Starring: Scott Peck, Ron O’Neal, Beah Richards and Bette Davis
Rated: Nonrated Drama
Set in Bienville, Georgia during 1959, As Summers Die is centered around land that has been gifted to an elderly, poor, African-American matriarch, Elvira Backus (Beah Richards). Mysteriously, she was bequeathed 450 acres of land on Christmas Day 1940 by local tycoon Jonathan Holt. He was the brother of Hannah Loftin (Bette Davis), for who Elvira worked as a cook.
The film opens with a scene featuring Elvira’s daughter, Priscilla (CCH Pounder), asking her employer, attorney Willie Croft (Scott Peck), for protection to keep their family land from being taken away. Croft, who is of humble beginnings, is an outcast among his peers with more prestigious backgrounds.
Upon questioning Elvira about the land and how it came into her possession, Willie believes that he may have a case that will lead to a much-needed boost in his personal wealth and professional reputation. The impetus for his belief is that procurement of Elvira’s land is being pursued by the Holt family, a wealthy White family in the community. They have been advised that the Backus land is worth millions in mineral rights.
The oldest son, Brevard Holt (Richard Venture), and the family’s attorney, Augustus Tompkins (John Randolph), have both offered deals of money as well as threats of lawsuits if Elvira does not give the Holt family what is “rightfully” their inheritance. Willie soon discovers that the Holts’ intend to not only take over the land of Elvira and of septuagenarian Hannah, citing that she is mentally incapacitated but even that of poor Blacks in Creole Town, a rural community.
Willie’s plans to get the Holt family to offer a very large settlement to Elvira are abruptly halted by Daniel (Ron O’Neal), Elvira’s son and an educator. He and Priscilla side with their mother in refusing to sell. Admiring the determination, loyalty and honor of Elvira, her kin and those of Creole Town, Willie’s jaded purposes begin to fade. Adding to his optimism that the Backus and others will retain their land for their own advancement is Whitsey (Jamie Lee Curtis), the independent, feisty niece and loving caregiver of Hannah.
Willie works diligently, trying to balance attaining justice with a new-found romance … viewers will want to see how this turns out for all involved!
As Summers Die was based upon the eponymous novel (1980) by bestselling and award-winning author Winston Groom. The writer is perhaps best known for his novel, Forrest Gump (1986), which also was released as a film in 1994. That film won many accolades and honors, including six Academy Awards.
Filmed in Valdosta, Georgia, the screenplay for Groom’s earlier novel was written by Jeff Andrus and was directed by Jean-Claude Tramont. A made-for-television film, As Summers Die was the final production released by HBO Premiere Films, which became a part of HBO Pictures. HBO (Home Box Office) released this film on VHS and it can often be found on streaming services.
While themes, actions and dialogue of bigotry, discrimination and racism can elicit feelings of negativity, these ring authentic, maybe even tame, in this film. This is especially true considering the era, the late 1950s, and setting, the rural American South.
As Summers Die was well received, even earning nominations from The National Cable Television Association for an “ACE” or Award for Cable Excellence. These include Bette Davis for “Actress in a Movie or Miniseries”; executive producer Frank Konigsberg, executive producer Larry Sanitsky, producer Robert W. Christiansen, producer Rick Rosenberg and HBO were nominated for “Movie or Miniseries”; and Michael Legrand and HBO for “Original Music”.
Beah Richards won an ACE Award for “Actress in a Movie or Miniseries”.