Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
This glossy production presents probably the last studio-manicured batch of young actors to
be put through the traditional departmentalized ingenue system at MGM. That's a big part of
the fun - we get to see several star personalities formed all at once.
Where the Boys Are is going to appeal to the shrinking demographic of over-50 fans who
can still remember the time before the Beatles and Beach Party movies, when Hollywood comedies
about young adults were strange hybrids with little resemblance to reality. As the
top writers of 1959 were all probably 40 or 50+ in age, pictures like Tall Story (which
introduced Jane Fonda) tended to make post- James Dean college students behave like kids
in 1930s movies. Girls don't go wild in this first-ever Spring Break bash, but the screenplay does
address the issue once known as pre-marital sex in a reasonably honest manner.
Up to their armpits in snow and stuffy midwestern morality, coeds
Merritt Andrews (Dolores Hart), Melanie Coleman (Yvette Mimieux), Angie (Connie Francis) and
Tuggle Carpenter (Paula Prentiss) head to Fort Lauderdale for sun, fun and the possibility of
finding the 'right' boy. The target males are a mixed bunch: eccentric nut TV Thompson (Jim Hutton),
suave Brown senior and millionaire Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), and nearsighted jazz empresario
Basil (Frank Gorshin). Unfortunately, the ditzy Melanie throws herself at the first Ivy League
lothario she sees, blinded by the thought of early marriage to a dream husband.
Hollywood romantic comedies spent the latter half of the 50s dancing around the subject of sex.
Whereas earlier generations of films (at least post- Hays Code) pretended that the whole world
faded to black when couples kissed, movies were finally acknowledging that casual sex was a
possibility for 'nice' girls. Over 30 actress-comediennes like Doris Day were in demand. Day could project
an illusion of wholesomeness while crossing her eyes over hanky-panky that never actually happened.
Where the Boys Are is probably a campy curiosity today. Poor drippy-nosed Dolores Hart is
criticized by her college professor, an old spinster type who expects girls to observe stiff
moral codes. The actresses are all so beautiful, they look too
mature to be confused coeds. Prentiss (21) is the most obviously talented and became one of the
most underused bright spots of the next two decades - she even elevates Man's Favorite Sport?,
a fossilized, surreal comedy. Dolores Hart (22) made three early Elvis movies, a couple more comedies,
and then became a nun. Yvette Mimieux (18) was just starting but had already made the classic
The Time Machine.
The most famous of the
bunch was Connie Francis (22), the singer of the film's top-ten title tune. Where the Boys Are was
and is considered her movie, the first of several fairly square vehicles for her singing talent.
Oddly, MGM gave her the ugly-duckling, nobody-wants-me Nancy Walker type role.
Handsome George Hamilton (21) was one of the hottest young stars at the time, but had a
blah screen presence and was never much of an actor. Jim Hutton (26) was older but no more experienced
than anyone else, at least not in movie credits. Rounding out the secondary cast were seasoned vets Frank Gorshin (26) and Barbara
Nichols (31), providing clownish comedy relief.
CinemaScope location filming fills the screen with thousands of anonymous college students swarming
the beaches, streets and night spots. We never get into the water, as there are plenty of hijinks to
cover on dry land - filching free meals, cramming 7 girls into one motel room, picking
up a stalled sports car and carrying it out of traffic. The wildest things get is when TV Thompson
invades Barbara Nichols' mermaid act at The Tropical Isle nightclub. The scene probably inspired
similar antics set at the same time and place in Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff.
Where the Boys Are's social wisdom for single women probably fit 1950, for upper-middle
class whitebread Americans. It was outdated in 1960 but was still a mother's blueprint for
behavior for the 'nice' girls I was dating seven and eight years later. There's still the
lingering rule that says that girls in college are really marking time waiting for husbands to
come along. Merritt and Melanie's confusion makes perfect sense. Girls were expected to function
under a double-standard where the only way to attract boys was to have something to offer, but
anyone who actually offered it was a slut. Boys, meanwhile, were free to display any personality
they wished (kooky like TV or oily like Ryder) while unapologetically making advances. TV asks
outright: "Are you a good
girl, Tuggle?" When Tuggle answers Yes, he immediately loses interest. The same with Merritt and Ryder.
On the first date Ryder comes on with dinner aboard his yacht, and then goes into an 'it's O.K.' mode
when Merritt balks at going horizontal.
In short, the boys are expected to sprint for third base immediately. The girls have to find some
proving they're not pushovers, but keeping the boy around long enough for their real personalities
to soak in. Then True Love is supposed to take over. As a system, I imagine this worked fine for one
couple in twenty.
The Hart-Hamilton pairing is standard fairy tale stuff, but the movie has more fun with the 'kooky'
relationship between the tall pair, Prentiss and Hutton. They're humorous and attractive and more
like people we know. She's self-conscious about her
height, and he hides his insecurities behind aggressive nonconformity. The match was so
good, MGM paired them together three more times - but only once as a starring couple, in The
The rest is comedy coloration. Connie Francis has a terrific voice and looks far too pretty to be
saddled with the role of a girl who can't get a date. We aren't supposed to consider her romantic
problems as being important as her girlfriends'. And forget about getting basic script respect for
Barbara Nichols' bimbo or Frank Gorshin's hepster jazz man. This 'selective sympathies' game is a
flaw that better comedy writers overcome. George Wells wrote scores of lively comedies, but they
tend to be non-classics that deal in stereotypes.
Where the Boys Are becomes serious (or hilarious, depending on your point of view) with Yvette
Mimieux's Melanie character. As MGM's object lesson for naive girls, and perhaps to counter the
potential immorality on view, Melanie sleeps with one boy and then goes out of control when
he ignores her. She's handed off to another of his pals who has some free time to kill, and then traded
back. I can imagine the blood of thousands of American mothers running cold, while a million
teenaged girls got a valuable lesson in worst-case scenarios. Of course, since this is Hollywood, Melanie
doesn't get pregnant or lose all her friends ... only getting run over on the highway will suffice!
Warner's DVD of Where the Boys Are polishes up the comedy-drama quite nicely, improving on the
old pan-scan prints. The audio quality is fine for Connie Francis' title tune and the less-memorable
pop trifles she sings 'spontaneously' during the show.
An original trailer and a premiere newsreel are welcome, but the icing on the cake is
Paula Prentiss' commentary, and the short docu she shares with Connie Francis. Paula relates her
plucked-from-campus leap to stardom and the later fan assumption that she and Hutton were
married. There's plenty of discussion of her co-stars and the picture's attitudes about women.
Francis' part of the docu concentrates mostly on how MGM pressured her to appear on screen for
the first time, and how she used that as leverage to help out her songwriting pals Pete Rugolo
and Neil Sedaka.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Where the Boys Are rates:
Supplements: Paula Prentiss commentary; docu Where the Boys
Were: A Retrospective; Fort Lauderdale Premiere Newsreel, trailer
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: December 30, 2003
1. 1.1.04: Hi, Glenn -- Happy New Year! Just wanted to
tell you that Turner Classics showed Where the Boys Are the other day, and my 14-year-old
daughter -- who couldn't find any of her friends on-line -- sat down to watch it with me. At first
I could tell that some of the cultural references were going right by her, but then I noticed
something interesting -- she really started to watch it. We talked about the film during and
after it, and it may surprise you to know that she said, though the clothes and the language
were outdated (she was laughing at all the pretty dresses the girls had packed), the dynamics
of the relationships are still out there today. It's still a matter of what boys want, and
what girls are willing to give them, walking a tightrope over their reputations. Trust me,
I've tried to get her to watch other stuff from that period, and she won't have any of it,
but her interest in this film -- and her evaluation that it still was semi-relevant -- really
surprised me. "X"
A Note from Savant correspondent "B" aka 'woggly', 1/8/04: Hi Glenn - While I agree that the film
seems to reflect some
sexual mores that pre- date 1960, I think it's a bit closer to the way
things were -- in a glossy, Metro way, of course -- than the other
pictures of the period. It's based on a wryly hilarious -- still pretty
funny today -- novel by Glendon Swarthout, which reads somewhat like a
comic anthropological study by a rueful, extremely observant co-ed. The
first part, anyway. At least some of this wound up in the movie.
Swarthout, a Michigan State English instructor, spent a Spring Break in
Ft. Lauderdale with some of his students, and watched and listened.
Already an accomplished novelist -- his "They Came to Cordura" was a NY
Times best- seller in 1958, and of course was filmed by Robert Rossen in
1959; earlier, one of his short stories had become Seventh Cavalry --
Swarthout had found his subject. Boys was an immediate best- seller, and
became a sensation: a witty, sexy novel with some fresh, sweetly
scandalous revelations about college kids of the day, especially girls.
The Spring Break sojourn to Florida was a long- standing tradition for
many East Coast college students, to be sure, but the success of
Swarthout's book brought the annual incursion tremendous national
attention; the gigantic success of Metro's movie (and Connie Francis'
hit song) cemented the spring invasion's reputation as an American
phenomenon. It multiplied in size and scale, and grows to this day. MGM
omitted much of the funniest and frankest material, of course, stressing
some serious elements and adding others to lend the movie some moral
fibre. The studio only filmed the first part of the book, by the way;
the second half of the novel features the gang helping out Castro during
the Cuban revolution. [I am not making this up.] Oh, yeah -- Paula
Prentiss is the best thing about the movie, as you say. Best, Always. -- B.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson