One of the biggest make-out ballads to ever come from the movies has to be Percy Faith’s rendition of the love theme from 1959’s A Summer Place. Smartasses who keep track of this sort of thing say no other single American recording probably caused more “Oops, my period’s late” panic. (Johnny Mathis aficionados might want to disagree.) Not just hormones were raging: sales at record shops soared; the theme played on every radio, including the neat little Japanese portables every kid seem to have; it blared on every bar, bowling alley, greasy spoon and malt shop jukebox. Private schools got into the act by warning parents of the loose morals in the movie. Still in Catholic grammar school when A Summer Place opened, some of us feared not getting into the Saturday matinee but the b.o. attendant just took the money. We found seats on the first floor, as the balcony was seeing plenty of action. We didn’t tell our folks or our confessors: this movie didn’t only deal with at-the-time socially ostracizing teen pregnancy—had a couple of those in our extended family—it also had the incestuous sleaze of Sandra Dee’s father and Troy Donahue’s mother shacking up together. La Dolce Vita had nothing on Pine Island. Hard to believe Sandra Dee became a drive-in icon; as the flip side of Annette, it may have had something to do with hoods digging bottled blondies who serviced until they got knocked up. (Their absence at graduation confirmed the rumors.) There was hardly anything really pretty about her: as trash aficionados Ed Margulies and Stephen Rebello point out in Bad Movies We Love, when the camera zoomed in on the baby fat face she personified “hissy-fit,” a plastic squawker. And that voice—it could shatter Tupperware! Watching her and the other Warner Bros. starlets Connie Stevens (in Parrish), Diane McBain (Parrish) and Suzanne Pleshette (in
Rome Adventure) wanting to spread their legs for Donahue’s “beachy, bland” handsomeness, you sense an insider joke. His limited run remains one of the movie world’s unexplained mysteries; a toothpick towering over his co-stars, yelling out dialogue in tantrummy spurts, he’s neither authentic hunk nor adequate actor. At max the cover boyishness tweaked teeny twats, stopping when familiarity bred contempt during Hawaiian Eye and Surfside Six. Quite possible that when first seeing the movie, many of us didn’t appreciate Constance Ford, who plays wife to adulterer-husband Richard Egan and mother to whiny Sandra. Margulies and Rebello write, under the book chapter “All This, and Troy Donahue Too,” that Ford is “dykey perfection” as a pre-Mommie Dearest with howlers like “Get the disinfectant and clean this bathroom and don’t forget the toilet seat!” and, with hag haughtiness, “You can’t let him think that your kisses come cheap!” Ordering up a pelvic exam before Dee gives it away, she’s next to peerless when she says, “We had words.” Fortunately she isn’t the only one to break the one-liner bad smell barriers: while nearly everyone gets a chance to blow farters, Arthur Kennedy, as Troy’s boozed-up daddy, cuts the cheesiest about Pine Island as “a perverted Garden of Eden where the pines and the salt air seem to act as an aphrodisiac.” A Summer Place is often referred to the first of the preggers trilogy that includes Parrish and Susan Slade, all directed by Delmer Daves.
Few Hollywood directors knew the territory of convoluted Eisenhower-era morality about and melodramatic subterfuge in unwedded pregnancy better than Daves. He was also made, by Hollywood’s mock of moral code, a huge hypocrite in not trying to prevent it. Implicitly addressed in A Summer Place, Parrish and Susan Slade is the frequency of unprotected sex. Hot-to-trotters like Troy are never spotted buying condoms (or even looking at a men’s room condom dispenser), basically the only commercial contraception available back then. Not due to any proverbial age of innocence but to continuing willful nescience and the fear of social condemnation, hinderances receiving more energy than realistic precautions. Just saying no seldom works when in heat. By the time of Susan Slade, with Connie Stevens storked again (the first time in Parrish), viewers’ sympathies started to reach their limit, albeit after Daves managed to pull a good joke: as prelude to Connie spreading for playboy Grant Williams on an ocean liner, we watch them passionately necking under the ever-potent spell of A Summer Place’s theme. Everything that followed didn’t make for the same comic refreshment—the family’s sainthood resolution for Connie’s pregnancy and the climax, reminding us that lies can be illuminated by cigarette lighters, smack of peculiarly American sanctimony, this time exceeding credulity. One surprise: Connie’s unnerving resemblance to ‘Tippi’ Hedren, who’d show up in The Birds two years later. Though shorter, with double wide hips, Connie has a voice which also cracks when strained, walks in heels similarly, and seems to require the same VistaVaseline on camera lenses. One more surprise: Susan Slade is the trilogy’s most wanting of villainesses, with Delmer unaccountably forgetting the golden rule that without bitches raging over empty Midol bottles, soapers suffer terminal bloat.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2005 RALPH BENNER
(Revised 2009) All Rights Reserved.