Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Where the Boys Are (1960)

Where the Boys Are (1960) poster

In the late 1950s, the young adult rite of passage known as "spring break" was blossoming. Legions of college students would make the trek to warmer climes. Spending Easter week in the sunshine and sand broke up the monotony of collegiate life. It wasn't until author and English professor Glendon Swarthout wrote a novel called Where the Boys Are that spring break became the phenomenon it's known as today.

It all started when Swarthout overheard some of his English honor students discussing an upcoming trip from Michigan State University to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Intrigued by their enthusiasm, Swarthout asked them questions about their trip. They invited him to join and see for himself and he did. Swarthout observed the goings on of his students and others on Spring Break and his observations proved to be the inspiration for his next novel. In a 1985 interview with Larry King, Swarthout said:
 "as the week progressed that this would make a fine novel, a very funny novel, and yet, I thought at the same time make a kind of ... write a kind of profile of that particular generation. Their aspirations, their hopes, their fears and so and that’s what I tried to do."

The title was inspired by a 1959 Time magazine article. In the piece a young coed was asked why she traveled to Fort Lauderdale in the Spring and she replied "that’s where the boys are." The novel was published in 1960 and became a bestseller. MGM purchased the rights and quickly turned around a low-budget movie. Little did anyone know how one movie would make a huge impact on youth culture.

Dolores Hart, Connie Francis, Yvette Mimieux and Paula Prentiss in Where the Boys Are (1960)
Dolores Hart, Connie Francis, Yvette Mimieux and Paula Prentiss in Where the Boys Are (1960)

Producer Joe Pasternak, who was not new to movies that appealed to teens and young adults, gathered a bevvy of newcomers and contract players to make up of the cast of the film. Henry Levin directed the film and he would go on to work on two of my favorite 1960s sex comedies If a Man Answers (1962) and Come Fly With Me (1963).

Where the Boys Are (1960) stars Dolores Hart as Merritt Andrews. She attends Michigan State University with her good friends Tuggle (Paula Prentiss), Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) and Angie (Connie Francis). Sick of the cold weather and the uptight faculty who don't appreciate the hormonal struggle of their students, the foursome head south to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in search of fun in the sun and boys. On the way there they pick up TV Thompson (Jim Hutton), a quirky college student hitchhiking his way to Florida. At over 6 feet tall he's quickly paired up with the 5'10 beauty Tuggle. When they arrive in Florida there are more boys to meet. Melanie becomes the victim of two douchebag college students, Dill (John Brennan) and Franklin (Rory Harrity). While outspoken about sex, Merritt proceeds cautiously when she meets rich Massachusetts boy Ryder (George Hamilton). Angie seems to have the worst luck with the boys and only manages to partially capture the attention of the legally blind bass player Basil (Frank Gorshin). Also in the film is Barbara Nichols as the sexpot underwater performer Lola Fandango who temporarily threatens to break up TV and Tuggle.

Dolores Hart, George Hamilton, Paula Prentiss and Jim Hutton in Where the Boys Are (1960)
Dolores Hart, George Hamilton, Paula Prentiss and Jim Hutton in Where the Boys Are (1960)

Actress Dolores Hart was on loan from another studio but all the rest were newcomers that were either recently signed or about to be signed as MGM contract players. Newcomers included George Hamilton and Yvette Mimieux, both of whom who had only made a few films previously and would later star in Light in the Piazza (1962) together. Where the Boys Are was the first film for both Paula Prentiss and Connie Francis. Prentiss was signed on to MGM when she was booked for the film. Because of their chemistry and the fact that they were both tall, Prentiss and Jim Hutton were paired in a total of four movies. Where the Boys Are (1960) was followed by The Honeymoon Machine (1961), Bachelor in Paradise (1961), The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962). In fact the chemistry of all of the players made them prime for other movies including Follow the Boys (1963) and Looking for Love (1964).

With a budget of $1.4 million, grossed triple that at the box office when it was released December 28, 1960. Where the Boys Are was an enormous hit. For publicity, MGM sent the cast on a 6 week tour all around the United States doing TV, radio and newspaper interviews wherever they could. A separate Fort Lauderdale premiere occurred on February 21, 1961. The effect on Fort Lauderdale was substantial. Already bracing for the impact of the spring break migration, they were completely unprepared when the 20,000 students increased to 50,000 after the movie was released and would keep growing in subsequent years. In an interview with Broward Palm Beach New Times, Connie Francis said, “it wasn’t even a movie, it was a national phenomenon. They didn’t know whether to kill me or give me the key to the city.” Where the Boys Are would popularize spring break and would also inspire subsequent beach movies that became such a part of 1960s youth culture.

The film captures the longing for sexual freedom and independence. It's at times humorous and dark. Audiences see the ridiculousness of spring break but also its dangers. I love that this film isn't just some silly comedy. It has a lot of heart and both teaches and entertains. Swarthout's book was a lot more scandalous and the movie version, adapted to the screen by George Wells, was toned down quite a bit. I like to believe that it still captures what Swarthout intended: a study of youth culture. I've always loved this movie but when I did some research on it and watched it again after not having seen it in a while, I have a new found appreciation. It doesn't hurt that Where the Boys Are has a fantastic cast, clothing to die for and a set that I just want to live in. The only thing I don't care for is the title song sung by Connie Francis which she revealed she didn't care for either at the start but it eventually brought her a lot of success.

The good folks at the Warner Archive Collection released Where the Boys Are (1960) on Blu-Ray recently and even though I already had a DVD-R copy I wanted to check out the new restoration. It looks beautiful! The Blu-Ray has closed captions (I'm always grateful for these), a featurette about the Fort Lauderdale premiere and a 7 minute documentary featuring interviews with Paula Prentiss and Connie Francis. I'm not big on commentary but I enjoyed listening to Paula Prentiss' commentary on the Blu-Ray. Highly recommended.

Where the Boys Are (1960) is available from the Warner Archive Collection. You can buy the Blu-Ray or the DVD-R from the WB Shop.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to the Warner Archive for sending me a blu-ray copy of Where the Boys Are (1960) for review!

Glendon Swarthout official site
Michigan State University
Where the Boys (and Girls) Were!: The Fun and Sun History of Fort Lauderdale by Dan Santoro
Connie Francis interview

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