Movie Mirrors Index

A Summer Place

(1959 c 130')

En: 6 Ed: 6

Based on a novel by Sloan Wilson, the son and daughter of two couples who vacation together fall in love while a revived romance between the parents leads to divorces.

            Johnny Hunter (Troy Donahue) picks up the mail from a passing boat and drives an old station wagon back to a summer resort where he lives with his parents. The handy man Todd (Martin Eric) is painting and complaining how the place has deteriorated. Johnny’s father Bart Hunter (Arthur Kennedy) gets a letter from Ken Jorgenson and tells his wife Sylvia Hunter (Dorothy McGuire) that the former lifeguard there is now a millionaire and wants to stay there during the summer. Bart says they cannot accommodate them, but Sylvia says they need the money. She says they can move into servant’s quarters. She stresses they need the $5,400 they would make during the summer

            On a yacht Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan) tells his wife Helen Jorgenson (Constance Ford) that he will not wear a captain’s cap he has not earned, and she quarrels with him. Ken points out the island to his daughter Molly Jorgenson (Sandra Dee) and tells her he might buy a house on the island. He says the island is like an exclusive club. She asks why he is coming back. Johnny on a cliff watches them with binoculars, and Molly sees him. She tells her father that she used to be naughty and undress for their neighbor in her bedroom. Helen tells them to dress for shore. Molly asks if she has to wear a flattening bra and a girdle. Helen appears, and they argue about it. Ken shows Molly out and tells Helen that Molly has a healthy figure and objects to her de-sexing her. He throws the bra and girdle out the window.

            Johnny, Bart, and Silvia are standing by a telescope as Bart derides the arriving guests.

            In front of the large house the Hunters welcome the Jorgensons. Mrs. Emily Hamble (Beulah Bondi) asks Ken if he married the girl he was teaching to swim, but he says he married in Buffalo. Emily notices that Molly is pretty.

            Inside Bart shows the Jorgensons the two bedrooms, and he invites them to dine with his family and then goes out. Helen says she is mortified. She assigns the small bedroom to Ken and says she and Molly will take the master bedroom. Helen orders Molly to clean the bathroom, but Molly is sure it is clean. Ken looks out the window, and Sylvia gazes back at him.

            The two families sit around a large table in their restaurant. They talk about when Ken was a lifeguard, and he says he was not allowed to associate with the residents. Johnny asks permission to show Molly around, and they leave the table. Sylvia and Bart explain why they have been living there; they have been struggling financially. Bart asks Helen if she and her husband “swim in the raw,” and she says no.

            Johnny and Molly look at the waves and hold hands. He helps her remove a rose thorn from her skirt. She says a statue of Cupid is waiting to be kissed. Johnny feels the same and kisses her. They both like it, and both say they knew it would be like this. He asks how she learned to kiss, and she says a senior in high school taught her. Helen looks out the window. The handyman Todd sees them kiss, and Johnny tells him to turn out his light. Johnny shows her where his room is, and they say goodnight.

            Inside Helen tells Ken that their daughter let the son maul her and calls Molly cheap. Ken disagrees, and Helen complains about the free love of the Swedes. Ken asks her how many groups she hates, listing kids, Jews, Catholics, Polish, Italians, and Negroes. She also distrusts Orientals, thinks British are snobbish, French are immoral, Germans brutal, and Latin Americans are lazy. He asks if she is anti-people and anti-life. He says she makes young love cheap and “sex” a filthy word. She leaves the room and closes the door. Molly asks her to fight with her instead of with her father. Helen calls her display in the garden disgusting. In her slip Molly goes to the windows and waves at Johnny before pulling down the shades. Helen advises Molly how to be accepted and warns her she needs a decent reputation. Helen says the boy comes from a good family, but she should not let him think her kisses come cheap. She tells her to play a man like a fish. She says wanting a man is cheap. She makes her promise not to kiss him anymore for a time, and Molly says she will agree if her mother will not fight with her father. Molly goes into the other room and snuggles with Ken on his bed. She asks him why he married her. He says he loved her in the beginning because he was lonely. Molly asks if he loved anyone else. He says she married the other guy. Molly asks why they stopped sharing the same room. She says her mother is anti-sex, and Molly admits she has naughty dreams. Ken says the only reason for living is to love and be loved. Molly says Helen does not love either of them. Ken says she does not know how to love, and he has not been able to teach her.

            Rain is leaking from a bathroom ceiling, and Emily reports it to Sylvia who says Bart is not good at fixing things. Emily calls Ken over and asks if he would fix her leak. He goes to change, and Sylvia shows him to the attic. Ken in a raincoat fixes the roof. He asks her what it is like being stuck there in the winter. Sylvia says it is lovely in the snow. He asks why she has been avoiding him. He asks how she is doing with Bart, and she says she has adjusted. He says he tried forgetting her; but he came back because he had to. He waited until he made a million dollars. He worked hard to prove himself to her. Sylvia says she has stayed with Bart because of Johnny. He asks if Bart knew they were lovers. Bart became an alcoholic, She asks if Helen knows about them. He got married after he read that she was wed. They embrace, and Ken asks if she still loves him. She says yes, and they kiss. She does not want to hurt anyone. He asks where they can meet, and she suggests the boathouse at two in the morning.

            Emily shows Sylvia a vent that enabled her to hear the conversation. Emily asks Sylvia to sit down and recalls her wedding. Emily says Bart was drunk. She says Bart is a weakling, and she asks what Sylvia is going to do about the lifeguard. Emily says they can not endure another winter there with Bart drunk every day. Emily asks if she thought of divorce, or she could have an affair using deception. Sylvia does not want to have an affair. Emily suggests she ask her lover to help her decide.

            At night Ken and Sylvia meet in the boathouse. Sylvia says she could not help herself. Ken says he and his wife do not sleep together, and Sylvia says that Bart drinks himself into a sound sleep. She asks Ken if he wants to get a divorce. She says she wants a divorce if she can keep Johnny. Ken wants the same if he can keep Molly; but Helen would not let him have her. Sylvia says she is willing to come to him any time he wants. He asks about their whole lives. He kisses her. Ken tells her they must get back to their rooms before daybreak.

            Molly and Johnny see Helen and Ken leaving in a boat and ask permission to go out in a small boat. Ken over-rules her caution and tells them it is okay. Johnny and Molly get in a small yacht that he steers with a rudder.

            In the town Helen calls her mother and tells her that her suspicions were correct. The mother says she talked to a lawyer who advised that she must not be the one who asks for the divorce. She says they need to catch her husband in adultery and that she should stop the separate rooms. The mother says she could catch them and suggests she hire the night watchman.

            The ocean is rough in the wind, and Molly says she is scared. Johnny suggests they try to sail between the rocks. Molly says they are in trouble. He says they are not going to make it. The boat is stuck on rocks, and they get out and push it off. They get back in, but the boat overturns. They swim to a beach.

            That night the parents are waiting by a fire on the beach for the coast guard, whom Bart says will search. Ken is in Boston.

            In the morning the coast guard brings Johnny and Molly back, and Bart and Sylvia welcome them. Helen is in the house, and Molly tells Johnny she will explain to her. She goes upstairs and says they spent the night on the beach. Helen takes her to be examined by a doctor and orders Molly to take off all her clothes. Molly refuses, and the doctor takes over. Molly says she has not done anything wrong and screams, “No!”

            That night drunk Bart tells Johnny that Helen is upset. He asks Johnny what he did on the island with Molly, leering. Johnny tells him to get out, and Bart goes out. Molly comes running, and Johnny goes out to meet her in the garden. She says her mother won’t let him see her anymore. She says her father and his mother are involved. Helen calls for Molly, who runs away. Molly finds Johnny, who tells her not to hurt Molly, or he will kill her. Helen tells him not to threaten her. He runs after Molly, and Sylvia tells him that Helen sent for a sheriff.

            Ken returns and asks the sheriff why he is not looking for Molly. His men are searching, and he says his son threatened Helen with death. The sheriff reviews what happened. Johnny says nothing happened that night. The sheriff asks about the exam, and Helen says she had to be sure. Helen says the exam revealed nothing wrong. She locked her in a room, but later she was gone. Johnny does not deny threatening to kill her. Ken says he would not blame him. Helen says then Ken could sneak off with his mother. Bart suggests they all retire. Ken wants to find his daughter and goes out. Sylvia tells Helen she has hurt her daughter and now their son. Bart urges Helen to vacate the rooms and says he is not on her side.

