When the wealthy Holt family discover a plot of land is rich with minerals they set about taking it from Elvira Backus (Beah Richards), a former maid who not only has a letter from the deceased family patriarch giving her the land but also holds a secret as she claims her children were fathered by the same patriarch. With the prejudiced family willing to stoop to anything to get Elvira out of the way southern attorney Willie Croft (Scott Glenn - Silverado) comes to her defence with a couple of surprising allies in the aging Holt matriarch Hannah Loftin (Bette Davis - All About Eve) and her niece Whitney (Jamie Lee Curtis - Trading Places).
As "As Summers Die" starts we are presented with sun kissed black and white stills of the south during a bygone era and hear the wonderful harmonica playing of Toots Thielemans. It is probably one of the most beautiful yet simple openings to a movie I have come across which in truth is quite fitting for what is a slowly paced Southern courtroom drama. Unfortunately whilst "As Summers Die" is enjoyable with a surprising cast for a TV movie it is slow going and has a meandering nature which often causes it to feel like it is going nowhere.
Now "As Summers Die" is a simple proposition, laid back good guy attorney who doesn't do Southern prejudice defends a former maid of the locally wealthy family who is full of racial prejudice and will stoop to any level to get what they want. It's a familiar sort of tale almost having a feel of a 1950s movie but brought up to date or at least up to date when it was made in the mid 80s. You sort of can guess how things will play out as Willie is not intimidated by the wealthy Holt family or their lawyer and calmly sets about doing his job despite seeming a case he can't win.
But despite if you like being predictable it works because it creates the right tone. There is almost something humorous about the laid back southern style of Willie who is clearly in over his head but is wily enough to stand his ground. And there is something sweet if soap opera like about the romance which blossoms between Willie and Whitney. But don't thing for a minute that "As Summers Die" is sentimentally false as it has a certain amount of authenticity none more so in the Holt's use of the N word to refer to Elvira.
What though is the most impressive thing about "As Summers Die" is whilst the look is great it is the calibre of the cast. Scott Glenn, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bruce McGill and John Randolph are all big screen actors and they bring that quality to this TV movie, creating characters rather than just going through the motions. Plus there is the no small matter that this little old TV movie also features the great Bette Davis in one of her last movies and still showing how it is done in front of the camera.
What this all boils down to is that "As Summers Die" is a movie with a great cast and a great tone which makes it appealing. But not only is it all a bit familiar but it suffers from being meandering.