V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N in the summer sun! It's July, the time when many people go somewhere on vacation, whether it be to a warmer climate, a remote cabin in the forest, or another country altogether. This month we are escaping the summer heat by watching movies about vacations from the air-conditioned comfort of our couches.
SAMANTHA GLASSER: The film opens with Jimmy Stewart talking about space exploration, which seems like two different time periods meeting, but I suppose he saw a lot of things in his lifetime. "It's too damn crowded down here," he exclaims while navigating through heavy traffic where he gets boxed in between trucks. He has clear need of a vacation, but his idea of a relaxing week is much different from his wife's (Maureen O'Hara). Where he wants to take time away for just the two of them, she wants to invite all the children and their new families.
RODNEY BOWCOCK: I must say, I related to Jimmy’s plight in the traffic jam, as it reminded me of my own experiences with a lengthy commute in those far away days BC (before Covid). If a modern viewer may not have been able to relate to the analogy of space exploration in the early 60’s, we can certainly all relate to sitting in our cars for ridiculous periods of time while going to-and-fro a job that we may not be particularly fond of and the occasional desperate need to escape the day-to-day routines that we’ve created for ourselves.
SG: I hear that we in Ohio actually have one of the best commutes comparative to the rest of the country. As someone susceptible to road rage, I can't imagine living elsewhere. This scene reminds me of the opening of the movie Office Space, one of my husband's favorite movies. The tone is strikingly modern compared to many of the films we have blogged about. The 60s really changed everything.
O'Hara gets her way on the vacation front, of course, and they rent an ill-kempt Victorian on the beach to spend their leisure time. The house is large, but it is clearly a downgrade from their own perfectly designed and expensive home. The water doesn't work properly and relies on a large temperamental water pump to work. The decor is majorly outdated, with dark wallpaper, ball and stick woodwork, and a stuffed pelican on the mantle, but I confess I love the time capsule house, and would have been thrilled to stay there, if only it had been deeply cleaned first.
RB: I’ve not experienced anything quite like that, but I am familiar with the beach vacations with multiple families and the chaos of that first arrival. This film is full of little moments like that. It may be nearly 60 years old, and while so much has changed, it’s a relatable movie. We still have jobs that we need to escape from, and we still often escape to a beach with friends and family, gathered into a giant house for a week or so (I don’t know anyone who isn’t retired that can go for a full month, but I digress…)
SG: Wouldn't that be amazing? Stewart and O'Hara don't seem like a match made in heaven. His down-to-earth easy nature is a contrast to her haughty Alpha mom character. However, there is a scene where they're getting ready for bed and he kisses her in a way that is surprisingly sensual, an indication of the reason why he was such an eligible bachelor in Hollywood before he married Gloria.
RB: According to Mauren O’Hara’s biography, ‘Tis Herself, they definitely were not a match made in heaven off screen, as Stewart, concerned about being upstaged, tried to get her replaced on the first day of filming, and they were icy to each other during the entire shoot. It makes me wonder who else he had in mind for casting. It’s not that O’Hara is perfect in this role, although she is quite good, I just can’t seem to figure out who else would’ve been up for the role.
SG: IMDB says it was Eleanor Parker, an Ohio girl, but I'm not sure what the source of that tidbit is.
Their neighbor Marika (Valerie Varda) is a pleasant but inconsequential addition to the film. Varda only went on to make a few more movies, and I wonder why. Her accent could have hindered her, but she had both beauty and personality.
Katey's (Lauri Peters) insecurity at wearing braces is relatable. I couldn't keep myself from smiling to reveal mine for very long, but I did always get white rubber bands on them to disguise them as much as possible. Her relationship with Joe (Fabian) is very sweet; I love that he brings her an album to remember him by, but they don't even hug each other to say goodbye.
RB: For my money, the most fun in the film comes from John McGiver and Marie Wilson, two delightful character actors that are shoe-horned into the film in a most implausible way, but wind up spending a few days at the Hobbs’ vacation house. McGiver was in the midst of a varied career that would see him playing in films like this, but also The Manchurian Candidate, and even at one point starring in a failed single-season sitcom.
Marie Wilson was on the tail-end of her career, this would be her last feature film appearance, as her trademark ‘dumb blonde’ character went out of fashion. She played this role (and all of her roles, they were all basically the same), with a sense of naivete and innocence that I’ve always found very sweet and likable. She continued on the stage and made guest appearances on TV shows before her untimely death of cancer at the tragic age of 56.
SG: I liked them both too, but you're right. They feel inserted into the film but not really part of it. This movie feels like a series of episodes under the umbrella theme of Mr. Hobbs' vacation.
The scene at the dance is wonderfully opulent. I love the clothes of this era, and the dance has a wide variety of styles, some of which are truly awful (puff sleeves, busy florals mixed with gingham, and Katey's childish pink ruffles) but some are wonderfully elegant and I'd wear them in a heartbeat. I love that the formal dresses of this era allowed women to wear bras without the threat that they might show.
RB: The clothes in this scene are wonderful, as is the delightful Henry Mancini score. That’s a party that I’d definitely enjoy going to, although the concept of a party for teenagers being stocked with plenty of booze to keep their adult parents occupied and suitably lubricated seems to go against our modern sensibilities.
SG: That sounds kind of great. The parents can make sure their kids aren't getting up to any major mischief and the kids can go off and do their thing knowing their parents are having a good time and probably not breathing down their necks the way mine did when I was growing up.
One of the most exciting sequences is when Hobbs takes his son Danny (Michael Burns) out in a sail-boat and they get lost in the fog. His difficulty in steering reminds me of how much my husband and I struggled not to run into other people on a kyack tour we took on our honeymoon in Hilton Head. It looks easy; it isn't. Danny wants to see an eclipse, which can only be viewed from the water, and the two make a date to watch the next one which will occur in 1999. Stewart got close to being able to keep that promise; he died in 1997. When they reach the shore again, he says he was as surprised as Columbus, Magellan and Mortimer Snerd, a welcome reference to a third banana, and my favorite character, on the Edger Bergen & Charlie McCarthy Show.
This film is a pleasant diversion the way a good vacation is. It is separated into a series of vignettes and never gets too heavily involved in any of them. Stewart's easy likeability makes him an ideal lead to carry us through. Three stars.
RB: I found this film to be pleasant, although not as funny as I expected. I agree that it is divided into a series of vignettes, and in these cases the parts are always greater than the whole. Overall though, the film is a stylish, fun diversion worthy of three stars.