Vacation in July: Where the Boys Are (1960)
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.
RODNEY BOWCOCK: Is there anything more alluring to the teen-age soul than the concept of flocking to a sunny and sandy beach for spring break? It’s a trek that still happens for thousands of teenagers today and one that is still romanticized by the media (I came of age during the period of MTV’s Spring Break…does it still happen today? It was a conglomeration of obnoxious stunts and games performed by vee-jays and the most scantily clad and beautiful young men and women imaginable, all to the soundtrack of whatever the hit of the summer was). I’m old enough that all of this seems insufferable, now avoiding vacations during these few weeks a year, but young enough to remember when it was an unfulfilled dream. Where the Boys Are focuses on a group of young women making the pilgrimage to Fort Lauderdale, in a trip that just a few years earlier would’ve been unheard of with postwar audiences.
SAMANTHA GLASSER: I never participated in that bacchanalia, but I view the crowds with distaste and find myself wondering how anyone doesn’t get ripped off when they abandon their beach towel to take a swim. I guess if you have nothing you don’t worry about it being stolen. Although we don’t see anyone swimming in this movie, just lots of sunbathing, flirting, limbo and drunken disorderly conduct. It makes me laugh to see how many people arrive without hotel reservations or the funds to pay for a room. The amount of squatters in the girls’ room grows nightly; the first hail from Ohio State.
RB: With the studio system limping to an end, Where the Boys Are just might represent the last time that an attempt was made to cultivate a batch of young talent to carry a studio through the next decade. This film represents a talented cast of young people in a glossy, polished film that would later be mined into the point of satire via endless “Beach Party” style movies from assorted studios with varying budgets. The cliches aren’t cliches yet, which plays to the advantage.
SG: They did an astoundingly good job scouting fresh faces for this film. Some of the stars had made a film or two prior, but this is the very first screen appearance of both Paula Prentiss and Connie Francis, both of whom make a big impression. After I watched this movie for the first time, I went on a mission to see everything the female leads had made because I fell so thoroughly under their spells, and I wrote to them for their autographs and got all of them except Mimieux’s.
RB: There’s not actually a whole lot that happens in terms of plot, but you don’t really notice that until the film is over. Not only that, but we never actually see the beach. Almost all of the action takes place on the street or in various bars and restaurants.
SG: They really missed an opportunity because the film was shot on location. The beach was there. They just chose not to use it.
RB: It’s a colorful film full of slapstick and music, and the only real casting error is Connie Francis.
SG: (gasp) Not cast Connie Francis?!?
RB: Not that Francis isn’t talented here, but the general absurdity of her being somehow less attractive or desirable than the other young ladies does the film a disservice, albeit not an unexpected one.
SG: Oh, not because she isn’t adorable, but because she is too adorable to be considered undesirable. That’s my quibble too. How could anyone pass over her vibrant energy, her upbeat singing, or her overall cuteness? It is a tragedy she didn’t make more movies, especially because the quality isn’t always on par with this one, but she preferred her singing career and chose to focus on that.
RB: The storyline surrounding Dolores Hart’s Merritt provides a fairytale storyline to the proceedings, and one would be missing an opportunity not to mention that Hart portrays what is likely the most realistic teenager in the film. She’s confident in her views that are progressive for the time, but also equipped with enough common sense to allow her to navigate the wacky proceedings of the week unscathed.
SG: I love that her storyline with George Hamilton ends realistically. This isn’t some whirlwind romance, like in the rumor Melanie keeps bringing up about the single girl who left Fort Lauderdale with a wedding ring. Merritt is practical but also susceptible to a good looking man. She is also gorgeous with intense blue eyes. Hart is a nun now; she can no doubt arouse a confession with a well-timed stare.
RB: More screen time is given to Paula Prentiss and Jim Hutton, they’re funny and attractive with great screen chemistry (MGM had reportedly hoped to have stumbled onto another William Powell/Myrna Loy in this twosome), but one can’t help but get the impression that Merritt is the role model here.
SG: Sidney Rechetnik of Motion Picture Daily said, “All the young members of the cast acquit themselves admirably, but outstanding are the performances of newcomer Miss Prentiss, who handles her comedy lines brilliantly, and Jim Hutton, the gangling student who makes a fine foil for Miss Prentiss' humor.”
Prentiss plays the hell out of best friend sidekick characters. She’s unconventional, and therefore the most interesting of the girls. She’s attracted to an eccentric man, and no one makes rude comments about him to her, which I find refreshing. She is a tall woman, 5’10”, and there are several jokes made about this including one, which might have been more racy had she not just mentioned wanting a man with bigger feet than her, where Hutton is hitchhiking and she only lets him hop into their car after he discloses his size 13 shoe size. Prentiss has amazing confidence for a first-time movie actress, and she is completely irresistible.
RB: Yvette Mimieux provides the only genuinely serious scenes in the film, which happen within the last 20 minutes or so of the picture as she is sexually assaulted by one of the Ivy League creeps that she has pursued throughout the picture. I felt that this interaction was handled about as realistically as would be permitted at the time (the movie already flirts with the code with mentions of the existence of sex), and I was relieved that at no point was any blame placed on Mimieux’s character of Melanie for the malady that happened to her. Merritt gets off with an appropriate, and still timely, speech about men using women for their own pleasure instead of treating them like people. These scenes seem to come out of left field among all of the slapstick tomfoolery, and maybe because of that, they really stuck with me.
SG: Mimieux is an elfin blonde that evokes a protective response from the audience, so when the worst happens, we feel the blow. There is a stark contrast between the laughing young girl at the beginning of the movie and the morose broken woman at the end. She is a wonderful actress who probably would have been a bigger star in another era, but coming in at the demise of the studio system didn’t work in her favor, although she does have a cult following because of her part in The Time Machine.
In my mind, the weakest part of the movie is the water ballet sequence in the restaurant. Clearly it was supposed to be hilarious, but it drags on too long. Whereas Hutton’s character is an odd loner type, Frank Gorshin’s character is too exaggerated to be believable, likely for the sake of comedy, but the effort is wasted. Barbara Nichols deserves some attention for her small part as the mermaid showgirl, a burlesque of a sexy woman with a little girl voice and a curvy body that she wiggles around. She does a lot with a very small generic part.
The title song was written by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield at the suggestion of Connie Francis who had worked with them before. They offered two versions of the song to the studio, hoping for one to be selected. The studio went with the other. I think it is a nice song, not a stand-alone hit, but I hear it in my head whenever I think of the title and it never puts me in a bad mood.
The film premiered on December 21st at the Gateway Theater in Fort Lauderdale and was attended by Prentiss, Hutton and Maggie Pierce as well as producer Joe Pasternak. The Gopher Theater in Minneapolis reported an excellent turnout in spite of the heavy snows they experienced during the run of this movie.
RB: At the end of the day, Where the Boys Are does its best to eschew the tropes that would plague beach films for the next ten years or so, and does it all with a talented and attractive cast. Matters of sexuality are handled in a reasonably progressive manner for 1960, and while some of the humor does naturally rely on stereotypes and nonsensical behavior, I pretty much expect that going in, so I give no points off for that. Overall I found the film to be a solid and colorful time capsule that I enjoyed more than expected. Three and a half stars.
SG: Where the Boys Are is one of my very favorite movies. It is a mood-lifter, even with the Melanie storyline, so I can revisit it again and again. The one-sheet greets me every day at the top of the stairs. It isn’t a perfect movie, but I love it and the people in it intensely. Four stars.