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DVD SAVANT

Where the Boys Are


Where the Boys Are
Warner Home Video
1960 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 99 min. / Street Date January 6, 2004 / 19.98
Starring Connie Francis, Dolores Hart, George Hamilton, Paula Prentiss, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Hutton, Frank Gorshin, Barbara Nichols, Chill Wills
Cinematography Robert Bronner
Art Direction Preston Ames, George W. Davis
Film Editor Fredric Steinkamp
Original Music Pete Rugolo, Neil Sedaka, George Stoll, Victor Young
Written by George Wells from a novel by Glendon Swarthout
Produced by Joe Pasternak
Directed by Henry Levin

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.

Synopsis:

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 way of 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 Horizontal Lieutenant.

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:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Paula Prentiss commentary; docu Where the Boys Were: A Retrospective; Fort Lauderdale Premiere Newsreel, trailer
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: December 30, 2003


Footnote:

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"
Return

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

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