Heading for Spring Break somewhere? Long before Girls Gone Wild, kids of the Kennedy years found their own paths to the desired fun in the sun, and most of them came back alive. MGM’s comedic look at the Ft. Lauderdale exodus is a half-corny but fully endearing show, featuring the great Dolores Hart and the debuts of Connie Francis, Paula Prentiss and Jim Hutton.
Where the Boys Are
Warner Archive Collection
1960 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 99 min. / Street Date July 25, 2017 / available through the WBshop / 21.99
Starring: Connie Francis, Dolores Hart, Paula Prentiss, Jim Hutton
Yvette Mimieux, George Hamilton, Frank Gorshin, Barbara Nichols, Chill Wills.
Cinematography: Robert Bronner
Art Direction: Preston Ames, George W. Davis
Film Editor: Fredric Steinkamp
Original Music: Pete Rugolo, Neil Sedaka, George Stoll, Victor Young
Written by George Wells from a novel by Glendon Swarthout
Produced by Joe Pasternak
Directed by Henry Levin
Ah yes, in 1960 first-wave Rock ‘n’ Roll was still the vogue, girls wanted to be Tuesday Weld and boys were still into leather jackets and hot rods. Naturally, MGM’s Joe Pasternak wasted no time testing a new batch of contract hopefuls in a wholesome alternative to all that beatnik and juvenile delinquent jazz. The source was a fairly hip Glendon Swarthout book about the first generation of boomer kids coming of age in the newly- prosperous middle class, when even KIDS could take vacations during school breaks. Of course the Japanese had been there five years before, with their sub-genre of sun-cult stories about sin and crime among the post-war sons and daughters of the spoiled rich. MGM’s vision, rewritten by their mid-range comedy house scribe George Wells, was a lot tamer — but it did jump to the fore with what for 1960 were bold new attitudes about sex among the college set.
MGM’s glossy production presents probably the last studio-manicured batch of young actors to be put through the traditional departmentalized talent development system at MGM. That’s a big part of the fun – we get to see several star personalities formed all at once.
Where the Boys Are is going to appeal to the shrinking demographic of over-60 fans that can still remember a time before the Beatles and Beach Party movies, when Hollywood comedies about young adults were strange hybrids with little resemblance to reality. As the top writers of 1959 were all over 40 or 50, pictures like Tall Story (which introduced Jane Fonda) tended to make post- James Dean college students behave like kids in 1930s movies. Girls don’t go wild in this first-ever Spring Break bash, but the screenplay does address the issue once known as pre-marital sex in a reasonably honest manner.
Up to their armpits in snow and stuffy mid-western morality, coeds Merritt Andrews (Dolores Hart), Melanie Coleman (Yvette Mimieux), Angie (Connie Francis) and Tuggle Carpenter (Paula Prentiss) head to Fort Lauderdale for sun, fun and the possibility of finding the ‘right’ boy. The target males are a mixed bunch: eccentric nut ‘TV’ Thompson (Jim Hutton), suave Brown senior and millionaire Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), and nearsighted jazz impresario Basil (Frank Gorshin). Unfortunately, the ditzy Melanie throws herself at the first Ivy League Lothario she sees, blinded by unrealistic thoughts of romance and early marriage to a dream husband.
Hollywood romantic comedies were still dancing around the subject of sex. Whereas earlier generations of films (at least post- Hays Code) pretended that the whole world faded to black when couples kissed, movies were finally acknowledging that casual sex was a possibility for ‘nice’ girls. Over- thirty actress-comedienne Doris Day was in demand. Day could project an illusion of wholesomeness while crossing her eyes over hanky-panky that never actually happened.
Where the Boys Are is probably a campy curiosity today. The beautiful actresses look too mature to be confused coeds. Yvette Mimieux (18) was just starting but had already made the classic The Time Machine. Cast cold from a college play, Paula Prentiss (21) is the most obviously talented. She became one of the most underused bright spots of the next two decades, elevating even Howard Hawks’ fossilized, surreal comedy Man’s Favorite Sport? Poor drippy-nosed Dolores Hart (22) must endure criticism from her college professor, a spinster type who expects girls to observe stiff moral codes and has never heard the term ‘making out.’ Hart made three early Elvis movies, a couple more comedies, and then became a nun. As such, she’s a success story legend in Hollywood.
