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STUDIO: Warner Bros.
RUNNING TIME: 130 Minutes
“You know that song, ‘Theme From A Summer Place?’ There‘s a movie that goes along with it!”
Troy Donahue, Sandra Dee, Richard Egan, Dorothy McGwire, Arthur Kennedy, Constance Ford
A well-to-do chemist takes his family on vacation to the Maine resort where they first met. While there, old flames are rekindled, marriages fall apart and young love starts to bloom.
I realize this isn’t funny, or witty, but why do people use a telescope to see something really far away and, once they catch sight of something, pop up and try to see it with their naked eye, only to realize that they can’t, then pop back down to look at it through a telescope again?
Back in 1959, America was on the verge of some pretty big shit. Thanks to the work of people like Alfred Kinsey and D.H. Lawrence, a burgeoning sexual revolution was primed to explode into the mainstream consciousness of a society still coated with the veneer of ultra-conservatism and the traditional “family values“ that had defined the decade. But, that revolution had yet to start and, for the most part, the transition didn’t come easy (although I guess that‘s why there had to be a revolution in the first place, but I digress…). It’s that transition that plays around in the background of Delmer Daves’ A Summer Place (an adaptation of the Sloan Wilson novel of the same name).
When the film opens, we’re introduced to Bart (Kennedy) and Sylvia (McGwire) Hunter, owners and operators of an Island Resort in Maine (a resort, by the way, that used to be a very exclusive vacation spot for the wealthy and elite). Bart’s a stubborn alcoholic who resents his newfound middle-class life and his having to rent out his family’s once-swank resort as a means to earn money. Sylvia, on the other hand, is a good, down-to-Earth woman who tries to love her husband but is plainly frustrated with his pride and their financial situation. A frustration that is shared by their son, Johnny (Donahue) and comes to a bit of a head when Bart initially refuses a very lucrative reservation from an old employee of the resort who‘s become very wealthy…
“Yeah, wow, that is a nasty little cut. Those thorns can do some damage. Yeah, so, um, I know it only looks like a little scrape but those things can be infected really easily. See…um, my Dad’s a doctor and he says that thorns can produce this, uh, toxin, yeah – a toxin, that can spread through your bloodstream under the skin and the only way to tell if it’s infected you is to see, ummm…OH – see if like your veins are turning different colors and such. So, I’m thinking, ya know – for medical reasons and safety’s sake, that I should make sure everything else looks okay. Ya know, a little further…up…”
Meanwhile, on a fancy yacht out of Nassau, we’re introduced to Ken and Helen Jorgensen and their daughter, Molly. Helen (Ford) is a frigid, pent-up woman who clings desperately to the notions of “proper” female behavior and thinks a girl’s reputation should be valued and protected at all costs – even if that cost is the complete and forceful repression of her daughter’s budding sexuality. Ken (Egan), is her polar opposite as Molly’s progressive, highly understanding father. And then there’s young Molly (Sandra Dee, in a role that’s about a half-step back from her typical ingénue casting), a VERY pubescent 17-year-old who’s fascinated by and open to the things going on inside of her, but still undeniably innocent and very, very sweet (and how could she not be – she‘s Sandra Dee, after all).
Okay, take a minute to breathe. I realize that’s a LOT of shit but we do have a lot of characters and a lot of undercurrents and they all interact with one another throughout the running time, so it’s important to establish all of that here. Now, once the Jorgensens drop anchor on Pine Island the shit pretty much heads straight for the fan. Bart, feeling inadequate over his and Ken’s role-reversal, resorts to being an insufferable douche. Helen’s overbearing, repressive attitude has driven quite a wedge between her and her husband. We learn that Sylvia and Ken are former lovers who still have a helluva flame. And, of course, Molly and Johnny experience love at first sight, which adds fuel to every single other drama on display.
“As for yoooou Troy Dooooonahue/I knoooow what YOU wanna dooo…”
Now, there are two ways to look at this whole thing. On one hand, by today’s standards, it’s pretty straight-forward. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before a thousand times. But, and this is why I wrote the intro paragraph, this shit was almost obscene in 1959. I hadn’t seen a frame of this film before I watched this screener (but, like the rest of the galaxy, I knew the theme song), so when Dee starts confessing to her father about flashing the neighbor boy and having naughty dreams, it was enough to make me mutter “what the fuck?”.
We’re given rocky marriages, adultery, temptation, divorce, puberty, lust, hormones, teenage sex (AND PREGNANCY!!!) and talks of abortion and none of it is presented in a sleazy, Harlequin way. It’s real and honest and again, because it was made in 1959, it was goddamned revolutionary.
Look at mee I’m Saaandra Dee/looosing myyy virgiiinityyy…
The artwork is nice and simple and has a good sense of layout, but really represents a completely different film. It looks fun and innocent and is not at all indicative of what’s inside.
Feature-wise? A trailer. And that’s it. Kinda sucks because I would have LOVED to have seen a documentary or something on this. Missed opportunity.
OVERALL 8.0 out of 10