Some More Lovin’ with a Blast from the Past…
A man returns to Pine Island to stay with an old flame and her family. They rekindle their relationship as their children fall in love.
A Summer Place (1959) Official Trailer – Sandra Dee, Richard Egan Movie HD, Movieclips Classic Trailers and photos © Warner Bros Pictures
Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue were immortalised in film and that Look at me I’m Sandra Dee song in Grease (1978). Both star in A Summer Place (1959), as two teenagers in love. The young pair meet one fateful summer as her family visit his clan. The young lovers burgeoning romantic relationship is already complicated.
Twenty years ago, a love triangle involved both their fathers and his mother. Past and present events are told in the fantastically melodramatic, soapy dialogue rather than flashbacked Mamma Mia (2008) style.
An enchanting but dramatic opening tune opens the movie, with the sea crashing against the rocks, timed to eerie precision with the more dramatic notes. The Hunter family living on a private island – populated solely by the ancestors of the island’s founders – off the coast of Maine.
The Hunters now running the shambling, crumbling family home as an inn to make ends meet. Teenager Johnny Hunter (Teen hunk of back in the day, Troy Donahue) brings his father, Bart (Arthur Kennedy) the morning mail. Bart – a handsome well-groomed man with a cravat – is nursing a drink, is an alcoholic. The mail brings him a letter from a one-time employee, Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan).
Ken worked with the Hunter family as a lifeguard, 20 years ago. Ken was poor back then, is now a self-made millionaire. Ken has written to Bart and his wife, Sylvia (Dorothy McGuire) asking for lodging for him and his family during the summer.
However, it is clear there’s more underlying this scene, with Sylvia stopping in her tracks at the mention of Ken’s name… as the music ends just as dramatically. However, she encourages the visit, as the Hunter family are in financial trouble.
Meanwhile, on his yacht, Ken Jorgenson is enjoying the view of the island with his adolescent, daughter Molly (Sandra Dee). The Jorgensons are hoping to move there. Molly is old enough to be aware of her sexuality and this is evident in their almost creepy conversation.
After spotting Johnny looking at her through binoculars, Molly tells her dad of her feelings after she noticed a neighbour was spying on her undressing. Her father talks of his (lack of) sex life with her mother. It is clear the pair have a close and confiding relationship (but surely there could have been another way of saying this).
Her mother, Helen (Constance Ford) – a prudish and uptight woman – joins them. Clearly, she wants to make a strong impression. She insists the family dress up before reaching the island. Helen has provided her daughter with childlike clothes to wear, which Molly complains defeminise her figure. These including a sailor top, an “armour plated bra” and a girdle.
This prudish behaviour infuriating her daughter, leading to another unsettling conversation. Molly asks Ken, “she says I bounce when I walk. Do I bounce?”. So Ken throws the offending bra in the sea after telling her that her bounce isn’t that “offensive”. Helen comes to blows with her liberated husband about her sexual attitudes. It’s clear from these scenes that Molly’s a daddy’s girl and both are not close to Helen.
On arrival, Mrs Amble – an elderly guest of the Hunters – recognises Ken from 20 years ago (she must have a fabulous memory). Asking if he married the “young thing” he was keen on, with this girl strongly suggested as Sylvia. He tells her that she chose money not love. He tells how he hopes to move back to the island (reminding me of Jay Gatsby, so I assume green light is optional).
The Jorgensons are given the Hunter’s family suite in their home, rather than the guest house. Bart also wanting to impress Ken and his family. The Jorgenson parents sleep in separate rooms. However, it’s obvious there’s some unfinished romantic business between Sylvia and Ken. The pair wistfully gazing at each other from their windows.
The families meet for dinner. Helen appears uptight and brusque and her husband is more charming, easy-going and chilled. Bart’s drunk and making sexually loaded comments which appear to make Helen more uncomfortable. (This is perhaps his intention, but either way, Kennedy appears to be relishing the script here).
Sylvia reconnects with Ken, both are oblivious to their spouses. Sylvia seems more wistful of the past, talking of her one time hopes and dreams when she moved to the island after she married. Her son Johnny talks to Molly about the romantic treasures found on the island. There’s an obvious attraction for both pairs.
Johnny asks her parents if he can show Molly the island. This trip leading to some hand holding (more or less immediately). They share at least one kiss, with one witnessed by her mother. Helen is livid with her daughter for her apparent lack of morals in kissing this boy so quickly, calling her a “harlot” for letting him “maul her”.
This mother-daughter confrontation leading to another fight between Helen and Ken. This fight only stopping after two doors are slammed. Molly promises not to date Johnny in exchange for a nice holiday for her dad. Then there’s some wistful looking out the window for Molly and Johnny.
Later in their holiday, Ken goes to the attic with Sylvia, after he offers to fix a leaky roof. Here they rediscover their love for each other and that their feelings for each other never stopped. Leading to a passionate snog. They agree to meet at the boathouse, that night.
