“Summer Of '42,”
"Nothing from that first day I saw her, and nothing that has happened to me since, has ever been as frightening and as confusing. For no person I've ever known has ever done more to make me feel more sure, more insecure, more important, and less significant."
When you have a movie that starts with those lines, you better deliver the goods. This better be about first love and how there's nothing like it nor is there anything else that compares to the heart-break when it's over. What's the first kiss like? The first touch? What about the first time being naked - emotionally and physically - in front of your first lover? Is it embarrassing or maybe a little awkward?
And with a title like "Summer Of '42," I would hope that this would at least some attempt at recapturing the feel or the flavor of the era. What was it like to fall in love during the first summer of America's involvement in World War II, what where the living conditions on this vacationer's island, how did these people who were "summering" from other parts of the North-East region cope with food rations and the threat of Nazi subs raiding the island? Take me there, immerse me in that culture for a while. Make me feel as if I've been there! Share with me what it was like to be a 14 year old sophomore in a world that is torn up-side down. What was it like having to go with out and squeeze the most out of life before tragic events touch his life and takes the lives of people around him?
After "Summer Of '42," you still won't know.
Herman Raucher - a serial Hollywood screenplay writer and director - hammers out the story of the first time he was with a woman and the moment's that lead up to it in a quasi-nostalgic, self congratulatory, and often vindictive mess of celluloid. We're asked to endure an hour and forty minutes of three teen-age boys and their misadventures while trying to behave more like men but are more like hairless apes with few civil virtues. This hour and three quarters turns into little more then adolescence trying to crack the secret formula or secret steps in getting to score with the first willing and available girl. There's himself, "Hermie," and his two friends "Oscy" [Jerry Houser - you hear his voice every day on the radio and TV in commercials and rose to fame - or infamy as Marsha Brady's husband Wally Logan,] and Oliver Conant as "Benjie" - reminding me too much of Charles Martin Smith' "Agent Oscar Wallace" from The Untouchables.
During the first half we're literally watching three teen-age actors in the early 1970s running around pretending it's 1942. It gets tiring alarmingly quick and obvious that's what they're doing. I don't need to see this since I spent most of the 1980's running around with friends of my own, pretending that it's the 1930's and 1940's. Been there, done that... my mother has the pictures to prove it. I've tried to get them from her but she's holding them for ransom or to use against me when my sons do something equally as 'unique.'
There's nothing about this that could be mistaken for a plot, there's character development with out a story. These kids do things, things happen to them, and everything just ends with no real meaning or lessons learned. We're watching them walk on the beach talking about being aroused by girls they allegedly dislike, claiming their friends (and more often are more like adversaries to each other) wouldn't know what to do if they were alone with a girl, to borrowing Benjie's mother's medical book on human sexuality and practically hammer out a date-rape procedure.
Then "Summer Of '42" changes gears as "Hermie" and "Oscy" pick up two girls outside the local cinder-brick movie-house and we're watching them watch "Now, Voyager" as "Oscy" fondles his date by trying to squeeze her breasts and snickers. I've seen chimps mauling women* who were more tactful.
The best parts of the motion picture happen to be the rare glimpses of the automobiles from the era this movie is supposed to be about. That almost make this a period film. One other part is the excruciating scene when "Hermie" tries to procure a box of condoms for "Oscy" and himself. [And if "Oscy" was such a stud, why wasn't he trying to get them himself?] Lou Frizzell as the Druggist asks Hermie to just come out and ask what he wants, since the condoms are kept behind the counter... (You won't look at Strawberry Ice Cream the same way again.) Seriously, if you watched that - it would be enough. Just end my suffering now.
When they do actually "score," its a game of one-up-manship between "Hermie" and "Oscy" with little regard for the girls they "scored" with.
Through out the movie, we watch Hermie become captivated and eventually obsessed with Dorothy played by Jenifer O'Neil who seems to be acting in a better movie in between the scenes in this one. Dorothy and her husband are newly weds who live and frolic together in their home by the beach over-looking the ocean for the first couple of minutes in the film. Then he's off to war and in his absence is Hermie trying to do small things around the house starting with groceries. We watch Hermie's obsession grow and his life consumed with thoughts of her and schemes to get closer to her.
... And one afternoon he promises to drop in and visit her, and she allows this. This sets into motion a chain of events in the last 15 minutes of the movie that will leave you both awed and confused. When he shows up that might wearing what people in the early 1970s must have thought a leisure suit from the 1940's should have looked like, he finds the house illuminated by a few candles and sparse lights. He walks in and takes a look around and his attention is brought to a telegram that informed Dorothy that her husband had been killed in action.
She's comes into the room crying. The two hold each other in her kitchen as he begins to cry.... And then they kiss. Then she takes him by the hand into the bedroom. She pulls down the covers and he lays there as she slowly undressed. And she crawls into bed with him, and the camera turns away then focus's on the window that's open with the night breeze makes the lacy curtains dance, signifying acts of intimacy.
The camera fades into another position, and the two are in an intimate embrace... and then the camera turns away and focuses on something else, perhaps the pitcher on the dresser. All the while the music builds to a crescendo... it's a very "PG" way of indicating to the audience that they're "doing it." And doing it more then once. Then after the love-making, she gets dressed and is enjoying the night air and while listening to the waves ebb and flow. She simply says good-night. The movie closes with director Robert Mulligan speaking as Herman Raucher who wrote this story about his own life, talks about the death of "Hermie" as an indictment, a verdict of guilt handed out to the woman he made love to, guilty for giving him what he obsessed about... which make these passages from "IMDB" even more disturbing...
Though author Herman Raucher admits to moving the order of certain events around and interchanging some dialogue, the movie is (according to those involved) an accurate depiction of events in Raucher's life in the summer of 1942 on Nantucket Island; he didn't even change anyone's name. He began writing the screenplay as a tribute to his friend Oscy, who'd been killed in the Korean War, but midway through writing it Raucher realized that he wanted to make it a story about Dorothy, who he had in fact neither seen nor heard from since their last night together as depicted in the movie. Raucher admits that in all the time he knew her, he never bothered to ask her what her last name was.
During an interview on "The Mike Douglas Show" (1961), Herman Raucher said that after the novel and movie were released, several women wrote letters to him claiming to be Dorothy. One of the letters was indeed from the real Dorothy, who wanted to know if she had psychologically damaged Raucher, and also informed him that [she] had been happily remarried and was now a grandmother. It was the last time that Raucher, by that time married with children, heard from Dorothy.
... There's a sense of anger and remorse coming from Mr. Rauncer. To me, he's self-indulgent tattle-tale taking revenge by lashing out at a grieving World War II widow that gave him what he wanted more then anything else. If you need evidence that some writers in Follywood are self-absorbed and destructive narcissists, "Summer Of '42" is all you need. Rather then a studio giving him the budget to make this, perhaps a few sessions of therapy would be appropriate.
Now, I'm supposed to love this movie. Superficially there's no reason why I shouldn't. It has a 14 year old kid walking along the beach in the middle of the summer wearing shorts, a pair of worn out generic brand sneakers and a leather jacket while contemplating weighty issues such as love, desire and the meaning of life. All this kid needed was a dog-eared copy of Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald or Asimov and fedora and this mouth-breather "Hermie" would have been me. And maybe that's just one of the reasons why this movie is so annoying, there were aspects of this movie that struck too close to home and reminded me too much of myself.
It's a beautifully filmed catastrophe that wants to be so much more, but it's duality between personal nostalgia and striving to be cutting edge 1970's sentimental schlock make it trip and stumble. I can't even make a joke about how dreadful this motion picture is or how there are some aspects that are just unbelievable. I have a hard time being able to distinguish what parts are more outrageous - the part about how I'm supposed to believe that a beautiful woman and the object of a 14 year old boy's desire gains her composure and seduces him just hours after getting the telegram about her husband's death? It's ok for a 15 year old boy to sleep with a 20-something year old widow? Well, then how about a man in his 20's or 30's having sex with a 15 year old girl the night his wife dies? Is that OK too? What are the words I'm looking for? Statutory Rape? Pedophilia? Maybe Rauncer has a right to be angry and vindictive if what he said really happened. The notion that this movie is celebrated and heralded as "poignant" and not depraved is just another indication of how backwards we are by not letting kids be kids and adults keep from sexualizing them.
Or that this movie was a cultural phenomenon, some of our parent's "Dirty Dancing" of the early 1970's?
The fact that his was directed by Robert Mulligan - the same guy who helmed the cinematic "To Kill A Mocking Bird" with Gregory Peck!
This motion picture is a mystery to me, I'm at a loss as to understand why this has been so highly rated by other reviewers - from critics to customers. Just as this movie is Mr. Rauncer attempt at an indictment against the war-bride widow that had sex with him (just as I flew around the moon with Elvis in the flying saucer he and Big Foot borrowed from the Roswell Museum) this movie is an indictment of the attitudes and double standards of society of that time when the movie was made.
There are only two aspects that save this motion picture and make it relevant to Fedora Chronicles readers...
The music from the soundtrack is an inspired, haunting melodious testament to that era, music to a true love story or coming of age film set in that place in time. The soundtrack to "Summer Of '42" was written for a better movie. I would have loved to see the movie that is worthy of these melodies. My wife and I kept asking ourselves where did we hear this music before. While every song in this film is a variation of "The Summer Knows," it leaves you wanting more and I never got tired of listening to it. If you're into musical tributes to that era, or attempts at recreating that tonality flavor, it's worth the 99 cent down-load..
This isn't a movie that's trying to accurately depict the summer of 1942 on Nantucket - hence the sparse period clothes and no fedoras (no man or woman would have left the house with out something on their head, no matter where they were or what season.) This is a movie is what people in the 1970's thought about growing up in 1942, what they WISHED the summer of 1942 was. It's a moving document of what some people suffering from Aquarius Hangover thought or believed the World War II era was or could have been. Boiling it down even further, it's one man's fantasy or idealized version of his own adolescence.
I couldn't recommend this film to anyone; Retrocentric, Vintage Aficionado, Classic movie fan. Some people like us who are fascinated with the thoughts and reactions towards that global conflict and it's social impact should only look at this with a passing unfocused glance. To stare at it too long might eat your soul or burn out your retinas.
Two out of Five
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