Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Summer re-runs: a summer place in Rome

"A cannily crafted piece of work with mass audience appeal" - The Warner Bros. Story

A SUMMER PLACE: Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue star in this enduring favourite about desire and tumult at an elite Maine resort, from the best-seller by Sloan Wilson. In his first movie lead, Donahue is strong, handsome and unshakably devoted as lovestruck Johnny Hunter. 17 year old Dee is pixieish Molly, a woman/child struggling to cope with adult emotions. Set to a lush Max Steiner score that produced one of the most unforgettable movie themes ever, this box-office hit also stars adults (Dorothy McGuire, Richard Egan, Arthur Kennedy, Constance Ford) also romantically at odds. As Johnny, Molly and their parents discover, love will find a way. They've already found the locale: A Summer Place. 

Any iconography from that great year 1959 has to include that shot (above) of Troy and Sandra from A SUMMER PLACE,  one of the year's popular hits up there with PILLOW TALK, IMITATION OF LIFE and THE BEST OF EVERYTHING - as well as the year's big hitters like BEN HUR, SOME LIKE IT HOT, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, RIO BRAVO and those adult dramas like ANATOMY OF A MURDER, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, ON THE BEACH, THE NUN'S STORY or ROOM AT THE TOP.  Sloane Wilson was one of those chroniclers of American middle-class mores (as in THE MAN IN THE GREY FLANNEL SUIT) and I remember his "A Summer Place" being a best-seller. I don't recall the film though turning up at my local cinema - adultery, divorce, pre-marital sex and teen pregnancy were hot potatoes and strictly off-limits in the Ireland of 50 years ago... . the teen fan mags like "Movieland and TV Time" had plenty of colour pin-ups and stories on Troy, Sandra, Connie and the rest....

Seeing it now its a well-crafted movie with the glorious scenery of Maine (or is it California?) and that great Max Steiner score (which also inspired the pop hit by Ferrante & Teicher). Richard Egan is the wealthy, mature ex-lifeguard returning to Pine Cove on vacation, with his controlling, repressed wife Constance Ford (why though does he put up with her so far?, they already sleep in separate rooms) and their daughter Molly (Dee, in that busy year for her). He really wants to see old flame Dorothy McGuire who has married alcoholic hotel owner Arthur Kennedy (first seen with a glass in his hand), their son Johnny (Troy) and Molly are soon sneaking off for romantic walks and kisses in the moonlight, and the two adults resume their affair too.
Busybody Bealah Bondi watches and is in her element. Constance consults her mother to see how she should procced to maximise her divorce. Troy looks a treat in those short shorts and cardigan, but his acting seems rather limited ... (he was ok though in those small parts in IMITATION OF LIFE and THE CROWDED SKY - Troy label). 
Constance & plastic christmas tree
Storm clouds gather as the teens are stranded on a beach all night and Molly's mother insists a doctor examine her to make sure nothing happened ... there are some good hysterical scenes here. The plot moves on, the adults divorce, Egan and McGuire marry and move to a Frank Lloyd Wright house (above), the teens are at their separate colleges but visit and it all gets rather heated again .... until the prolonged (at over 2 hours) climax. Ford is in her element here as the mother from hell. I couldn't help recalling that she and Kennedy were the mismatched parents of CLAUDELLE INGLISH, that other delicious piece of Warner trash from the early 60s, which starred Diane McBain, who pops up next with Troy in PARRISH, below... Dorothy McGuire seems an under-rated lady now, but was terrific with Cooper in FRIENDLY PERSUASION (1956), SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON and others like THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS (1960).

