|'); document.write(''); //-->|
Warner Bros. Romance Classics Collection is a good label for this four-disc set of movies that might easily be called the "Troy Donahue Collection". Donahue passed away in 2001 and could have used the attention, as his star and career faded fast after a five or six-film burst of popularity. He didn't do bad considering the failure rate for other Warners-promoted teen idols of the time. Tab Hunter had the most varied career for a guy blessed with good looks and a powerhouse agent.
The movies are indeed romances, and the first three are direct follow-ups to the smash success A Summer Place, which itself was a glossy, slightly trashy revisit of Fox's earlier Peyton Place. Premarital sex and the passions of youth were now a permanent fixture in Hollywood melodramas.
The first three titles also complete a quartet of Delmer Daves films starring Troy Donahue. A screenwriter with a modest but steady stream of hits, Daves began directing during WW2 and earned high praise for his later westerns 3:10 to Yuma and The Hanging Tree. He wrote, directed and produced A Summer Place, a feat that enabled him to four more years of sagas about "the problems of today's hot-blooded youth". America bought Daves' glossy fantasies, which invariably made its teen heartthrobs move in the circles of the ultra-wealthy.
Parrish is the immediate chaser for A Summer Place, repeating the formula of mixed-up kids dealing with the social and sexual hang-ups of their parents. Retaining Troy Donahue (and his wavy hair), Daves concocts a story that might have been salvaged from an existing script about the glorious business of growing ... wait for it ... tobacco. Parrish McLean (Donahue) and his mother Ellen (Claudette Colbert, in her final screen appearance) go to work for honest tobacco farmer Sala Post (Dean Jagger), an independent being driven out of business by the avaricious Judd Raike (Karl Malden, returning from The Hanging Tree). Raike and his rotten, snotty sons have used sharp business practices to gobble up all the farms in their Connecticut valley, and eventually resort to burning out their neighbors. While Ellen gets to know both growers -- Judd Raike is immediately attracted to her -- Parrish goes to work alongside the common laborers led by Teet Howie (Dub Taylor). The slightly schizophrenic script extols the simple virtues of the shack-dwellers, while making it clear that the mansion & sports car landlords are of a much more dignified class.
Parrish has hot romances with three (count 'em, 3) nubile beauties. Down-in-the-dirt tobacco hand Lucy (Connie Stevens) comes on strong, practically climbing into Parrish's bed. She's a good sort, but not the right girl to bring home to mother. Sala Post's daughter Alison (Diane McBain, devastatingly beautiful in close-ups) is a college jet setter with even looser morals; she also tries to seduce Parrish the moment she meets him. Judd Raike's unassuming, slightly rebellious daughter Paige (Sharon Hugueny) respects everyone's feelings and sees special promise in Parrish. She's also quite chaste. Guess which babe Parrish ends up with?
Much of the film's lengthy running time is devoted to Parrish learning the ropes in the tobacco business, and learning the difference between honest enterprise and business the way Raike runs it. Ellen eventually marries Judd Raike (" ... yes, his money does have something to do with it...") but doesn't find happiness. Parrish takes a break for a stint in the Navy, a plot development that smacks of Jack Warner influence. Now a "man", Parrish returns to the valley to right wrongs, with the decent rich folk and the migrant laborers behind him.
Daves' script settles into a form that sometimes beggars description. His story construction is sound but the dialogue is often abysmal. It's as if someone took a story editor's analysis chart, a personality and motivation breakdown for each character, and converted it directly into dialogue. Everybody rattles off mouthfuls of gibberish analyzing each other from the author's perspective. It gets to be very distracting. Even at 138 minutes, the rushed ending drops Claudette Colbert's character for most of the third act, only to leave her fate up in the air.
Harry Stradling's camerawork is old-school beautiful, and Max Steiner's emphatic score is good but fails to find the killer theme that put A Summer Place on the radio top ten. Troy Donahue is not much more than adequate but he does well enough amid such solid supporting work. Daves dresses him more than once in a red windbreaker jacket, heavily reminiscent of James Dean's in Rebel Without a Cause. For some reason, classy actresses Sylvia Miles, Bibi Osterwald and Madeleine Sherwood take on roles as grimy farm hands. Maybe the movie represented a few weeks' vacation in the sun.
Apparently Connie Stevens made just as big of a splash as the Boy Toy Troy, as Daves' next opus focuses on her character, leaving Donahue as only one of three possible beaus. Susan Slade is a little cheaper to produce but its settings are just as ritzy. This time the subject is teen pregnancy in high society, the glossy opposite of the worthy working-class drama Unwed Mother.
Virginal Susan Slade (Stevens) is the daughter in a more-than-ordinary American family. We know she's a virgin because she's been cooped up in a remote Chilean village while her engineer father (Lloyd Nolan) builds a giant mine for an American millionaire Stanton Corbett (Brian Aherne). The Chileans run around saying "Vaya con diós"; apparently no South Americans could possibly attract the eye of a blonde from El Norte. The Slades return to California on a cruise ship. En route Susan falls in love with Conn White (Grant Williams), another young millionaire who climbs mountains. People doing what he does are often killed, Conn says, in a truly awkward piece of foreshadowing. Susan's mother Leah (Dorothy McGuire) counsels Susan a bit on not going too far, but holds secret conversations with her husband about the excitement of seeing their daughter finally get kissed! Parents in Delmer Daves movies make no sense whatsoever.
The Slades move into their new designer house on the Monterey Peninsula, a retirement gift from his grateful employer (Where is this guy, I want to send him my Résumé!) Susan is courted by the stuffy Wells Corbett (Bert Convy) but falls in love with the stable boy, Hoyt Brecker (Troy Donahue). Hoyt's dad committed suicide after being convicted of embezzlement from the Corbett Company (maybe I don't want to work for Corbett after all). It's strongly implied that dad may have been innocent but that angle is soon dropped entirely.
An unwanted pregnancy enters the picture, followed by a long separation and a crude attempt to disguise the parentage of the baby. Appearances must be maintained, even if it means that Susan's father, who has a serious heart condition, must take on a job almost guaranteed to kill him. Of course, these moral and emotional issues never disturb the Slade's lavish lifestyle. We're too dazzled by that showcase dream house on the Monterey bluffs to object.
Troy does better here, as he isn't the focus of attention at all times. It's Ms. Stevens who seems limited in her responses to emotional situations. As a dreamy-eyed teen lover she seems thoughtless and vacant. When problems arise she alternates between petulance and outright panic -- think of Grace Kelly suddenly finding herself preggers and wailing, "What am I gonna do?!!!" Dorothy McGuire goes against her image by proving a bust at motherhood. She sits calmly while Susan spends an entire ocean voyage behind closed doors with a young rake. She also pays little heed when Susan's toddler starts playing with her designer cigarette lighter (more crude foreshadowing). This leads to the most tasteless image in all of Daves' films, a shot of a baby on fire on the living room rug, kicking its legs and screaming. Poor Susan Jr. will have a few growing pains, I guess, but his trauma mainly serves to wrap up the loose story ends in this rambling soap opera. 1
A petting party is accompanied by the perfect make-out music of the time, none other than Max Steiner's Theme from A Summer Place. Elsewhere Steiner applies his standard "Mexican" compositions to scenes supposedly set in Chile and Guatemala --- Susan Slade could be used as cutural evidence in a court case about American companies robbing the resources of an entire continent to the South. This time the cinematographer is Lucien Ballard. Although it may all be second-unit work, the exteriors of Monterey and San Francisco (with its 1961 skyline) are quite beautiful.
Three movies in the same soap opera groove must have been enough for Delmer Daves, as his fourth outing takes its cue from 1954's Three Coins in the Fountain. The story of a single girl going to Italy in search of romance is updated to raise questions about contemporary morality -- and then neatly sidestep them. Go to Rome, the movie says, and you'll meet dreamy eligible young American students and wealthy romantic Italian gentlemen. The movie is also at least 25% travelogue, but it has an undeniable saving grace: Suzanne Pleshette.
Young private schoolteacher Prudence Bell (Pleshette) quits her job over a book-banning incident and goes to Rome to find her future. Although she's the film's lead, TV veteran Pleshette is given fourth billing. Prudence has a sort-of chaperone, stuffy Etruscan researcher Albert Stillwell (Hampton Fancher, repeating from Parrish) but finds that everyone she meets is dedicated to her wishes. Wealthy Roberto Orlandi (Rossano Brazzi) makes passes on the boat but backs off like a gentleman. Her landlady and a bohemian bookstore owner (Constance Ford, repeating from A Summer Place are advisors and cheerleaders for Prudence's amorous education. Clean-cut student Don Porter (Troy Donahue) falls fast for Prudence, and they spend their August vacation in the Italian Alps.
Rome Adventure features no life-and-death issues or unwanted pregnancies. The main conflict arises when Don's old flame Lyda Kent (Angie Dickinson), a flighty, irresponsible adventuress, returns to reclaim her beau. Intimidated, Prudence seeks to improve her man-holding skills by allowing herself to be seduced by Signor Orlandi. Although Orlandi invites Prudence to his designer apartment and she goes so far as to slip into something more comfortable, the problem resolves itself as it might in a TV show. Orlandi is given a green light but turns out to be the soul of ethical behavior, as applied to vulnerable virgins.
