Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Where the Boys Are (1960)

 

Starring

Dolores Hart
George Hamilton

Yvette Mimeaux

Paula Prentiss

Connie Francis

Frank Gorshin

Jim Hutton

Chill Wills

Barbara Nichols


In 2003 Turner Classic Films had a poll where fans could vote for films they would like to see on DVD. The top five vote getters would be the films to get  a DVD release. Surprisingly, Where the Boys Are is one of the five films that voters preferred along with Days of Wine and Roses, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and The Wind and the Lion. It's a testament to how well this film has held up for the past forty-three years.

The basic premise is this: Four college girls escape the freezing north during spring break and head to Ft. Lauderdale because as the title says, that's where the boys are. Not much to base a film on  I suppose, but stories have hit the big screen with a lot less plot than that.  What Where The Boys Are does have is a witty ahead of its time script by screenwriter George Wells (based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout available on Kindle download), a cast of attractive relatively new stars assembled by producer Joe Pasternak, some nice Florida Scenery and Connie Francis singing the heck out of the title song, which went on to become one of her biggest hits.  I used to have a video mash-up of the song embedded in this review.  But the internet being what it is, and all that tommy rot, that’s no longer possible.   But if you look, I’m sure it will be on Youtube on occasion until it gets taken down for the next person to upload it. 

Me?  Forget it.  Seldom do I find Youtube and all the idiotic copyright b.s. worth the time and effort.  I mean, you post a short clip or trailer from a fifty year old movie, or in my case one that was better than the trailer, and the studios can’t stand it that you might be publicizing their fifty year old product to buy.  Nope, they’d rather you bit torrent it so that they can bitch and moan and groan about pirating being the downfall of mankind and to justify their own lunacy for spending 100’s of millions of dollars for lawyers to fight it.   But I’m getting off track.



The cast is headed by Dolores Hart as Merritt Andrews. Despite having a high I.Q., Merritt is not exactly excelling in college.  She has a tendency to say what's on her mind, and  what's on her mind must have sent a shiver down the spine of many parents way back in 1960 because what Merritt has on her mind is S-E-X. 

Meredith dares to suggest to a stodgy old professor that premarital sex (playing house, or better yet back seat bingo  is how she describes  it in 60’s lingo) might not only be OK,  but should almost be a  prerequisite for marriage. An opinion like that was pretty daring and racy  stuff in the ancient times of the early sixties.  Her stance in the class room lets us know right away that Merritt is not only a bit more complex than we would  expect, but that she may actually have some rather revealing thought processes going on which automatically puts this film a hundred miles ahead of any others in this genre during this time period .

Dolores Hart is exceptional as Merritt. She is the center of our attention from the beginning of the film to the end. Ms. Hart shines in this film and its kind of a shame that we never got a chance to see her full potential as an actress. Why did she drop out of Hollywood?  Wikipedia explains it all
:
Using the stage name of 'Dolores Hart', in 1956 she was signed to play a supporting role as the love interest to Elvis Presley in the 1957 release Loving You. After this appearance, Hart was in frequent demand, and she made two more films before playing with Presley again in 1958's King Creole. She has denied ever having had an 'intimate' relationship with Presley off-screen. Hart then debuted on Broadway, winning a 1959 Theatre World Award as well as a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress for her role in The Pleasure of His Company.


In 1960, Hart starred in Where the Boys Are, a teenage comedy about college students on spring break which developed a near cult-like following. In the film, Hart plays a co-ed who struggles to define herself when confronted with her newly-discovered sexuality and popularity with the opposite sex. She went on to star in four more films, her last opposite Hugh O'Brian in 1963's Come Fly with Me. At this point she had made up her mind to leave the film industry, and after breaking off her engagement to Los Angeles businessman Don Robinson, the twenty-five-year old actress became a Roman Catholic nun at the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut, ultimately becoming the Prioress of the Convent. She chants in Latin eight times a day.
Pay close attention to her performance as Merritt as I did and you'll understand what we may have missed. She is the glue that holds this film together, and keeps it from slipping into the usual formulaic beach frivolity.

Paula Prentiss makes her big screen debut as Tuggle and shows quite a flair for comedy. She's the one who has vowed to be a "good girl". In other words, without a wedding ring on her hand there will be no hanky panky. The parents of the sixties probably loved her for it.  Sort of the ying to Merritt’s yang.

