A Storm in Summer

"A Storm in Summer" barely registers any measurable dramatic precipitation, even by the subdued standards of a well-meaning telepic designed for young and old alike. This marks the 40th film directed by Robert Wise, but in its flat rendering and obvious sentiments, pic is hardly a worthy addition to one of Hollywood's most distinguished careers.

With:
Abel Shaddick - Peter Falk Herman Washington - Aaron Meeks Gloria Ross - Nastassja Kinski Stanley Banner - Andrew McCarthy Grandmother - Ruby Dee

“A Storm in Summer” barely registers any measurable dramatic precipitation, even by the subdued standards of a well-meaning telepic designed for young and old alike. This marks the 40th film directed by Robert Wise, but in its flat rendering and obvious sentiments, pic is hardly a worthy addition to one of Hollywood’s most distinguished careers. Cable project, shown in video projection at Palm Springs fest, will receive due attention when aired on Showtime.

Rod Serling fans may note that this is a remake of his 1970 TV drama, one of Serling’s forays into humanistic storytelling, such as “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” which tended to bring out the worst instincts in the creator of “The Twilight Zone.” Though never shy about issuing messages, Serling delivered them with oblique surprise in his trend-setting sci-fi series, while “A Storm in Summer” demonstrates author’s tendency to lecture with the most elementary and shopworn narrative devices.

Recalling both Scrooge and “The Pawnbroker,” grumpy deli owner Abel “Abe” Shaddick (Peter Falk) seems to have it in for nearly everybody in the upstate New York town of Fairview in 1969, especially his lazy, would-be playboy nephew, Stanley (Andrew McCarthy), whom Abe barely tolerates as a roomie in quarters behind the deli. Without informing Abe, Stanley agrees to house a needy city kid for the summer as part of a charity program steered by country-clubbing Gloria (Nastassja Kinski, in a weak perf with an uneven American accent). Despite Gloria’s pleadings, Abe flatly rejects any unexpected guests — but the boy in question, little Herman Washington (Aaron Meeks) from Harlem, is already on his way upstate.

Strained, uninspired setup creates serious impediments to viewer involvement, especially because it’s more than obvious that this is all leading to a communion between opposites in crusty old Jewish Abe and chip-on-the-shoulder black kid Herman.Pair eventually bond through fishing and their respective war heroes — for Abe, son Benjy, killed in WWII (whose photo the old man constantly talks to); for Herman, bro Bill, now fighting in Vietnam. Weak bits of comedy (Falk falling into lake while fishing) are followed by ineffective confrontations (biker thugs taunting the pair; a snobby country club woman receiving Abe’s and Gloria’s just insults).

Casting of Ruby Dee as Herman’s doting grandmother is perfect, but playing and pacing of her parting scene with Herman typifies pic’s sluggishness and woodenness. Wise captures a few heartfelt shots of Herman all alone, either at the bus station or on a small-town street full of white people, but the moments of visual inspiration here are, sadly, rare.Ultra-talky script, suggesting that this may have been intended by Serling as a play at some point, provides loads of screen time for Falk, who uncharacteristically falters with a mushy-sounding East Coast Jewish accent (although script is devoid of the kind of Yiddishisms that this deli owner would ordinarily spin). Down the road, pic may be best remembered as the debut of 13-year-old Meeks, who enjoys a fine rapport with the camera and puts across the varying moods of a troubled boy.

Tech credits are standard, with pic generally marred by Cynthia Millar’s elevator-musiclike score. Three-minute scene between Falk and Meeks discussing equality was missing from fest screening.

A Storm in Summer

Production: A Showtime Original Pictures for All Ages presentation in association with Hallmark Prods. of a Renee Valente production. Produced by Valente. Executive producers, Valente, Robert Halmi Jr. Directed by Robert Wise. Screenplay, Rod Serling.

Crew: Camera (color), Bert Dunk; editor, Jack Hofstra; music, Cynthia Millar; production designer, Andrew Deskin; art director, Kate Hatton; set decorator, Shannon Murphy; costume designer, Cynthia Summers; sound (Dolby Digital), Tim Richardson; assistant director, Pete Whyte; casting, Sid Kozak, Penny Ellars. Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival, Jan. 18, 1999. Running time: 94 MIN.

With: Abel Shaddick - Peter Falk Herman Washington - Aaron Meeks Gloria Ross - Nastassja Kinski Stanley Banner - Andrew McCarthy Grandmother - Ruby Dee

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