(0024X) Summer of ’42

Summer of '42April 11, 1971 | 2 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? No

What did I expect? An above-average nostalgic drama.

What did I get? Is it possible for a movie to consist entirely of flashback? If so, that movie is Summer of ’42. I guess there are movies set in the past that explicitly present the perspective of a grown-up protagonist ruminating about his or her youth — Dirty Dancing, Stand by Me, The War, perhaps — but what sets Summer of ’42 apart is that all of it is shot in that gauzy “flashback” mode (the poster is an excellent representation of what the movie is like). In other words, it’s a bit hard to take.


Summer of ’42 is about these three teenage boys who become friends while their families are spending the summer in Nantucket. They’re all horny, so they talk a lot about sex and “rubbers” and girls and so on. One day, Dorothy, the pretty young wife of a G.I., asks “Hermie,” the main character and the fictional embodiment of screenwriter Herman Raucher, to help carry her shopping bags home; of course, Hermie gets a bit smitten with her. At the end of the movie (spoiler alert), Hermie visits her after she has just received a telegram informing her that her husband has been killed in action, after which they sleep together.

There’s a tension here between the self-consciously nostalgic presentation and the “frank” sexual subject matter, and maybe that’s interesting to some. I find the whole thing highly squickworthy: Raucher based the story on a real-life incident, and the idea of going around wanting to tell this story above all others, a story about this “conquest” you had when you were 15…. I don’t know. It’s not charming, it’s just weird. We’re given no particular reason to believe that Dorothy is actually attracted to Hermie, so perhaps her lust or need to connect is a product of her sudden grief. But the movie is too opaque for that kind of reading, and all the business with the teenage boys is vaguely salacious. And there’s just too little else going on to justify 103 minutes of screen time.

The innocent titillation and nostalgic patina of the movie remind me of nothing so much as Porky’s, which, people forget, was set in the 1950s. There’s also a superficial resemblance here to A Christmas Story, and the funny thing is that Porky’s and A Christmas Story were directed by the same man, Bob Clark. I’m guessing Bob Clark is a big fan of Summer of ’42.

I don’t share his enthusiasm.

What here smacks of 1971? The notion of reinvestigating the previous generation in a post-Sexual Revolution way seems typical of the time. In some ways it’s the polar opposite of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? — here, the past is gentle, innocuous.

IMDB score: 7.2

My score: 2

Director: Robert Mulligan

Writer: Herman Raucher

Starring: Jennifer O’Neill, Gary Grimes, Jerry Houser, Oliver Conant

IMDB synopsis: Silent as a painting, the movie shows us day-dreamer Hermie and his friends Oscy and Benjie spending the summer of ’42 on an US island with their parents – rather unaffected by WWII. While Oscy’s main worries are the when and how of getting laid, Hermie honestly falls in love with the older Dorothy, who’s married to an army pilot. When her husband returns to the front, Hermie shyly approaches her.

Get it at Amazon!

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