A Summer Place (1959)

Nothing will put you in more of a summer mood than an idyllic, beachy, teen romance from the 1950s. They weren’t kidding about Sandra Dee, her character in A Summer Place is pretty much what Olivia Newton-John’s Sandy feared.

A little background – the film begins with an affair. Husband and wife, Ken and Helen, return to Ken’s hometown in Maine. He reunites with his ex-lover, Sylvia, who is now married to an alcoholic, Bart. The affair becomes more complex when Ken’s daughter, Molly, and Sylvia’s son, Johnny, meet and fall in love.

As both marriages fall apart, Ken and Sylvia run off to get married after they send their children to very distanced schools. The two invite their children to their new home for their spring vacation, where the relationship is rekindled.

Molly and Johnny are fighting with all of their strength to “be good.” They fail, and naturally she gets pregnant. With the awkward distance between all of the parents, the young couple desperately seeks help to get married.

With help and support from Ken and Sylvia, the film ends with Molly and Johnny happily married in Maine, where they first met.

Overall, I liked it. I spent most of the time laughing. This is one of countless films to exploit the late-1950s family expectations. As opposed to the perfection of The Donna Reed Show, these two families are filled with dysfunctional issues. Alcoholism, adultery, teen pregnancy – they are hardly role models for the teens in the movie theatre.

This causes me to wonder, what was the ulterior motive for this film? There always is one, so I’m curious as to whether this film is an advocate for the perfect family, or the realistic family? Is this film ahead of its time?

My best guess – nope. They could have showed this film in health classes to scare any young teen away from losing their virginity. While they do pull for those crazy kids in love, they never hesitate to throw in a lecture. At the same time, this film would never have had the spouses be remotely likable. The characters of Helen and Bart had to have irreversible problems to justify the adultery.

This is a great movie, just know what you’re in for. Four stars!

Also, the Max Steiner score is absolutely classic.

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One thought on “A Summer Place (1959)”

  1. I have never seen this one, but from your description, it reminds me somewhat of “A Place in the Sun”
    Liz Taylor and M. Clift, and Shelley Winters

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