The cast makes a big difference in keeping Rome Adventure from becoming a worthless trifle, instead of the slightly campy, entertaining trifle that it is. Suzanne Pleshette has real presence on screen, a look of intelligence and good humor and more than enough sex appeal to convince us that that she's capable of much greater things than this lukewarm brew. Everyone else is stuck with stereotypes and Troy is unfortunately shown up as the weak link. When Ms. Pleshette's on screen, it's like he's not there. Suzanne didn't think so, as she married Troy Donahue not long afterward.
Charles Lawton's cinematography maintains the expected level of gloss and the semi-travelogue format keeps things moving, but the show still seems long. Daves finds a brief but unflattering part for trumpeter Al Hirt, and future Troy Donahue clone Chad Everett has a bit part. Actor Hampton Fancher ended up making history twenty years later -- he's a credited co-scriptwriter and executive producer on the science fiction hit Blade Runner.
Palm Springs Weekend
The odd film out in this romance quartet is a pale knock-off of MGM's teen hit Where the Boys Are, which exploited the phenomenon of the waves of college kids that descended yearly on Fort Lauderdale, Florida for spring vacation. Just as MGM packed Where with its up and coming talent (like Paula Prentiss), Palm Springs Weekend offers a number of young hopefuls a comedy-drama showcase. Even the poster rips off the previous hit movie.
Overall, the show is dreadful and only watchable if one is interested in seeing some of its eager young talent. Earl Hamner Jr.'s weak script is less adventurous than the average A.I.P. beach party movie, and Norman Taurog's direction is strictly by the numbers. Not only that, the show is cheap, using indoor sets that don't begin to match the Palm Springs locations.
A bus to Palm Springs carries an entire basketball team, including its captain Jim Munroe (Troy Donahue, subdued and clean-cut), coach Campbell (Jack Weston, pure ham) and team clown Biff Roberts (Jerry Van Dyke, trying desperately to be funny). Ambitious middle-class girl Gayle Lewis (Connie Stevens) is pretending to be a Beverly Hills babe to attract boys, a pointless gesture considering that hotheaded playboy Eric Dean (Robert Conrad) picks her up at the very first stopover (stopover on the road to Palm Springs? It's less than two hours distant from L.A.). Nice guy Texas stuntman Stretch Fortune (Ty Hardin) goes for Gayle too, which begins an immediate rivalry.
In town, the coach hooks up with lusty motel maven Naomi (Carole Cook). Biff can't resist the tomboy charms of Amanda North (Zeme North), a karate expert who blooms into a babe with the help of a new hairstyle and makeup. Miss North, the most promising face in the show, made a stack of TV appearances but only one other film, William Castle's Zotz! And Jim falls in love with local girl Bunny Dixon (Stefanie Powers of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.), the daughter of the local police chief.
Not a lot happens. Eric and Stretch fight, hoodlums break up a teen party (some okay stunt fighting, there) and both Amanda and Gayle must babysit Boom Boom (Billy Mumy), a troublesome little boy who fills the motel pool with soapsuds. Stretch doesn't prove to be much of a stuntman when the crazed Eric runs him off the road, but he gets his girl in the end. And masochists can submit themselves to the constant mugging of Jerry Van Dyke, a talented comic who comes on way too strong. Palm Springs Weekend is mostly a headache inducer that makes the other three films look like classic cinema.
The transfers in the Warner Bros. Romance Classics Collection are all excellent. Parrish has grain issues in a transition or two but otherwise these pictures never looked better. Enhanced formatting in their original aspect ratio helps a lot as well. Each disc comes with a trailer but no other extras. The set stacks up as fun entertainment and even better sociology. Frankly, the campy Parrish, Rome Adventure and Susan Slade are so Out There with their ideas about teen sexuality, that they might be useful conversation starters for parents trying to broach touchy subjects with their kids.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
1. I've probably told this story before but the burning baby business prompts me to bore you with it again. When watching a Stanley Kramer movie called Bless the Beasts and Children in 1972, I was appalled to see a scene where a kid cries while a bunch of cruel bullies urinate on him. I couldn't express my hostility to the scene; while walking out, fellow film student Randy Cook was asked his opinion and came up with a great response: "You know, you have to be pretty desperate and unimaginative when the only way you can generate sympathy for your main character is to have people piss on him." The burning baby in Susan Slade is simply out of bounds, especially when the movie goes on to make the baby's recovery a secondary issue to Susan's working out her issues with her mother. And I don't think Delmer Daves wanted to do a public service by alerting people to the dangers of small children and fire safety.
This is what sometimes makes mainstream Hollywood fare, "trash cinema".
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics. Also, don't forget the 2009 Savant Wish List. T'was Ever Thus.