The Warner Archive November 7, 2017 Blu-ray release of the Oscar-winning 1971 drama "Summer of '42" is bittersweet in that it so nicely remasters this classic that it makes one long for an Archive Blu-ray release of the 1973 sequel "The Class of '44." Much of the effectiveness of this tale is that it is based on the largely accurate published memoir of screeenwriter Herman "Hermie" Raucher.
The bigger picture (no pun intended) of the momentous titular summer in the life of life of Raucher is that it is part of a '70s trifecta of similar coming-of-age period pieces.
"Summer" is highly comparable to fellow '71 film "The Last Picture Show" that depicts the trauma and drama of a close-knit group of teen boys living in a dying Texas town in 1951. An initially well-done small-screen adaptation of this concept is the '70s sitcom "Happy Days" about three teen boys living in the mid-50s.
Using "Happy Days" as a model, Hermie is the Richie in that he is an overall good everyteen who keeps his id under control. Best friend Oscy is the Potsie in that he is more prone to immature antics and goads Hermie into walks on the wild side. Younger and nerdy Benjie is the Ralph Malph absent the corny humor; he largely is along for the ride and often misses out on the "big boy" activity.
Another common element of these productions is that parents largely are absent; this is highly true in "Summer," somewhat less so in "Last," and even less so in "Days." However, all three groups of lads still largely are left to learn life lessons on their own.
Three interesting production notes about "Summer" are that director Robert Mulligan ("To Kill A Mockingbird") provides the adult Herrmie narration at the beginning and the end of the film; the comment in the opening speech that Nantucket where the action occurs is more built up in the present relates to the island becoming so developed in the 30 years between the '42 and the filming that location shooting is not an option. The third note is that Maureen Stapleton has her own uncredited voiceover role as the mother of Hermie.
The following YouTube clip of the theatrical trailer for "Summer" features the aforementioned narration and nicely conveys the nostalgic element of the film.
An early scene in which Hermie longing looks at the 22 year-old object of his affection Dorothy (Jennifer O'Neill) quickly establishes the reason for casting Hermie portrayor Gary Grimes; he is very expressive and sweet looking then and throughout.
Grimes also puts his adorkability to particularly good use in separate scenes in which Dorothy touching his calf almost causes him to have a cow (and a highly embarrassing orgasm) and in which he tries to buy a condom. Those of us in the know eagerly wait for the pharmacist to ask Hermie for specifics regarding that purchase.
The charm of the film is divided between Hermie trying to develop a relationship with Dorothy and discussing his changing body with Oscy; the boys getting their hands on an explicit "book of love" that includes a step-by-step guide to sex provides great fodder for much of that hilarity.
All of this culminates in a climatic (no pun intended) night for Hermie and Dorothy. He arrives at her home for a visit that he is selling as a casual drop by but that he hopes brings him closer to getting on base with the older woman; the reality is that Dorothy is in a vulnerable state that greatly complicates things.
The ensuing 15 minutes are one of the most tender and dramatic of any film; mutual affection exists between the couple and Dorothy literally needs a shoulder on which to cry and craves intimacy; the question is whether this can lead to more and whether Hermie allowing such an opportunity to occur is right.
A partial spoiler is that Dorothy expresses herself in writing Hermie the morning after, and Raucher uses the exact text of that letter in the film.
"Summer," "Last," and "Days" work because they are tender but not saccharine tales of boys becoming men to which former boys and the girls and women in their lives during their teens can relate. Those of us of the male persuasion have all made clumsy adolescent attempts to seduce either older or otherwise desirable women, and the ones who are worthy of that admiration have kept their mouths shut about seeing through our amateurish ploys or careless lies.