Friday, March 23

A Summer Place: Favorite Movie #46

1959 Drama
From Warner Bros
Directed by Delmer Daves

Richard Egan
Dorothy McGuire
Sandra Dee
Arthur Kennedy
Troy Donahue
Constance Ford
Beulah Bondi

When I was a teenager... way back when... this was THE film.  Most teenagers saw it and we all talked about it.  Critics had another viewpoint and parents were not altogether in favor of their progeny watching a film dealing with teenage love and pregnancy, adultery among the parents and hypocrisy. 

We teens were already aware of Sandra Dee.  She would make five films in this year alone and two of them, made prior to this one, were wildly popular... the teenage surfing movie Gidget and the tearjerker, mothers-and-their-daughters movie Imitation of Life.  

While they had no scenes together, Troy Donahue was also in Imitation of Life.  His only scene was one in which he severely beat Susan Kohner playing a black girl pretending to be white.  Despite playing such an unsympathetic role, he was thought to be dreamy by the teenage girls and the rush was on to find him more work.  Despite being billed fifth in the cast, he and Dee were the real stars of A Summer Place.  So successful were these two as a screen team that girls across the country thought they were a real-life couple and the ones who didn't think so wanted it to be so.

They were both teen heartthrobs for a few years.  Neither was a particularly good actor and both had rather well-scrubbed, squeaky clean screen images in great contrast to how both of their later lives played out.

Music and/or songs in movies can often add to the allure of a film and it didn't hurt at all that Max Steiner wrote the beautiful Theme from A Summer Place, played gorgeously and romantically throughout the film and that the Percy Faith orchestra had a monster hit with it.  You couldn't go anywhere in your car without hearing it a half dozen times on the radio.  Anyone who lived during this time knows exactly what I am saying. 

The colorful production opens with a self-made millionaire (Egan), his shrewish wife (Ford) and their nubile blonde daughter (Dee)arriving via a yacht at an inn on Pine Island, off the coast of Maine.  (California, however, stood in for Maine.)  Pine Island is a summer resort and Egan used to work there as a young man and now wants to show it off to his family.  He also wants to show off himself to McGuire who used to be his girl and now runs the place with Kennedy and their son (Donahue).

Before you can say Pine Island is the place for me, the two youngins are very smitten, very blonde and very cute and Egan and McGuire are having some hanky panky in the boathouse where they are seen and all hell breaks loose.  There is little love for their mutual spouses... Kennedy is a drunk and Ford is  just plain wicked.

In one of the most dramatic scenes, the entire cast, except for Dee, is assembled in a large room in the inn where a sheriff is questioning Donahue about Dee being missing.  He then asks  Donahue whether he threatened to kill Ford and Donahue said he did want to kill her for how she'd been treating Dee.

Egan:  I wouldn't have blamed you if you had.

Ford:  Of course you wouldn't.  It would make it easier for you to sneak off and sleep with his harlot of a mother.  (Now they all know.)

McGuire (as she leaves the room): You (Ford) seem to have an infinity capacity for hurt.

Kennedy, now alone with Ford, tells her that she needs to vacate the premises.

Ford:  Surely you're not on their side.

Kennedy: Let's just say I'm not on yours.

And the music swells.  Be still my beating heart.

Both older couples divorce and Egan and McGuire marry and we are happy because they are supposed to be together.  But they fall out of favor with Dee and Donahue because of all the wreckage.  Before the film is over, Dee is enceinte and she and Donahue sheepishly turn to Egan and McGuire who tell them that they don't live in a glass house.  (The joke was that they did live in a glass house, a beautiful one that McGuire's character says was built by Frank Lloyd Wright and, in fact, it really was.)

I loved the acting in this film.  I always found Richard Egan a little wooden but he was my mother's favorite actor and I, in fact, saw A Summer Place the first time with her and my girlfriend of the moment.  Troy Donahue, despite his golden face, was also a bit of a stiffy.  Arthur Kennedy never had a bad moment in any film I was ever lucky enough to see him in.

The wonderful Constance Ford

Dorothy McGuire was a great favorite of mine and she was never more beautiful than in this film.  Sandra Dee arguably had her most shining moments in A Summer Place.  But I think top acting honors must go to Constance Ford, who had the role of her career as this horrible wife and mother.

The wonderful Harry Stradling served up his usual beautiful photography and the great Delmer Daves (I loved his films) produced, wrote and directed.

My teenage years are now long ago but I just watched this film a half hour ago for the gazillionth time and it still does it for me.  Here... see what it does for you:

NEXT POSTING:  France & Nancy 


  1. I, too, remember this movie as a young teen. Back then, I suppose as today via social networking, it was de rigueur for peers to declare their favorite everything, movies, songs, food, especially in writing by lists passed around class. I recall when this movie topped the list. It remains a favorite of mine to this day despite its shortcomings. Funny how we sometimes don't outgrow parts of our childhood.

  2. There is another movie with Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee: Imitation of Life. Troy was portrayed as a mean man in the movie, while, yet another Troy, this time a hero, Ambers O'Neal "Troy" Shewmaker-Cansler gave his life saving a woman! The woman was crying because her hero had passed away.

  3. A whole piece on Troy is coming up real soon. Thanks for wrirting.