Director Delmar Daves made his name with some great westerns like DRUM BEAT (my father took me to that in 1954, one of the first westerns I saw as a kid), and the original 3.10 TO YUMA, COWBOY and that good Gary Cooper one I liked THE HANGING TREE in '59,  and he scripted WHITE FEATHER - he then turned to these lush Warner melodramas showcasing their new star Troy Donahue; the hit of A SUMMER PLACE was followed with PARRISH and SUSAN SLADE both '61 and ROME ADVENTURE in '62. He also did another Italian one THE BATTLE OF THE VILLA FIORITA in '65 which has been long unseen, and also that 1964 one I saw and reviewed a while ago: YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE (trash label) as well as SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN in '63 which became THE WALTONS

PARRISH is another delicious romantic saga now and was a hit too, as Parrish (Troy) and his mother (Claudette Colbert) move to tobacco country in Connecticut. The adults are great here: warring Karl Malden (also terrific in Daves' HANGING TREE) and Dean Jagger, as Parrish romances Connie Stevens, stunning Diane McBain and Sharon Hugueny. Troy looks the business and the girls, particularly McBain, are all equally showcased. Max Steiner scores again and its a lush treat for anytime. (This was as weirdly enjoyable as Elvis over at Fox romancing Hope Lange, Tuesday Weld and Millie Perkins in Jerry Wald's WILD IN THE COUNTRY. Sheer hokum.) 

SUSAN SLADE is certainly a kitsch classic now too ...but a more hysterical sudser, no wonder it has not been seen for a long time. Connie Stevens again is Susan, who has a baby out of wedlock and her mother (Dorothy McGuire again) pretends to be the infant's mother, which causes no end of melodramatics as Susan is wooed by horse-trainer Troy (love the red windbreaker jacket), while Lloyd Nolan is sterling as Susie's father. Max scores the music again and its lushly shot by Lucien Ballard.

Dear Prudence
ROME ADVENTURE, 1962, was titled LOVERS MUST LEARN here, the title of the book our librarian heroine Prudence Bell (Suzanne Pleshette in her debut) resigns over at the start and sets off for Italy to find romance. Rosanno Brazzi is of course the older Italian man who has romantic designs on Prue and Troy is also resident at the nice villa. Rome looks curiously empty as our duo explore the sights on their scooter, and we also get a travelogue of Italy taking in the leaning tower of Pisa, the Lakes and other delights. Italy was popular with Americans then: Gable with Loren in IT STARTED IN NAPLES, Rock with Gina (and Sandra!) in COME SEPTEMBER, Vivien in Rome for her ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE,  Minnelli's TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA in Florence and Angie Dickinson as JESSICA (after Italy being discovered in the '50s by ROMAN HOLIDAY and THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN. among others as that LA DOLCE VITA era took off).
Angie also co-stars here as Troy's previous lover, who leaves at the start - but, guess what, she returns (and wears a fabulously slinky ensemble to reclaim her lover at that dinner she hosts)  .... we also get Constance Ford again as the bookshop owner where Prudence works - "The American Bookshop" small on the outside but the large interior is actually the library set from Warners THE MUSIC MAN, (right). There is also another lush Steiner score and a great song "Al Di La"- its all a delirious confection as "written for the screen" (rather tongue in cheek surely as each cliche is burnished) by and directed by Daves. Troy though was not in Daves next, as it was the turn of another Warner Bros contract blonde (James Franciscus) as YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE
Suzanne was nice too in that one, and of course in THE BIRDS, FATE IS THE HUNTER (Suzanne label) etc, and looked just the same in WILL AND GRACE as Karen's mother! - fun too seeing her in later roles like THE QUEEN OF MEAN! She and Troy were married for a year or so ... Troy though, like Tab Hunter and Fabian, did not stay a heart-throb for too long - by the mid '60s those new guys like Beatty and Redford were taking over .... but these kitch classics by Delmar Daves have stood the test of time and are now all re-issued as a boxset with another of Troy's I do not know: PALM SPRINGS WEEKEND from '63. Troy may have had his limitations as an actor - as seen by his Romeo scene at Juliet's balcony in Verona (this was among 19 minutes of travelogue cut from the English release version! - according to the "Films & Filming" review).  Troy and Suzanne (& McBain) also did a so-so western for Raoul Walsh, A DISTANT TRUMPET in 1964, looking incongrous out west.
[Troy Donahue 1936-2001, Sandra Dee 1942-2005, Suzanne Pleshette 1937-2008].


  1. Great post on my teen favourites - hard to believe they are all gone.

  2. Troy was not too bad but was hopelessly outclassed in Rome Adventure, when he is on screen with Angie Dickinson or Suzanne you look at them not him.

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