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Summer and Soap

A Summer Place (1959)

Want to see how much times have changed? Drag this one-time blockbuster from 1959 out of mothballs and give a spin!

There’s a reason A Summer Place is best-remembered for its musical theme and not for its plot or acting. The subject matter is sex… middle-age sex and teen-age sex. And like most films from that time period, it wants to give you all the dirty details with a heaping dose of hypocritical moralizing.

The first half of the film is about an adulterous affair between Richard Eagan and Dorothy Malone at a summer resort in Maine that’s owned by Malone’s ne’er-do-well husband (Arthur Kennedy). Eagan’s wife (Constance Ford) is a cold, social-climbing shrew who refuses to have sex with her husband and attempts to stifle the budding sexuality of her daughter, played by “Look at me, I’m” Sandra Dee.

In Hollywood, when they want you to root for the adulterers, they always give them terrible spouses. Malone’s husband is an alcoholic (from a time when addiction was seen as a moral failing) and Egan’s wife is also a gold-digger. So like we said, what marriage vows?

Anyway, Egan used to be a lifeguard in this resort town, but Malone dumped him for the then-richer Kennedy. Now, the tables have turned and Eagan’s a millionaire. So, remind us why Malone is not a gold-digger and Eagan’s wife is.

Anyway, the affair doesn’t stay secret for long and A Summer Place is left with half a movie to fill, so the story shifts abruptly to the “forbidden romance” between Sandra Dee and Dorothy Malone’s son, Troy Donahue.

They are both “good kids,” which was 1950’s Hollywood-speak for virgins. But they decide to consummate their relationship and of course, Sandra Dee pays for this transgression by immediately getting pregnant.

Anyway, there’s an actual house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that figures into this part of the plot and all of the sexual shenanigans take place off-screen.

It’s all just an excuse to look at some gorgeous scenery (with California standing in for Maine) and hear Max Steiner’s “Theme from ‘A Summer Place’,” which went to #1 in 1959 and has become something of a standard.

For some reason, this film is a sentimental favorite for some. Clips from it appear in the film Diner (1982) and the Lois and Clark TV series in the 90s.

And as mentioned, Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue were immortalized in that song from Grease. Oh, their mother and father have also become their mother- and father-in-law at the fade out. No one mentions this.

If you want a trip back to a time when Americans wanted sex in their movies, but still needed to be scolded about it, make A Summer Place part of your summer movie-viewing.