            In their quarters Bart tells Sylvia that he knew about Ken for twenty years. When Johnny was born, Sylvia cried out for Ken. She asks why he put up with her. He says she had a good wife and mother front. Bart says he wanted a showdown. He asks where they meet, and she says she has no defense. She loves Ken and has hope again for happiness. He understands and pours another drink. She says she can’t live on with him. She wants to get a place with Johnny. He says she will not get Johnny, and she says he is an alcoholic. Bart says Ken will never marry her because he won’t give up Molly. Bart says he will forgive her, and they can go on. She says she can’t do that. He says she can’t have Johnny, and she says he is not a fit father. He says he will send him to a school in Virginia. She says Johnny must visit her, but Bart wants him to himself. He calls her a slut as Johnny comes in. Sylvia says things happen even to nice people. Johnny asks why they are getting a divorce. Bart says people stop loving each other, and it is better to get unmarried. Johnny curses them both.

            Newspapers report the divorce actions, and the four lawyers meet. Helen’s lawyer says she has all the cards. Another lawyer says they must consider the children. He suggests they be sent off to schools. Helen’s lawyer says Molly is already in a finishing school.

            At the Briarwood School for Girls in her room Molly is writing to Johnny, who reads her letter during a class. The teacher asks for his attention. Johnny says he is not intellectual. He says there may be another war. The teacher asks if he would want to be an officer, but Johnny says no. After class Johnny calls Molly and invites her to a Halloween dance. She says her mother will not let her. She says her father and his mother are getting married. They both dislike the idea. He asks if she is going to Buffalo for Christmas. He asks if he could meet her, but she says her mother would not let them. She suggests they could meet in a church, and they set December 21 at 9 a.m.

            On December 21 Helen finds out that Molly only sent a card to John. Helen says she ordered her not to write to him. Helen says Johnny could have bad blood. Molly says Johnny is good and suspects that her mother has been reading her letters from him. Helen says it was her duty. Molly throws the letters in the fire because her mother made them dirty.

            Outside the church Johnny and Molly meet. He kisses her, and one of Molly’s friends and her mother see them. Molly says she and her mother are gossips.

            Molly comes home, and Helen asks where she was. Molly says they went to a motel, but they only talked. Molly provokes her mother, and Helen slaps her, knocking her down. Helen says her father sent her a mink coat for Christmas.

            Ken and Sylvia meet at a church, but not even their children have come. A minister weds them with only two witnesses.

            Ken walks into the girls’ dormitory and knocks on Molly’s door. She lets him come in, and he reads her poem. He says Sylvia and he are married, and he invites her to visit them. He wishes she would answer his letters, and he says her poem shows that she has grown up. He asks her to come during her spring vacation with Johnny. He says they should love and asks if she is his daughter. He asks what her heart says. She says she does not listen to it anymore. He hopes she will find it again at the beach. He says they need each other and pleads for her to come.

            Helen tells her lawyer that she does not want her daughter staying with her ex-husband and that harlot. The lawyer explains they are married now. She asks for a court order to forbid the visit; but the lawyer says if she blocks the court order, her husband may stop paying her alimony

            Ken and Sylvia at an airport greet Molly, and he embraces her. Johnny is coming on Thursday. They drive to a modern house by the sea, and Sylvia shows Molly around. Ken brings in her suitcases. Molly says little, and Ken suggests she rest before dinner. Ken and Sylvia have a drink. Sylvia says they can not force it. They say they love each other.

            Another plane has arrived, and Johnny gets off. He asks Ken and Molly where Molly is, and Ken says she wants to meet him at the beach.

            Johnny in a swimsuit runs to meet Molly, who says she found a private place on the sand by rocks. They sit on a cloth and kiss. They say they love each other very much. He says he wants to marry her, but she says they can’t. He says he should finish college and go in the army first. He says her mother would not let her see him. He says they are alone on this earth. They kiss passionately, and passing boys whistle. Johnny makes sure they have gone. Molly says they had better cool off because she is afraid of new feelings. She says they must be good. She asks if he has been bad with girls, and he says no. He asks if it is “good” if they do not see each other and are lonely. He kisses her, and she tells him they must stop. He is angry and says he will take her home. She sends him ahead, and she catches up with him. She asks why he is angry, and he says he is angry at himself for wanting her so much. She suggests there is a place they can go to at night. She suggests they say they are going to the movies.

