In 1942, while spending the summer in a New England beach colony, a 15-year-old kid (Gary Grimes, Cahill U.S. Marshal) develops a crush on a 22-year-old woman (Jennifer O’Neill, Scanners), whose husband is away at war.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Summer of ’42, written by Herman Raucher, and directed by Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird), is a beautiful, delicate, and captivating coming-of-age story about how difficult it was to grow up amid the uncertain years of World War II. Although the film takes place during an eventful summer in 1942, the film managed to hit a cord with audiences in 1971, becoming one of the highest grossing films of the year.
Released at the height of the Vietnam conflict, many people clearly identified with the film’s depiction of a nation trying to face the fears that arise during a time of war. This is a heartwarming film that captures the 1940s’ atmosphere quite nicely, and transcends its setting by presenting many important social problems in such an interesting way that the story could take place in any region and time period.
As he did with To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), director Mulligan infuses Summer of ’42 with a combination of nostalgia, poignancy, and realism that is sustained from the opening credits all the way to the film’s bittersweet ending. This is not your typical boy-meets-girl type of melodrama, but rather an evocative examination of the pains and frustrations that come with adolescence, and the isolation and insecurities that are ignited at the home-front during times of war.
Cinematographer Robert Surtees (Ben-Hur) uses a soft focus technique in order to give the entire film a nostalgic and delicate look. The film is supposed to be someone’s recollections of a time long past, so the softness of the image actually makes sense within the context of the story, and the end result is simply wonderful, very much giving the film a dream-like quality.
The Oscar-winning musical score, composed by Michel Legrand (Atlantic City and Yentl), is the icing on the cake — it’s simple yet immensely satisfying.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Made with a limited budget, and relying on the talents of a group of unknown actors, Summer of ’42 proved that there was still a market for old-fashioned, romantic dramas. Sincere performances, sensitive direction, and a great, romantic score by Legrand combine to make this film a classy drama of the highest order. If you are an action junkie you might as well skip this one, but if you are a true romantic cinephile, this is a no-brainer. Also starring Jerry Houser, and Oliver Conant. Narrated by Mulligan. Color, 103 minutes, Rated PG.
Followed by Class of ’44 (1973)