The theme of A Summer Place, especially when crooned by The Lettermen, has the ability to conjure up images of beaches and sailboats even in the depths of winter. Schmaltzy but pleasing, it perfectly suits a movie which at first glance is the soapiest of soap operas. The 1959 film, based upon the torrid novel by Sloan Wilson, was scandalous because of the topics of adolescent fornication and pregnancy in an era when teenagers were supposed to be innocent. Set in New England, for the most part, A Summer Place debuted in the cinemas as Calvinist America stood on the brink of cultural and sexual revolution. The book even more than the movie shows the reaction of the new generation to the Manichean attitudes which tended to flow as an undercurrent in American society. Puritanical repression is as different from genuine purity as ice is from fire; when sexuality is rejected because it is considered dirty or unclean, rather than restrained for the sake of love, then a monster is unleashed.
As the Richard Egan character reacts against his wife's disdain of the marriage bed by rekindling passion with his lost love (Dorothy McGuire), two families are ruined and all hell breaks loose. When the adults break the rules, they open up the way for the adolescents to break them, too. And while the grown-ups are able to piece their lives back together again, the youngsters are nearly destroyed. It is one of the films which best show the effects of divorce and remarriage upon the children involved. In the light of the confusion and torment suffered by the two teenagers, played by Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue, the affair embarked upon by Egan and McGuire appears irresponsible rather than romantic, although one cannot help but pity them for their impossible marriages. When people break commitments in order to find happiness and fulfillment, they must be aware of the high price to be paid, and the one to pay it might very probably be an innocent child. Share