A Summer Place

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A SUMMER PLACE—-“Molly is merely a succulent little wench“, at least according to drunken Arthur Kennedy, telling son Troy Donahue what he thinks of Troy’s girlfriend, Sandra Dee. When Troy answers “She’s not a wench. She’s everything I ever dreamed of in a girl“, Kennedy sees fit to offer “Oh, don’t make me laugh! They’re all alike in the dark!”

Sandra’s dad (Richard Egan) and Troy’s mom (Dorothy McGuire) are having an affair, after a twenty-year separation, and Egan’s wife (Constance Ford) tries to destroy every sign of love & life around her, including the happiness of her daughter.

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Well, your daughter didn’t waste any time. She’s let that boy kiss and maul her her very first night here.”

Loveless marriage, adultery, teen sex—all dealt with in reasonable frankness for a mainstream release of 1959, today seeming quaint and far, far away. Most of the mixing takes place on an island off the Maine coast, in a grand beach house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s not really Maine, but Pacific Grove and adjacent spots of California’s Monterey Peninsula. Wright’s construction is the ‘Clinton-Walker House’, built in 1948.  The seaside locations are beautiful in Technicolor, photographed by Harry Stradling.

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No decent girl lets a boy kiss and maul her the very first night they meet! I suppose it’s your Swedish blood in her. I’ve read about how the Swedes bathe together and… and have trial marriages and free love. I’ve read all about that. Anything goes.”

Popular period piece is fondly recalled and duly memorable for its lovely “Molly and John theme”, courtesy of Max Steiner. Some of the rest of his score is overdone, but that idyllic theme is a bona fide take-you-back classic, so familiar as to qualify as genuine Americana.*

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While Egan gets a applause-worthy speech about bigotry**, most of the enjoyable performing comes through Kennedy and Ford, who is allowed to make her frigid and spiteful character one you’ll enjoy hating. Glossy and dated, certainly, but worth looking at and listening to, even when it can’t be fully digested, given the shifted mores of a perpetually hung-up populace.

Taken from a novel by Sloane Wilson, it was directed, produced & written by Delmer Daves, features Beulah Bondi, Jack Richardson and Martin Eric and runs its nostalgic course in 130 minutes.  Along with legions of teenage girls, Daves (maybe pushed by Jack L. Warner) obviously saw something in 23-year old hunk Troy Donahue, and he successively starred him in Parrish, Susan Slade and Rome Adventure, worked in around the actors busy TV private-eye duties on Surfside 6 and Hawaiian Eye. Breezy, more innocent days.

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*In the film, Steiner had popular arranger Hugo Winterhalter play the theme, but the real glory went to Percy Faith, his cover stayed at Billboard’s  #1 spot for nine weeks.

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** Egan lays it out for the twisted Ford: “So, now you hate the Swedes. How many outlets for your hate do you have, Helen? We haven’t been able to find a new house because of your multiplicity of them. We can’t buy near a school because you hate kids. They make noise. And there can’t be any Jews or Catholics on the block, either. And, oh, yes, it can’t be anywhere near the Polish or Italian sections. And, of course, Negroes have to be avoided at all costs. Now, let’s see: No Jews, no Catholics, no Italians, no Poles, no children. No Negroes. Do I have the list right, so far? And now, you’ve added Swedes. And, oh, yes, you won’t use a Chinese laundry because you distrust Orientals. And you think the British are snobbish, the Russians fearful, the French immoral, the Germans brutal, and all Latin Americans lazy. What’s your plan? To cut humanity out? Are you anti-people and anti-life? Must you suffocate every natural instinct in our daughter, too? Must you label young love-making as cheap and wanton and indecent? Must you persist in making sex, itself, a filthy word? 

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 Filthy sex reared its forbidden snout that year in Some Like It Hot, Pillow Talk, Anatomy Of A Murder and Room At The Top. Further down the sin scale was Girls Town with the anti-Sandra Dee, Mamie Van Doren. Squirming at the bottom was the first commercial hit for Mr. Russ Meyer, The Immoral Mr. Teas.  Where was Eisenhower when all this frolicking was polluting the drive-ins?  You can bet Jack Kennedy was aware of the trend.

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