Yvette Mimeaux plays naive freshman Melanie. She ends up taking Merritt's ideas in class about sex and putting them into action. In 1960's morals, we know she's headed for trouble and was probably the poster girl for parents to point out the evils that would befall you for indulging in a little bit of bedroom parlor games. It used to be that I didn’t really care for the character of Melanie or Mimeaux’s over wrought performance in the role.  But looking at the film now, it’s a bit better than I gave it credit for and perhaps I was judging it more by today’s standards instead of 60’s standards. I still think that Melanie’s side plot does slow the film down somewhat  and kind of saps the energy out of the film at times. 

Connie Francis is a revelation as girl hockey player, Angie. We are never given her exact views on sex so you can paint her in a
neutral corner.  For some reason (I guess because she's a hockey player) she has trouble getting a guy. I seriously doubt someone who looks like her would have that kind of a problem, but Francis plays the role in a ditsy kind of way. She's adorable, and we love her. Add to this the fact that the girl can sing up a storm and you'll replay the opening titles several times just to hear that heart throbbing voice. Angie is one gal just about anybody would like to have hanging around just for laughs. Her most memorable scene here takes place in a diner as she and Merritt try to eat on the cheap.

Jim Hutton plays TV Thompson, a hitchhiker that the girls pick up on their way to Fort Lauderdale. He has this rather odd thing going with hats. He hooks up with Tuggle, and their on screen chemistry blends together like peaches and cream or as Gump might say “peas and carrots”. Hutton and Prentiss went on to make several more films together, due a lot to the fact that she was tall and he was taller, but. their moments  on screen together are a hoot.

George Hamilton plays Merritt's love interest Ryder. Ryder is a millionaire who goes to Brown University, rides around in his grandfather's yacht and has eyes for Merritt. Hamilton is playing the usual George Hamilton type of role, but for this film it's perfect as Ryder Smith would probably be just like George or vice versa. His scenes with Merritt are very cleverly written. He attempts to find a way to seduce her, but knows she is way too intelligent to fall for the standard pick-up lines. And just like Tuggle and TV,  Ryder and Merritt  have good chemistry.

Frank Gorshin plays a nearly blind dialectic  jazz musician named Basil, whom Angie seems to end up with by default. Good Comedy provided  by Basil and Angie, Dialectic Jazz provided by Pete Rugolo.

Unfortunately, all poor Melanie can end up with is a couple of wicked evil guys who want her as their own private sex kitten. John Brennan as Dill and Rory Harrity as Franklin manage to be sleazy enough to do what they have to do, than you can forget them both which apparently most people did as evidenced by their lack of screen credits.  A delightful Barbra Nichols shows up  as the sea nymph.  And as TV puts it, “She has great lungs.” Chill Wills plays a police captain who only has a few brief scenes, but they’re all hilarious.

Where this film excels is in the performances and chemistry of its young cast and whether it was by design or accident there is no mistaking the camaraderie as they all appear tuned in to the same wave length. Where it sometimes falters  is in some of it's very out dated premises about relationships between men and women. Despite the fact that they are all college women, Where the Boys Are would still have us believe that the only thing these women are interested in is finding the right guy who will wrap an 18 kt. slab of gold around their finger. Even Merritt, who is outspoken early in the film, ends up seeming to want nothing more than to get Ryder and his millions down the aisle. Then again, in 1960 there may have been millions of women who would have loved to hitched their caboose to Ryder’s wagon.

Where The Boys Are falls back on the old  premise that if you hop into the sack with a guy before marriage, you'll suffer severe penalties for it and is hammered home by the consequences that befall poor Melanie. Because she makes the "mistake" of doing what nice girls shouldn't, she is punished for it. One would have thought that as forward thinking as the screenplay writer seemed to have been in the early part of the film, he would have taken a chance on going in a different direction. But again, that was then and this is now and it’s easy to criticize something that took place 47 years ago.

My advice is to try to overlook the parts of the film that may now seem dated. Instead, enjoy the witty dialog, the on screen chemistry of the stars, the Florida scenery, and listen to Connie Francis belt out Where The Boys Are a few times. Heck, that alone is enough for me to have no choice but to  give this film a B.  In the video below, Connie Francis and Paula Prentiss take a look back at Where the Boys Are.


Where The Boys Are–A Video Retrospective


2 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:07 AM

    Good write-up but Ryder attends Brown, not Princeton!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks. Corrected.

    ReplyDelete