But this plan for a rendezvous is overheard by the ever sharp Mrs Amble (Beulah Bondi) in her room, who – after explaining she heard all through a vent – confronts Slyvia. Ken and Sylvia continue their affair. Until it’s revealed, with both delightful and devastating consequences for both families…
I did love this soapy drama and deliciously written script. The dialogue reminded me of those Prime Time soaps crossed with those more wistful romances from the eighties. The first scenes on the island hinted heavily that both Sylvia and Ken would resume their love affair and their children start a relationship.
McGuire and Egan’s characters appeared to be more well suited to each other, but their spouses are seen in a bad light. Ken and Sylvia were both warm, romantic and with strong relationships with their children. These attributes they saw in their children as they too embarked on a relationship.
I did admittedly find Ken irritating and annoying, not just for those early conversations with his daughter. On the boat, he tells Molly he was returning to the island to see if “memory exaggerates things”. Presumably, this implying he wanted to see if Sylvia was still in love with him.
Big-headed, presumptive he may be but luckily for him she was, with the pair resuming their love affair pretty quickly. It was only after this flame rekindled, the pair talk about their fears of losing their children if they left their partners. Er whoops, no turning back now…
Ken was quite open about his unresolved feelings talks to Sylvia. Sylvia’s thoughts on this matter were nicely explored in the confrontation scene with Mrs Amble. These are the questions she may have been asking herself asked by Mrs Amble, (rather than pay off an extremely large bribe).
This scene made Sylvia more interesting to see her thoughts on the matter. But this psychotherapeutic scene did not stop her from continuing the affair. These insightful scenes gave more depth and understanding to her character.
Helen was painted as an evil mother and wife from the start. She was built up as a harridan in comparison to the apparently more saintly Sylvia. Sylvia’s only faults appeared to be having an affair and her reminding her husband that she was with the wrong man for 20 years.
Helen was secretly seeking grounds for a divorce from Ken with a large alimony settlement thrown in. Helen also seemed in an intense fear of her daughter growing up, and discovering sex. She even got her to clean the Hunter’s toilet (I kid you not).
However, at its most extreme, after her daughter spends a night on the beach with Johnny. Molly is forcibly given a physical examination from a doctor to check she is still a virgin. The leading up scene to this although chilling, was shocking in that there was no reason for it. Had Helen’s story been explored as much as Sylvia’s this may have given us more insight into this callous act.
Kennedy as Bart, however, won my sympathy. I found Bart as a man who was desperately trying to hold onto his family home and his wife. He sadly failed to hold onto both. This was seen at the start where he seems to test Sylvia’s feelings for Ken when they discuss Ken’s letter.
Sylvia telling Ken, how she was unhappy in her marriage as she had always loved Ken. This – she told Ken – was apparent to Bart on their wedding night and when she called for Ken when she gave birth to Johnny. This must have hurt him immensely and may have led to his drinking and his almost too jolly charade for the Jorgensons. He painted a happier reflection of both the reality of his crumbling home and relationship.
Sylvia talked of the fact that Bart did not make repairs to the house in case of further damage. She could have been talking about their marriage, with Ken fixing up the house and her heart. Bart even forgives Sylvia for her affair. Later he is seen in the film, as awaiting admission to a hospital, after his drinking problem continues.
Because of my feeling for this tragic character, I felt it unfair he had such a sad ending to his tale. I’d hoped for him to have remarried some gorgeous rich heiress and living in luxury having redone his house up to its previous glory days. But it was not to be. His ex-wife and Ken getting the Frank Lloyd Wright designed house (we know this as she name drops this when we see it).
As the young loves, Dee and Donahue rightly deserved their secondary love theme, This the Theme from a Summer Place or Molly and Johnny Theme, a composition from Max Steiner. This tune playing
ad nauseam so much in the film, that it makes more of an impact than the title track. The young teens’ story is one of a delightful first love.
If you ignore their parents’ shenanigans, this could be a lovely stand-alone, sweet and innocent love story. Their relationship was seen with Dee and Donahue making a pleasing – although photogenic – pair caught up in events, that started long before they were born.
Going back to Dee and Donahue’s memorable secondary track from the film. And a track that has appeared in other movies such as Con Air (1997), Legend (2015) and Batman (1989). This tune was released both with and without lyrics. Instrumentals including a number one hit for Percy Faith and his orchestra. With Mack Discant’s lyrics including;
There’s a summer place
Where it may rain or storm
Yet I’m safe and warm
For within that summer place
Your arms reach out to me
And my heart is free from all care
For it knows
There are no gloomy skies
When seen through the eyes
Of those who are blessed with love.
The A Summer Place song was recorded by many including Andy Williams, Bobby Vinton and the singer and actress, Julie London. And kinda ironically for this film is primarily set in that rocky summer place, where two relationships are literally and figuratively on the rocks this song is sung by Harry Rodger Webb otherwise known as Cliff.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
Arthur Kennedy’s Conquest of the Screen Blogathon 2019 No 9
This review was added to The Wonderful World of Cinema’s Arthur Kennedy’s Conquest of the Screen Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Dorothy McGuire in Glitter, Hotel, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Sandra Dee starred in Frasier and Fantasy Island. Troy Donahue starred in Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. Constance Ford appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller and The Twilight Zone.