Thursday, 22 October 2020

Movie Review: Summer Of '42 (1971)

A coming-of-age drama and romance, Summer Of '42 is a wistful look back at friendship and first love.

In 1942, 15 year old Hermie (Gary Grimes) is vacationing with his family on Nantucket island. He spends the long and empty days on the beach with his best friend Oscy (Jerry Houser) and the slightly younger Bengie (Oliver Conant). The boys' hormones are in overdrive and they mostly obsess about feeling up girls and getting laid, fuelled by a big book about sex Bengie finds on his parents' bookshelf.

Hermie is immediately infatuated by Dorothy (Jennifer O'Neill), a beautiful married woman living at a secluded beach house. After her airman husband ships out to join the war, Hermie helps Dorothy with errands and develops a serious crush. Meanwhile Oscy and Hermie are also frolicing with two girls their age, the playful Miriam (Christopher Norris) and more cerebral Aggie (Katherine Allentuck). Before the summer is over, the boys' sexual yearnings will evolve into different realities, testing their friendship.

Written by Herman Raucher and based on his childhood experiences (also novelized after the movie was filmed), Summer Of '42 strikes chords of nostalgia for a generation that came of age in the shadow of a global war. The Michel Legrand soundtrack leans on the dreamy song The Summer Knows, and director Robert Mulligan does the rest with scenic beaches, rugged sand dunes, crashing waves, glorious sunsets, houses on stilts and the prototypical cute main street.

It's all a perfect setting for two teenagers to test their friendship and tip toe into adulthood. Oscy is more brash and solely interested in gaining knowledge and courage towards physical fulfillment. Hermie is more sensitive and instinctively aware of the role of emotions, and the boys' different attitudes cause a growing rift. 

Although he holds his own with just some awkwardness, Hermie is utterly beguiled during and after his encounters with Dorothy, her kindness and allure sending him into raptures where intimacy means much more than lust. She is lonely but stops short of leading him on, Raucher capturing a fine balance where Hermie's racing mind conjures a one-sided romance wild enough to fill a beach house otherwise resonating with innocence.

Despite slow pacing, Mulligan's sometimes ponderous staging, and wooden but mercifully limited narration (an uncredited Mulligan as the adult Hermie), the highlights are plenty. Hermie's first encounter with a hot cup of black coffee offered by Dorothy is a mini-suspense movie, while his attempt to purchase condoms at the town's one convenience story is an epic rite of passage. And when Hermie and Oscy go to the movies with Miriam and Aggie, the grappling and counter-grappling to get a feel for new body parts upstages Now, Voyager, playing on the screen.

Sentimental without being schmaltzy, The Summer Of '42 is when the heartaches of adulthood start to nudge childhood innocence into the past. 



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