The most famous of the bunch was Connie Francis (22), the singer of the film’s top-ten title tune. Where the Boys Are was and still is considered her movie, the first of several square, tacky vehicles for her singing talent. MGM all but insulted the beautiful, talented Francis. Perhaps because she was dark-haired and a tad shorter than her colleagues, the script gives Connie an ugly duckling, nobody-wants-me comic role, the kind foisted on Nancy Walker fifteen years before. Ms. Francis overcomes the handicap, joining in the fun as if her sad sack co-ed character were a compliment.
Handsome George Hamilton (21) was one of the hottest young stars at the time. Never a screen favorite of this reviewer, he seems just as blah here, but I understand that girls still go for his type. Jim Hutton (26) was older yet no more experienced than anyone else, at least not in movie credits. Rounding out the secondary cast are seasoned vets Frank Gorshin (26) and Barbara Nichols (31), providing clownish comedy relief. Some of the humor in the show feels natural, but most of the big laughs are forced, as if George Wells were trying to update a 1930s screwball comedy vibe. There’s no denying it – most of the script is strictly square.
Much of the picture was shot on Culver City sound stages, but CinemaScope location filming fills the screen with thousands of anonymous college students swarming the streets of Fort Lauderdale. We never get into the water, as there are plenty of hi-jinks to cover on dry land — filching free meals, cramming seven girls into one motel room. Twenty college guys pick up a stalled sports car and carry it out of traffic. The wildest things get is when Jim Hutton’s TV Thompson invades Barbara Nichols’ mermaid act at The Tropical Isle nightclub. The scene probably inspired similar antics set in the same time and place in Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff. It’s the kind of thing that just might happen on a wild last night of vacation. The scene unfortunately goes too far, with the whole cast joining Hutton in the tank, while club proprietor Vito Scotti waxes apoplectic.
Where the Boys Are’s social wisdom for single women probably fit 1950, for upper-middle class white bread Americans. It was outdated in 1960 but was still a mother’s behavior blueprint for the ‘nice’ girls I was dating seven and eight years later. The suggestion still lingers that girls in college are really marking time waiting for husbands to come along. Merritt and Melanie’s confusion makes perfect sense. Girls were expected to function under a catch-22 double standard: the only way to attract boys was to have something to offer, but anyone who actually offered it was a slut. Boys, meanwhile, were free to display any personality they wished (kooky like TV or oily like Ryder) while unapologetically making advances. TV asks outright: “Are you a good girl, Tuggle?” When Tuggle answers, Yes, he immediately loses interest. The same goes with Merritt and Ryder. On the first date Ryder comes on with dinner aboard his yacht. When Merritt balks at going horizontal, he slumps goes into an ‘it’s O.K.’ mode.
In short, the boys are expected to sprint for third base immediately. The girls must find a way to prove they’re not pushovers, yet keep the boy around long enough for their real personalities to soak in. Then True Love is supposed to take over. As a system, I imagine this worked fine for one couple in twenty.
Dolores Hart projects a marvelous combination of sensitivity and commonsense self-preservation. Her pairing with Hamilton’s rich kid is standard fairy tale stuff. Ryder tries to sweep Merritt off her feet with an evening on his family’s yacht, a cruise through the local zillionaires’ marina, etc.. But the movie has more fun with the ‘kooky’ relationship between the tall pair, Prentiss and Hutton. They’re humorous and attractive and more like people we know. She’s self-conscious about her height and he hides his insecurity behind aggressive nonconformity. The match was so good, MGM paired them together three more times but only once as a starring couple, in The Horizontal Lieutenant. Although MGM didn’t make particularly good use of Hutton and Prentiss, but they did well enough to establish themselves as distinctive personalities.
The rest is comedy coloration. Chill Wills has a couple of scenes setting up the situation, as a police chief prepping his men to go easy on the ‘nice kids’ that might get out of hand during spring break week. Connie Francis has a terrific voice and looks far too pretty to be saddled with the role of a girl who can’t get a date. We aren’t supposed to consider her romantic problems as equal to those of her girlfriends: denied a romantic angle, she ends up paired with the cartoonish Frank Gorshin. And forget about getting basic script respect for Barbara Nichols’ squeaky-voiced bimbo or Frank Gorshin’s cartoonish hepcat. The ‘dialectic jazz’ that Gorshin plays is basically filler, the kind of thing where the cast sits around for three minutes at a time while the movie pretends it’s a musical. Connie Francis is great and the title tune is a stone classic, but her other songs are the kind of trite nonsense that fills most of her MGM albums. This ‘selective sympathies’ game is a flaw that better comedy writers overcome. George Wells wrote scores of lively comedies, but they tend to be non-classics that deal in stereotypes.
