Here's an example of one of our shorter write-ups in the book. These start with "Now Showing" information and a seventy-character "Preview" (always exactly seventy characters). Then come the essay's title and a 400-word discussion, followed by an "Added Attraction" that supplements the main movie with some extra list or further analysis.

NOW SHOWING: Summer of '42 (April 1971)

Director: Robert Mulligan

Stars: Jennifer O'Neill, Gary Grimes, Jerry Houser

Academy Awards: One win (Best Music), plus three more nominations (Best Writing; Best Editing; Best Cinematography)

PREVIEW: A teenage boy falls for a beautiful older woman whose husband is fighting in the war.


With the Vietnam War raging, Americans in the early 1970s seemed ready for something old-fashioned at the movies. Consider: 1970's biggest blockbuster was a teary melodrama, Love Story. Four months after that movie's debut, another popular hit, Summer of '42 (1971) delivered similar nonviolent, escapist entertainment, this time sending viewers to a tastefully nostalgic past when times, and wars, were simpler.

Like Love Story, Summer of '42 is narrated by a 1970s man (voiced by director Robert Mulligan) who is warmly remembering his lost love. Long ago he was Hermie (Gary Grimes), a sensitive fifteen-year-old boy summering on an unnamed East Coast island (Northern California provides the locations). Hermie and his two friends talk about girls, drool over the sex pages in a medical manual, goof around on the beach, and go to movies. Amused audiences will surely identify with their youthful, uninformed conversations: "I hope I'm not in love with her," worries Hermie's pal Oscy (Jerry Hauser), "I hate her!"

Complicating Hermie's life is Dorothy (Jennifer O'Neill), a lovely married woman in her twenties. She's presented as a daydream -- occasionally in slow-motion, always sunny, naturally radiant. When her husband goes off to war, Dorothy is left alone and becomes the object of Hermie's obsession. He is nervous and overly polite around her, blurting out "mature" comments like, "Laughter becomes you." Three-fourths of the way through the movie everything changes when Dorothy learns of her husband's death; when Hermie visits that evening, she tenderly, wordlessly, and inexplicably takes him to bed.

Here's where the movie gets problematic. Her response to heartbreaking loss may seem illogical, but screenwriter Herman Raucher says the movie is autobiographical, so we'll accept her actions without judgement. Also overlook Hermie's status as a minor, which has potentially serious implications. The bigger issue is their obvious lack of chemistry: before the bedroom scene, they'd been together for only nineteen minutes, most of them awkward. Dorothy doesn't even reveal her name until just before the tragedy, and she offers zero explanations in the note she leaves before departing the next day. The narrator concludes by saying he "lost Hermie forever," a poignant but vague statement. Perhaps it's better not to over-think the ending and to focus instead on what's undeniably wonderful about the movie -- the exquisite cinematography, the evocative details, the gorgeous Oscar-winning music. Summer of '42 is indeed haunting and beautiful, but it's not convincing.

ADDED ATTRACTION: May/December Relationships

Younger-men-with-older-women romances are in the following 1970s movies (with ages of the actors and actresses in the years when the movies premiered). For movies pairing May-actresses/December-actors, see the entry for The Poseidon Adventure (1972).

Animal House (1978): Tim Matheson, 31; Verna Bloom, 39

The Beguiled (1971): Clint Eastwood, 41; Geraldine Page, 47

Bloody Mama (1970): Bruce Dern, 34; Shelley Winters, 50

Butterflies Are Free (1972): Edward Albert, 21; Goldie Hawn, 27

40 Carats (1973): Edward Albert, 22; Liv Ullmann, 35

Harold and Maude (1971): Bud Cort, 23; Ruth Gordon, 75

The Last Picture Show (1971): Timothy Bottoms, 20; Cloris Leachman, 45

Moment to Moment (1978): John Travolta, 24; Lily Tomlin, 39

Nashville (1975): Keith Carradine, 26; Lily Tomlin, 36

Summer of '42 (1971): Gary Grimes, 16; Jennifer O'Neill, 23


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