A Summer Place (1959)
Everyone remembers the immensely popular theme music to the movie A Summer Place, but almost no one remembers the actual movie itself. Maybe it’s because A Summer Place is a supremely dopey, unintentionally funny, would-be romance that featured two of the biggest teen idols of the 1950s: the aggravatingly perky Sandra Dee, and the talent-free bohunk Troy Donahue. Fortunately for bad movie fans, this one falls into ‘so bad it’s good’ territory.
A Summer Place takes place at an inn on a small resort island in Maine. The inn is manned by unhappily marrieds Arthur Kennedy, a drunk, and his long-suffering wife Dorothy McGuire, and their son, Donahue. Coming to stay at the inn are the former resort life guard turned millionaire Richard Egan, his wife, the hatefully prickly Constance Ford and their daughter, Dee. Ford spends much of her time obsessing about Dee’s blossoming womanhood by insisting Dee wear stiff, confining undergarments because, as Dee puts it, “I bounce when I walk.” When asking Egan if he agrees he merely chuckles and says “Only in a pleasant way.” Dee also likes to tell daddy about her "naughty" thoughts and dreams.
Naturally, Dee and Donahue become attracted to one another much to Ford’s consternation, and at the same time, Egan and McGuire start to rekindle their old teen romance by having brief midnight trysts at the boathouse. Everything on the island is just dripping with pent up carnality which causes Ford, who doesn’t even sleep in the same bed as Egan, to get all twitchy. She is so controlling that, after Donahue and Dee have to spend the night on a beach after their sailboat capsizes, she orders Dee to get “thoroughly examined” by a waiting doctor to make sure she’s still...um.... intact.
Eventually, Ford gets wind of Egan and McGuire’s dalliance and soon both couples are divorced, but no matter what they try to do, Donahue and Dee keep seeing one another. Now, one would expect some sort of visible passion between the two youths, but there just isn’t anything evident on screen. Sure, Donahue says he loves Dee, but his facial expressions never seem to change, but that’s okay, Dee overacts for both of them. Dee does wind up getting pregnant and you have to wonder how these kids figured out how to have sex, I mean, they barely hold hands or kiss above the chaste “I’m doing this because the script says so” sort, but whatever; I suppose it all happened by accident. They want to get married and decide to go back to the island and fix up the old inn after Kennedy is hauled away to a sanitarium. For a 1950s movie, it’s kind of odd to find out that the fornicators and adulterers live happily ever after, while the abstinence crowd is left alone and miserable.
So, yeah, A Summer Place, adapted from the Sloan Wilson novel, is a real sudser, meant to clutch the throats of many a 1950s housewife. Sure it’s bad, but it still provides a lot of entertainment value. The script is full of unintentional double and triple entendres, uncomfortable pieces of dialogue, and an awesome villainess in Constance Ford. The acting, with the exception of the wooden Troy Donahue, is perfectly calibrated to wring every bit of overwritten emotion out of the screenplay.
Take a trip to A Summer Place and you will most assuredly be entertained for at least a couple of hours. As for the famous music, you’ll be entirely sick of it by the time the end credits roll.