise guy), Steve (the dancer) and Edwin (the dense one) can fix up an old double decker bus into a mobile hotel and drive to Paris that they will get a whole fleet of buses at their command and can begin a tour company all their own.  However, just outside of Paris they encounter a girl singing group trying to get to Athens in a broken down car.  Talking the girls into getting in their bus, the boys tell them that they will gladly drive them all the way to Greece.  Meanwhile, in Paris the boys pick up a stowaway who claims to be orphan boy.  Yet, anybody with two eyes and a brain can tell it’s not really a boy at all, and is in fact a runaway American singing sensation named Barbara.  Quickly stripped of her guise, the boys bring Barbara on the road with them anyhow while her selfish stage mother and sleazy manager follow them throughout the European countryside setting up various traps and trials for the kids in an attempt to stop them and create publicity.  Along the way the kids travel through Switzerland, Germany, Yugoslavia and finally Greece, encountering adventures, colorful character, song and dance numbers and, of course, romance at every turn.

What makes "Summer Holiday" a refreshing road trip film is that the characters barely squabble amongst themselves, and instead plot is driven via vignettes in the countries they stop in along the way

What makes Summer Holiday so fun to watch is, plain and simply, the delightful cast of characters.  These kids are likeable and fun to watch as they travel from adventure to adventure  Singing sensation Cliff Richard, comedian Melvyn Hayes, dancer Teddy Green and veteran child actor Jeremy Bulloch(who, incidentally, would go on to play Boba Fett in the original Star Wars Trilogy) have a winning chemistry with one another.  Richards, Hayes and Green had appeared together two years earlier in Richards’ first feature film The Young Ones, and were naturally brought together again for their cross Europe adventure.  Meanwhile, the girls, including Una Stubbs, Pamela Hart, Jacqueline Daryl and Lauri Peters in the key role of Barbara, are all pretty and compliment the boys perfectly.  Maintaining their likeability, the eight characters continue to get along throughout the majority of the film, not creating conflicts with one another as a way to develop plot.  Instead they film is driven by the musical numbers as they go from country to country.  Only at the end does a wrench get thrust into Don and Barbara’s romance as  a way to lead to the dramatic conclusion…but by that point the road trip is over anyways.

At the time of "Summer Holiday's" release, Cliff Richard was Britain's answer to Elvis. A year later Beatlemania would change the face of European music, but Richard's impact on UK culture would remain to this day

Cliff Richard drips charisma in Summer Holiday.  Good natured and flowing with positivity and optimism, he makes the perfect star for this film.  While watching Summer Holiday one wishes he would have made more of these sorts of pictures in the early 1960s, but Richard only did a trio of films during his teen idol days.  The musical numbers, on the other hand, are fairly forgettable, for perhaps the exceptions of Summer Holiday and Bachelor Boy which became hits on both sides of the Atlantic.  Another two songs, Foot Tapper and The Next Time hit the top of the UK charts as well.  As a bonus treat for music fans, British guitar gods The Shadows, noted as one of the most influential guitar bands of the 1960’s, make an appearance on the Paris stop. 

Despite musical performances by Cliff Richard and The Shadows, argumably the biggest British rock performers in England in the early 1960's, the real star of "Summer Holiday" is the dance number choegraphed by Herbert Ross

However, even with Cliff Richards and The Shadows providing the music, the real show stopping moments of Summer Holiday is the incredible dance numbers choreographed by American chirographer Herbert Ross and featuring Teddy Green.  High energy and imaginative, the dance sequences is what separates Summer Holiday from the other rock n’ roll films of the era.  The dance numbers are simply out of this world.  BTW – Cliff Richards participates in the majority of the less acrobatical numbers with Green, and he could hold is own quite well.

Although not as successful in North America as the Elvis films, "Summer Holiday" is far superior. What can I say? The Brits just do everything a bit better.

At the time of its release Summer Holiday was a huge success in Europe, and a moderate success in North America.  The film has become a staple of British pop culture, although its influence on North American audiences faded greatly.  Today Summer Holiday is an interesting look at the way that the British media presented it’s musical icons and youth culture in an attempt to compete with American rock n’ roll in the years before the British Invasion.  A year after Summer Holiday’s release Beatlemania would take over the world and the British musical landscape would never be the same again.  As a result,  Summer Holiday becomes an interesting time capsule of a short era of British rock music when the British tried to emulate the Americans, instead of the other way around.

There is no getting around it.  Summer Holiday is a fluff film.  The characters have little to no depth and some of the cultural stereotypes are a little off (although Cliff Richard and the gangs adventures in communist occupied Yugoslavia, in which Richard accidentally gets engaged to a peasant girl, is pretty funny) Yet, while these would hurt other films, Summer Holiday remains to be far better then the best Elvis film.  Let’s face it.  The Brits just kind of do everything just a tad bit better.  Summer Holiday continues to be the perfect film for a laid back summer afternoon.

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