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Mainstream - A Summer Place

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A Summer Place
Troy Donahue, Sandra Dee, Richard Egan
Dorothy McGuire, Arthur Kennedy, Constance Ford
Directed by Delmer Dawes
Originally released 1959
Warner Home Video 2007
130 minutes

A Summer Place, the first Warner Brothers movie by Troy Donahue and a first for beach bunny Sandra Dee aka Gidget, is basically Romeo and Juliet go to Maine -not Stephen King's Maine though. This romantic drama is and will probably best known for its theme music by Max Steiner, a tune we have all heard in many other movies in the high school gym slow dance number with the big mirror ball scene. A Summer Place in an interesting movie for fans of the period and it sure looks good on DVD.

Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan), a rich scientist, returns with his wife and daughter to Pine Island where he was once the lifeguard. He is also returning to his first love, Sylvia Hunter (Dorothy McGuire) who is now married to the broke owner of the run down Pine Island Inn. Helen Jorgenson (Constance Ford) is a bigoted, frigid shrew and Bart Hunter (Arthur Kennedy) is your basic old money but do not have any anymore drunk. The obviously mismatched Ken and Sylvia rekindle their romance while their children, played by Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee, have a hot romance of their own.

A Summer Place must have been quite risqué when it was released. Molly Jorgenson's (Sandra Dee) first appearance in the movie is when she tells her father the story of how she undressed in front of her window with the blind up and knowing the boy next door was watching and then asks him if that was wrong. Molly Jorgenson is sexually precocious and has no problem having some rather adult conversations with both her father and boyfriend. Add to this the fact Mrs. Montague and Mr. Capulet end up divorcing their spouses and marrying each other so Romeo and Juliet are in love behind their stepparents' backs.

There are comic moments in this romantic drama. For example one of the old ladies at the Inn asks Jorgenson, thinking of him as the lifeguard of old, to fix her leak:

"Just where are you leaking, madam?" "Through the roof, directly into my convenience." Another, earlier scene, is a running gag involving Jorgenson tossing things out his cabin window; first a captain's hat then a bra and heavy girdle.

There is something about the Technicolor process that gives this romantic drama's exterior scenes a lush quality and colors you do not see anymore even on DVD. Still, A Summer Place, though a very good movie, has not aged that well. A contemporary audience will sometimes feel it is dragging its heels and find the Constance Ford character flat. Most of all, the charm of the illicit romance of both couples conquering all depends on understanding the values they were going against at the time.

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