Released in the spring of 1971, Summer of ’42 is screenwriter Herman Raucher’s vividly realized memories of the summer on Nantucket Island when he lost his virginity. A coming-of-age story, it’s a trip back to another time, when the world was at war, brought together by a common cause, but facing an uncertain future. Amid it it all, America’s youth was sheltered; fun could be found in a simple day at the beach, and boys pondered sex by looking at anatomy books.
Fifteen-year old Hermie (Gary Grimes) spends his days on the beach with his friends Oscy (Jerry Houser, M*A*S*H) and Benjie (Oliver Conant). Together they form the “Terrible Trio,” although Benjie, the youngest, and by far the shyest of the three, spends most of the time just trying to keep up with his two older friends. Shortly after the film begins, the boys spot a young soldier carrying his new bride (Jennifer O’Neill) into a house on the beach. Within days, her husband leaves the island, off to fight for his country. Struck by her beauty, Hermie is unable to get the beautiful young woman out of his mind. Oscy and Benjie make fun of Hermie for his constant daydreaming, “I don’t know what’s come over you,” Oscy mumbles. “You know, that’s a very old person over there.”
At 22, Dorothy (we finally do learn her name) isn’t that much older than Hermie, but her status as a married woman makes her seem much more worldly and experienced. One day he helps her carry her groceries home from the town. He blurts out: “You should be more careful—you could get a hernia.” On another occasion, she asks him to help her store boxes in the attic. Overcome by her beauty and his proximity to her, Hermie nearly falls off the ladder. In trying to sound mature, Hermie blurts out ridiculous statements like, “laughter becomes you.”
One evening, Hermie visits Dorothy and all corniness is forgotten. He knocks on the door but realizes it’s already open. Walking inside, he’s quiet and looks puzzled. There’s a lit cigarette in the ashtray and open bottle of alcohol on the table, but no one answers his calls. Spotting a telegram on the table, Hermie picks it up; the message is a gut punch, putting tremendous emotional weight beyond everything that happens from there on in.
Here, O’Neil plays Dorothy perfectly—a light gloss of casual awareness covering emotional turmoil. When she finally does face Hermie, director Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird) cloaks Dorothy in shadows; a kind of mysterious figure representing something yet unknown to the teenager. Walking into the light, she takes his hand and they dance in silence. We see that Dorothy is barefoot, while Hermie is wearing very proper shoes. Somehow, it seems appropriate that Dorothy, blindsided by recent news, should be barefoot and just coming out of the shower. In contrast, Hermie, who has been dreaming of this moment all summer is dressed nicely, and presumably wearing his best shoes. Later, Dorothy takes Hermie’s coat and hangs it up in the closet. One wonders if she is now the one living the fantasy—if for just a short while, Hermie is playing the role of her husband.
As the evening ends, Hermie knows things have changed forever. He recollects, “In the summer of ’42, Benjie broke his watch, Oscy gave up the harmonica, and in a very special way, Hermie was lost forever.”
More than forty-five years after the film’s release, some elements of the film haven’t aged particularly well. However, the final scene featuring Dorothy and Hermie in her beach house remains as touching as ever.
Cinematographer Robert Surtees received 16 Academy Award nominations and won three Oscars over his 35-year career. One of those nominations was for this film. Warner Archive’s 1080p / 1.78:1 release does an admirable job of capturing the nostalgic haze that Surtees created for the film. Despite a rather grainy texture, the level of detail is impressive. A few splashes of vivid color punches up what is otherwise an appropriately dreary looking film. Other than a few intermittent flickers, the image looks very good.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track shows no age-related flaws. The dialogue is clear and concise throughout. Fidelity is solid. The highlight here is Michael Legrand’s theme, which won him an Oscar.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Trailer (HD, 3:04)
Movie title: Summer of '42 (1971)
Director(s): Robert Mulligan
Actor(s): Jennifer O'Neill , Gary Grimes , Jerry Houser , Lou Frizzell , Walter Scott Christopher Norris
Genre: Drama, Romance