            At dinner Molly pours coffee, and Johnny asks if they could go to a movie. Sylvia persuades Ken it is all right. Johnny and Molly go to a little room on the rocks. She tells him about the movie King Kong. She says she did want to come there, not just for him. He wishes they could get married while young. He suggests they be “good” and go see the movie. She asks him to kiss her, and he says stopping after one is difficult. He admits he does not want to be “good.” He suggests they go back to school and write letters. He does not care about the consequences. She says she needs him too. She lays in his lap and tells him about the big ape in King Kong. He kisses her.

            Sylvia and Ken wonder where they are so long after midnight. She says they did not settle for a walk on the beach. She says they could suggest they take it easy. Ken says they are like them. Johnny and Molly come home and embrace when Ken turns on the light and then goes in his room. Ken tells Sylvia she was right. She suggests that he tell them that passions aroused are not easily controlled. Ken does not want Molly to become like her mother. He asks if Molly must always go only half way. How can he tell her that one reckless night can ruin her life. He says telling her that would make him a hypocrite. Sylvia says they must remember what the cost might be from experimenting. She says love is a learned thing between a man and a woman that is important after the passion fades. He remembers what it was like to be young with loneliness and hunger.

            Ken goes to Molly’s bed about noon and tries to caution her with Johnny. She says she loves him, and he tells her to be sensible. She says she wants to get dressed. He kisses her forehead and goes out.

            Molly and Johnny talk on the phone, and he asks if she is sure. He asks if anyone else knows. He tells her not to cry, and she says she needs him. He says he will come tonight. She feels ashamed. He says they must keep it secret, and they will figure something out.

            Johnny hitch-hikes at night and gets rides. He arrives at the school in the morning and hides his suitcase. Molly comes down the stairs and acts formally with John. They sit and talk. He says they are going to get married. She says it would upset her parents. She asks if they could run away. He says he is broke. She says they could sell her coat. They stealthily hold hands. Her hand is cold, but he feels warm. He says they are going to  have a child. They have no cash; so he suggests they go to a pawnshop in town.

            Johnny has money from the pawnshop and buys an old car. Molly says she signed out until midnight. They get off a boat and go to the Hunter house. He calls for his father, but there is no response. He tells Molly to wait outside, and he goes in to tell his father. Bart is in a drunken sleep and wakes and opens the door. Johnny asks if he is all right. Bart says he was expecting the coast guard. Bart gets another drink, and Johnny tells him he is in love. He wants to marry Molly. Bart asks if they are in trouble. Bart says they are too young. Johnny says they could run things there. Bart drinks and coughs and asks for another drink. He tells Johnny to face the truth. He says Johnny is the son of a drunkard and a harlot. Johnny just wants to marry Molly. Bart says girls are all alike in the dark. Johnny says they will marry with or without his consent. Molly comes in, and Bart apologizes. Bart says he is transferring to a naval hospital in Boston because of ulcers. He says he has just cause why they should not marry and says they are very young. He says their parents cut short their young time. He says there is a moral law working in the world, and one has to pay at some time. Johnny offers to get his medicine, but Bart says he is out of it. He tells them to get married. Molly says he left out the most important word—love. They hear a boat’s horn, and Bart says the coast guard came for him. He says his family is due for a winner if life is a dice game.

            Johnny and Molly go to a justice of peace at night, but he asks them how old they are. They say they are 21, and he asks them for proof and to come back with their birth certificates. Johnny says they can go to another state. She wants to sleep, and he suggests a cheap motel. She hates the way they look at them. She suggests sleeping in the car.

            Ken answers the phone and asks why Bart called the police. Ken tells Helen not to get hysterical. He tells Sylvia that Molly ran away from school with Johnny. Molly is pregnant.

            Johnny and Molly hide in their car under a bridge. She says no one will marry them. She says they have to tell her father. They drive to the modern house. Ken tells Sylvia they are home. Johnny and Molly walk in. Molly runs to her father and embraces him. Johnny hugs his mother. Sylvia says they live in a glass house and are not throwing stones. Ken says Johnny has love. If they can find a sense of humor, they will have the weapons of the angels. Ken wishes Johnny and Molly a happy honeymoon, and they kiss.

            This melodrama explores the difficulties of young love and marriage when the partners no longer love each other. Social customs require young people to restrain their physical urges, or they risk the consequences of pregnancy. In this era many people are discovering that sometimes it is better to get divorced and find a more compatible partner.

Copyright © 2012 by Sanderson Beck

Movie Mirrors Index

BECK index