Summer of '42

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Drama, USA, 1971, 103 min.

Tagline In everyone's life there's a Summer of '42

Synopsis Revisiting Long Island, New York after almost thirty years, a middle-aged man recalls that when he was fifteen years old, his family spent the summer of 1942 there. A war was going on, but it seemed far from the antics of the teenaged Hermie and his best friends, Oscy and Benjie. Despite the boys' juvenile pranks, Hermie was on the verge of manhood, and that summer, he met a woman who changed his life in a way from which he never recovered. He recalls how it was for him: Oscy, Benjie and Hermie spy on a young, happily married couple who are renting a summer cottage. As sex is on the boys' minds, Oscy speculates about what the couple does inside the cottage, but Hermie is simply mesmerized by the woman. At the beach, brash Oscy crudely strategizes ways to get his hands on a girl, but Hermie thoughtfully suggests that before getting physical, one should talk and surmises there is a mysterious order for "doing things." Benjie, who is less mature than his friends, offers to show them a medical book his mother owns. Looking through the book full of Latin terms and explanatory photographs, Benjie doubts that his parents do anything that "stupid." Although surprised to learn that what he has heard about sex is true, Hermie admits that it may look dumb in the book, but it is apparently "pleasurable." Hermie again sees the couple at the ferry, where the man, in uniform, is leaving for the war. Entranced, Hermie watches how the woman kisses him goodbye, and then tearfully heads back alone to her cottage. When the boys see her later at the beach, sunning with her eyes closed, Oscy teases Hermie into trying to talk to her. Hermie approaches the woman, but hesitates to speak. In fun, Oscy and Benjie, shout out warnings that Hermie is a "rapist," causing Hermie to flee in embarrassment. When he reunites with his friends, Hermie furiously fights them, until Oscy, unable to comprehend Hermie's annoyance at their joke, subdues him. Oscy cannot understand Hermie's attraction to the "ancient woman" in her early twenties, but Benjie suggests that they have a "meeting of the minds." Later in town, Hermie offers his assistance when he sees the woman struggle with several bags of groceries. She accepts his help gratefully and tells him about a twelve-page letter from her husband. At her cottage, she offers to pay Hermie for helping her and, when he refuses, offers him a cup of coffee. Wanting to seem older, he accepts the coffee, pretending to like it black, and makes awkward, though well-mannered attempts at conversation. As he leaves, he warns her about the danger of getting a hernia from carrying heavy objects. Outside, Oscy and Benjie wait to hear about his adventure, but, feeling foolish for his last remark to her, Hermie provides few details and goes home to think. That evening, at the movie theater, Oscy spots three girls and attempts to set up a triple date. Too immature to be interested, Benjie runs off, and Gloria, the unattractive girl he abandons, also leaves. Self-confident Miriam, whom Oscy has chosen for himself, negotiates that she and her friend Aggie will join them, if the boys buy a candy for each of them. During the movie, while Oscy tries to grope Miriam, Hermie tentatively puts his arm around Aggie and, touching skin, believes he is holding her breast. Looking over and seeing that Hermie is fondling Aggie's elbow, Oscy tries unsuccessfully to redirect Hermie's hand. On another day, Hermie, at the invitation of the woman who has asked for help moving boxes, walks to her cottage. The sight of her dressed in shorts almost makes him swoon, but he manages to lift the boxes through a ceiling door that leads into the attic. Afterward, he awkwardly tries to say that he likes her and, unaware of the depth of his painful infatuation, she gives him a kiss on the forehead. When he shows the lipstick mark to Oscy and Benjie, Oscy believes that Hermie has "struck gold" and asks Benjie to retrieve the sex manual, suggesting that if they make a list of what to do, they can keep it with them at all times. When Hermie expresses concern about making a baby, which he cannot afford, Oscy, relying on information supplied by an older brother, tells him that he needs a "rubber." Pressured by Oscy, Hermie enters the drugstore, but, too embarrassed to ask outright for a prophylactic, stalls by ordering a strawberry ice cream cone. When he finally gets the courage to ask for condoms, the druggist, pretending to take him seriously, asks what brand and how many he would like to have, which causes Hermie increasing distress, until the druggist asks if he knows what prophylactics are used for. Taking refuge in innocence, Hermie says they are filled with water and dropped from a rooftop, which amuses the druggist into selling him three. That night Hermie and Oscy have dates with Aggie and Miriam at the beach. While Hermie and Aggie spend the evening roasting marshmallows and saying little, Oscy and Miriam go off into the darkness alone. Soon, Oscy asks to see his notes, and later, for one of Hermie's condoms. When Aggie discovers what Miriam and Oscy are doing, she runs off. Another day, Hermie sees the woman writing a letter on the bluff near her house and awkwardly makes conversation. Although friendly, she is preoccupied with her letter. When he asks if he can visit her that evening and she agrees, he asks her name, which she says is Dorothy. At home he polishes his saddle oxfords and dons a suit for his big night. As Hermie is leaving his house, he sees the well-meaning Oscy, who asks if he has rubbers, but Hermie tells him that it will not be "that kind of evening." At Dorothy's house, Hermie's knocks are unanswered, so he gently enters, calling to her. Inside he sees crushed-out cigarettes, an empty wine bottle and a silent, spinning phonograph turntable. On the coffee table is a telegram informing Dorothy that her husband was killed in action. When she enters the room with eyes red and puffy from crying, she attempts to clean up, slowly and distractedly, and puts on a record. In grief, she leans on Hermie and they soon begin a slow dance. Long after the music stops, trance-like, she kisses him and leads him to the bedroom, where they slowly take off their clothes and get into bed. Later, after she gets up and walks to the porch, Hermie dresses and follows her and they say goodnight on the porch. The next day, Oscy complains that, as Miriam was taken to a hospital for appendicitis, his "first lay is gone with the wind." Presuming that Hermie's evening with Dorothy was disappointing, Oscy tries to console him and suggests they wreak mayhem on the Coast Guard station. Ignoring Oscy, Hermie returns to Dorothy's house, where a letter from her is attached to the door. She has returned home, the letter states, and will not try to explain what happened, trusting that Hermie will find "a proper way to remember it." She closes by wishing that he is spared senseless tragedy. In the present, the middle-aged man says that he never saw her again or learned what became of her. He reasons that for everything we take, we leave something behind and in the summer of 1942, he concludes, he lost "Hermie" forever.

Directed by Robert Mulligan  

Starring Jennifer O'Neill, Gary Grimes, Jerry Houser, Oliver Conant, Katherine Allentuck, more...

Movie awards
1971, Oscar, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Michel Legrand

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