With summer right around the corner teens will be flocking to the beach, finding summer romance, and generally engaging in all those things movies of the past both praised and condemned. I was fortunate to catch Where the Boys Are poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel, but Warner’s beautiful new Blu-ray also helps to shake those spring doldrums off and get you ready for fun in the sun. The movie is an at times frank examination of gender dynamics in the shifting sixties, with a quartet of lovely and, above all else, smart women to lead things.
Four northwest college girls travel to Fort Lauderdale for spring break in the hopes of finding men to fall in love with. But love comes with a host of complications that end up changing their lives in ways they never expected.
The Fort Lauderdale at spring break in the 1960s is a far cry from the mass of sweaty bodies and rampant sexual assault that identifies spring break now. Or maybe it was always like that and movies just never showcased that side. Either way, Where the Boys Are never hides from the mixed message of traveling with friends down for spring break, especially if you’re a woman. Merritt (Dolores Hart) and her friends start out with dreams of escaping the snow and sleet of their hometown, while simultaneously getting away from their own personal dramas; Merritt herself is threatened with being kicked out of school for frank talk about “playing house before marriage.” It is Merritt’s fiery speech, elaborating on how women have to give up a certain amount of themselves in order to secure the attention of a boy that puts things into motion and is remarkably overt in what it’s saying. It’s the beginning of several uninhibited thoughts the film has about the struggles of being a sexual female. Merritt herself is conflicted on whether she believes what she’s said, and when the consequences catch up to her overly enthusiastic friend, Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) it only leaves her questioning whether her thoughts are right.
This is the first time I’ve watched Dolores Hart in a movie. Her performance as Merritt is bold. She’s not necessarily the den mother of the movie, but she’s the character actually thinking through her decisions, whether to stay on the boat with wealthy Brown senior, Ryder (a pre-suntanned George Hamilton) or not. By the end of Where the Boys Are all Merritt – and the audience – can process is that women are constantly fighting a battle, both within themselves and in society, over what constitutes a “good girl” or not. They’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Hamilton’s Ryder is by far not the worst man in this movie, but he certainly evokes a privileged take on everything. As Merritt frets over Melanie who has been raped by a “Yalie,” Ryder’s idea of comfort is to say Melanie ran into some “bad people,” as if this is an isolated incident. Rather than blame Melanie for her actions, Merritt is given the opportunity to fight back, and Hart gives it everything, telling Ryder that she hasn’t met any other examples of men on the trip. It’s amazing that after filming this Hart became a nun. Maybe she knew about the world of women and decided to avoid it all?
Once the girls get to Fort Lauderdale the true adventure begins. Each of the girls has designs on landing a man, whether it’s Melanie’s dream of finding an “Ivy Leaguer” or Tuggle’s (husky-voiced queen Paula Prentiss) hope of just finding a man with “feet bigger than hers” because of her extreme height. And then you have poor Connie Francis as Angie, the friend who is presumably the least attractive of the group. Sorry, Hollywood, but Connie Francis is gorgeous and Frank Gorshin’s Basil must be blind not to see that. Like other features in the “girls on vacation” genre – this includes The Pleasure Seekers (1964) – each woman has a defined personality and plot that generally involves scoring a male at the end. Some of these plotlines pay off more than others. Paula Prentiss is such fun as Tuggle, but she’s saddled with another character I couldn’t stand. Jim Hutton is definitely adorable in a geeky sort of way as TV. There’s a Jimmy Stewart quality to his shambolic walk and his chronic introduction of “now take sex….” The problem is TV is so entitled. He constantly complains about how his life is worse than everyone else’s – at one point proudly declaring how he shamed a rich woman to “being charitable” and paying his tuition; in another scene he pretends to be blind to convince a woman to help him across the street. The third act sees him throw over Tuggle for a woman with “great lungs,” and Tuggle is the one left to fight over him. Paula can do better! I will say, TV’s introduction is the best, with Merritt asking him his shoe size. “13.” “Get in!”
Yvette Mimiuex is the film’s babe in the woods, taking Merritt’s advice to heart and, though it’s never explicated, engaging in casual encounters with random men she meets. Mimiuex is darling; she’s the pure lamb you don’t want to see destroyed, which of course means she is. Her rape, shown off-camera, forces Merritt to question whether women can engage in casual behavior when men can’t seem to figure out no means no. Mimiuex’s character can easily be assessed as proof of the film’s male-dominated idea that “nice girls” only invite trouble by having sex or, as I see it, proof that men are kinda terrible.
Where the Boys Are asks a lot of tough questions for what should be a fun “summer at the beach” movie. Like Gidget, which I’ve argued has a deeper sexual message itself, Where the Boys Are resonates differently with women, reminding us of the harsh double standards of the world, especially where it concerns sexuality. Dolores Hart is fantastic, and it’s impossible to get the Connie Francis-sung theme song out of your head.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.