Where The Boys Are (DVD)
Hollywood's competition with sophisticated European arthouse films and the increasingly smutty drive-in circuit made the 1960s a weird time for romantic comedies. The era's studio productions tended to be tamely worldly, slaphappy satires of the upper middle class, tossing around the word "sex" freely while keeping the actual deed off-screen. Where The Boys Are was one of the first of the genre, a 1960 beach-party picture in which four women from a snowy northern university go to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break and test their liberal ideas on "playing house before marriage." The movie splits the difference between honestly depicting the rituals of young-adult drinking and fooling around, and copping out with four love stories that take abruptly moralistic turns. Aside from a few unfunny comic setpieces, Where The Boys Are is generally entertaining, thanks to vivid location footage and a likable cast. Casually handsome George Hamilton plays the rich dreamboat, while Jim Hutton (TV's Ellery Queen and father of Timothy Hutton) and Frank Gorshin take turns providing comic relief, the latter via his performances of "dialectic jazz." But the women make the movie: Dolores Hart (easily the most talented Hollywood ingénue ever to quit the business and become a nun) as the stressed-out would-be libertine, Yvette Mimieux as the tattered china doll, Connie Francis as the brassy chanteuse, and the delightful Paula Prentiss (who also provides a fine DVD commentary track) as the statuesque sweetheart. Unlike the boy-crazy ditzes who usually populate teen beach movies, this group is smart and pleasant: Watching them gab away in their cramped beachside motel room is far more touching than watching them get their hearts broken. From the other end of the decade, 1967's Divorce American Style serves up Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds as a typical bickering middle-aged suburban couple who decide to split up rather than navigate marriage-counseling psychobabble. Like too many '60s social comedies, Divorce American Style makes an unappetizing hash of post-New Wave style and shrill performances. Still, the movie survives Bud Yorkin's heavy-handed direction and Norman Lear's simplistic (though Oscar-nominated) script. While the opening scene of a conductor guiding a symphony of marital complaints is absurdly corny, the moment includes beautifully melancholy shots of freeways and subdivisions, duskily lit by cinematographer Conrad Hall. Van Dyke's whinnying laugh and Reynolds' over-emoting can be hard to take, but they perfectly underplay a well-choreographed sequence in which they get ready for bed in stony silence. The movie is also packed with archaeology: waterpicks, sliding-door closets, McDonald's, airy banks, muted indoor shopping malls, and home interiors full of stained glass, rock, shag, paneling, and patterned shadows. Divorce American Style doesn't delineate the central relationship well enough for its comments about marriage to remain relevant, but it's surprisingly up-front about money, providing all the details of Reynolds' alimony package and showing Van Dyke reduced to driving a broken-down Volkswagen and living in a one-room apartment. His loneliness is palpable, tied to the material goods he can no longer access, proving again that when it comes to split-personality '60s comedies, the real story is in the stuff.