The fresh personalities in the cast are given a glossy showcase but only so-so direction. Henry Levin lets too many scenes play out in wide shot; close-ups of all but Hart and Mimieux are scarce. Little attempt is made to enliven scenes with camera movement, adding to the fake, stagey feel of nightclubs and beaches recreated on stages. The excellent scenes on the streets next to the beach capture the feel of a town overrun by kids, but when they get to the sand it’s back to the soundstage again. Hiding in the un-billed cast is Jack Kruschen, marvelous in a diner scene that unfortunately makes Hart and Francis into upscale chislers. Writer and future UCLA film school instructor Larry Thor has a bit as a doctor, Paul Frees handles the narration, and a bright-faced Carol Byron is one of the few supporting co-eds graced with a line of dialogue.
Where the Boys Are becomes serious (or campy, depending on your point of view) with Yvette Mimieux’s character Melanie, who like Merritt wanders away from the female flock on solo dates. The problem is that that Melanie has neither the common sense nor the self-esteem required to fend off a pair of Ivy League creeps. An object lesson for naïve girls, Melanie sleeps with one boy who makes idle promises; when he ignores her she spins goes out of control. She’s handed off to another of his pals who has some free time to kill, and then traded back. I can imagine the blood of thousands of American mothers running cold, while a million teenaged girls got a valuable lesson in worst-case scenarios. Of course, Melanie doesn’t get pregnant or lose all her friends … since this is Hollywood, only getting run over on the highway will suffice.
I know I’m not giving the double-standard subtext of Where the Boys Are its due. Many commentators have remarked on the film’s basic honesty, where even Dorothy Hart’s levelheaded Merrit Andrews is at a loss to know how to handle the rigged dating game. And Melanie’s story is surely repeated a thousand times a day in the real world.
Where the Boys Are shapes up as an obvious nostalgia item for those of us familiar with the era, and a fun peek at some bright personalities trying to make a dent in formula filmmaking during the last gasp of the old Hollywood system. It’s more than worth a good look.
The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray of Where the Boys Are rescues this former TV staple from indifferent transfers — the added resolution of HD ‘fixes’ many wide shots where faces were once too small to register. Colors are bright — the Ft. Lauderdale police department looks like a building on the MGM lot, but the fake snow in the opening scenes is fairly convincing.
As is Warners’ habit, the Blu-ray repeats the old DVD extras verbatim. An original trailer and a premiere newsreel are welcome, but the icing on the cake is Paula Prentiss’ commentary, and the short docu she shares with Connie Francis. Paula relates the story of her plucked-from-campus leap to stardom and the later fan assumption that she and Hutton were married. There’s plenty of discussion of her co-stars and the picture’s attitudes about women.
Connie Francis’s part of the docu concentrates mostly on how MGM pressured her to appear on screen for the first time, which she used as leverage to help out her songwriting pals Pete Rugolo and Neil Sedaka. I finally saw Paula Prentiss at the Chinese Theater in 2014, when the TCM Fest screened her wonderful The World of Henry Orient; the sleek and glamorous woman I saw looked far younger than her official age. Either that, or I’m still as gaga over her as I am about Ms. Mimieux, who showed up across a Westwood popcorn counter back when I was an usher. It’s true, the closer some of these movie stars get, the better they look. Back then they didn’t get picked out for looking ‘average.’
In the Savant DVD review of Where the Boys Are from 2003, long-time correspondent ‘B’ aka ‘woggly’ wrote in to report that Glendon Swarthout’s original novel is a very good semi-satirical view of the college set in the late 1950s. The book has a political dimension that MGM dropped like a hot potato: the kids raise money to support Fidel Castro!
Final product for this review was provided free by The Warner Archive Collection.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Where the Boys Are
Movie: Good +
Supplements: Commentary with Paula Prentiss, video featurette with Prentiss and Connie Francis; Fort Lauderdale premiere newsreel, Trailer.
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 25, 2017
Text © Copyright 2017 Glenn Erickson