Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gidget goes erotic

Tonight's TCM selection is the overwrought, but unintentionally funny A Summer Place, at 10:00 PM ET.

Arthur Kennedy and Dorothy McGuire play the Hunters, a married couple from "old money" who are living an a fairly exclusive private island off the coast of Maine along with their son John (Troy Donahue). That "old money" is just about gone, as they've got a huge old house with a mountain of repair bills, but not much money to pay for them. They have the prospect of getting some money this summer, however, when the Jorgensons (Richard Egan and Constance Ford) write saying they wish to rent a couple of rooms in the old place for the summer. Twenty years earlier, Egan had been the island's lifeguard, and now he's made his first million and the missus thinks this is a good place to celebrate making that million.

It's not, for several reasons. The biggest of these is that when Mr. Jorgenson was working as a lifeguard, he had a passionate relationship with the now-Mrs. Hunter. This may lead you to think that he's actually the father of young Troy Donahue, but the rest of the plot of the movie implies this is not actually the case. The fact that the two now middle-aged people were in love 20 years earlier, and with her being trapped in a loveless marriage to a chronic drunk, you just know they're going to try to get back together again, which they promptly do.

They're not the only people who try to hook up, though. The Jorgensons have a daughter, Molly (Sandra Dee), and when the two blond teenagers meet, you know it's going to be not just love at first sight, but sexual passion at first sight. You just know that these two kids with all those hormones flowing through them want to do nothing more than oomph day and night, and twice on Sunday if only they could. Mrs. Jorgenson, however, is one of the screen's greatest prudes. She hates the idea that anybody would want to have sex, seemingly thinking that it should only be for procreation, and then apparently only in the missionary position. Heaven forbid anybody actually have an orgasm. The kids, of course, being young and having those raging hormones (but I repeat myself), can't possibly be expected to heed this advice, so they try to meet up whenever possible.

That's thwarted, however, when Mr. Jorgenson and Mrs. Hunter are found to be renewing their old passion from 20 years earlier. The two married couples are forced to divorce, and Johnny is sent off to college. Mrs. Jorgenson sends Molly away to a finishing school to try to keep Johnny from finding her, but that's futile. Still, it's tough for the two young lovers, since everybody knows what their parents did, and the fellow teens, cliquish things that they are, would rather make fun of them than have sympathy.

You'd think that their problems would be solved by the fact that they're both going to turn 18 soon, and old enough to make their own decisions, but the filmmakers can't be bothered by such things. Instead, they make things worse for the young'uns by having Mr. Jorgenson and the former Mrs. Hunter get married! How is it that they can consummate their passion, but not the poor teenagers? It goes on like this for about 130 minutes.

A Summer Place is one of those melodramatic movies that a magazine like Variety in its code language would probably call a "sudser": melodramatic and soapy. Fifty years on, it seems almost quaint and a bit funny in its datedness. At the time, though, it was a huge hit. Whether you take it seriously or just have a good laugh at its expense, A Summer Place is worth a watch. It's also been released to DVD.

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