By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Boy loses his virginity.
During the summer of 1942 Hermie (Gary Grimes) vacations on Nantucket Island with his two friends (Jerry Houser, Oliver Conant) along with their parents. He soon becomes smitten by a neighboring lady named Dorothy (Jennifer O’ Neill) whose husband has just gone off to fight in the war. One day he offers to carry her groceries as well as help her out with other chores around her home. When her husband gets killed Hermie finds that he can be of service to her in other ways too.
The script was written by Herman Raucher and based on his real-life experiences while growing up as a teen on Nantucket Island. He had originally written the script in the 1950’s, but at that time no one was interested. It wasn’t until he met with director Robert Mulligan that the project got off the ground and even then the studio was reluctant to pay him anything up front and promised only to give him a percentage of whatever the film grossed. The film though ended up becoming a huge hit and made Michel Legrand’s melodic score almost synonymous with romances everywhere.
I enjoyed the film immensely when I first saw it back when I was in college, but now many years later I have certain issues with it and much of it is due to the Dorothy character. I felt she was was too naïve as she brings this 15-year-old boy in the form of Hermie into her home, but apparently no clue that boys at that age can have raging hormones and that he could quite possibly be viewing her in a sexual way. I felt that Dorothy should’ve shown a little more awareness to the situation and created boundaries from the start and been just a little more defensive than she was. Some may argue that she may have been attracted to the teen despite his age and secretly open to him coming on to her, but if that was the case it should’ve been made clear. In either event the character is too much of an enigma and playing off more like a fantasy figure than a real person.
These same issues continue during their eventual consummation, which ends up being the film’s most well-known scene. On a purely cinematic level I loved the moment because it nicely recreates a dream-like quality of a teen boy’s fantasy particularly by having no dialogue and only the background noise of the crashing ocean waves. However, the woman has just committed an intimate act with a minor that could get her into a lot trouble if it was ever found out. The next morning as the two are lying next to each other in bed she looks over at him and I would’ve expected some expression of guilt, confusion, or even fear, but none of that is conveyed. Also, the idea that getting news that her husband has just been killed would be enough to ‘disorient’ her and get her to submit herself to a teen boy who just randomly walks in is a bit far-fetched.
In the real-life incident Raucher describes it as occurring much differently. There Dorothy was highly intoxicated and yelled out her dead husband’s name several times. He also caught up with the real Dorothy many years later and she told him that she had been ‘wracked with guilt’ over what she had done long after it had happened. All of this makes much more sense and although it would’ve ruined some of the romantic elements it still should’ve been added in as it would’ve helped both the characters and movie become more multi-dimensional and believable.
The setting is another liability. Due to budget constraints it was not filmed on Nantucket, but instead Mendocino, California and the differences are glaring. The landscape is very dry and brown, which is something that would not occur on the east coast, which routinely gets more rain than the west. The voice-over narration states that they had “9 days of rain” that summer, so the foliage should’ve been green and lush.
On a completely superficial level the film still works. The performances are excellent and there are a few really funny scenes including Hermie’s visit to a drug store where he reluctantly tries to buy some condoms as well as his subsequent visit later that night to the beach.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: April 18, 1971
Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes
Director: Robert Mulligan
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube