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Film / Summer of '42

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"And nothing, from that first day I saw her, and no one that has happened to me since, has ever been as frightening and as confusing. For no person I've ever known has ever done more to make me feel more sure, more insecure, more important, and less significant."

Summer of '42 is a 1971 American comedy-drama film directed by Robert Mulligan and written by Herman Raucher. A Coming of Age Story based on Raucher's own experiences as a teenager during World War II, it is perhaps best remembered for providing Jennifer O'Neill with the role of her career—and for including that music.

Hermie (Gary Grimes) is a teenage boy spending the summer of 1942 on an unnamed island that closely resembles Nantucket. Neither Hermie nor his friends—Oscy (Jerry Houser), the jock, and Benjie (Oliver Conant), the shy nerd—are very concerned about the war, but they are very concerned with sex and girls. When Benjie reveals that his parents own a textbook about sex, it is a major highlight of the boys' summer. Oscy starts putting the moves on a pretty blonde he meets at the movie theater. Hermie also meets a girl at the theater, but his attention is focused elsewhere—specifically, on Dorothy (O'Neill), a beautiful woman at least ten years older than him who lives in a cottage on the beach, and whose paratrooper husband has gone off to fight in the war.

In 1973, the film was followed by a forgotten sequel, Class of '44, which featured the return of Hermie, Oscy, and Benjie (all played by the same actors) but had no appearance by Dorothy (thus maintaining consistency with the original, in which Narrator Adult Hermie says he never saw her again).


  • Adaptational Modesty: While the movie is still very frank in its depiction of sexuality, the novel is downright filthy, including a scene where Hermie remembers a friend of his getting his penis stuck in a Coca-Cola bottle.
  • Adapted Out: Hermie's sister and father, the former of whom is a minor character in the book, and has a fiancé fighting in the war. In the film, we only ever hear Hermie's mother offscreen.
  • Age Lift: Herman Raucher had only recently turned 14 when the events depicted in the film occurred. Keeping him that age would have radically changed the already morally ambiguous tone of the climax (see Double Standard Rape: Female on Male below).
  • All There in the Manual: The novelization gives the full names of the characters: Oscy's is Oscar Seltzer, Dorothy's is Dorothy Walker and her husband is Pete. The druggist is Mr. Sanders (though there is a reference to "old man Sanders" in the film). The book also goes into much more detail about Hermie and Oscy's friendship, which forms much more of a central narrative thread. It's also said that new people bought Dorothy's house after she left.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: The "Terrible Trio," all of whom have vaguely Jewish names including two (Herman and Oscar) not entirely common outside the Ashkenazi community at the time. Justified in that, in real life, Herman Raucher and his friends really were/are Austrian-Jewish.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Hermie goes back to Dorothy's house the day after they spent the night together, only to find a note informing him that she's left for good. In voiceover narration, the adult Hermie mentions that he never saw her again or learned what became of her, and notes that his experiences of that summer spelled the end of his childhood innocence. Still, he did get laid.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: When trying to buy condoms, Hermie keeps chickening out and asking for other things such as strawberry ice cream, sprinkles, etc. As the druggist is getting him a napkin, he finally blurts out "How about some rubbers?" Cue Double Take from the man.
  • Comforting the Widow: Hermie comes to visit Dorothy's cottage one evening, only to find her weeping after having received a telegram notifying her that her husband was killed in action over France. Sex follows.
  • Compressed Adaptation: True to the title, the book is more of a panopticon of Hermie's experiences on the island over the course of the entire summer. While his relationship with Dorothy supplies the climax and is certainly a narrative thread, the book also heavily focuses on Hermie's friendship with Oscy, with frequent callbacks to their early teens in a Jewish enclave in Brooklyn.
  • Creator Cameo: Director Robert Mulligan also provides narration.
  • Cringe Comedy: Hermie trying to work up the courage to purchase condoms at the drug store. First there's an elderly lady shopping in there who he doesn't want overhearing him, then he orders an ice cream because he's too embarrassed, then he has to bluff his way through asking for his "usual" brand, which costs more than he's prepared to pay, and finally he tries to pretend he doesn't even know what condoms are used for.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: A suitably retraux version of the main theme plays on a phonograph at Dorothy's place when Hermie shows up toward the end.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male:
    • Dorothy is guilty of statutory rape. Even in 1942, the age of consent in Massachusetts (the story presumably taking place on Nantucket Island) was sixteen whereas Hermie is fifteen. This is considered perfectly fine, but can you imagine if they had made a movie about a twentysomething widower sleeping with a willing fifteen-year-old girl? In Real Life, Raucher heard back from the woman after the movie and book came outnote  and found out she'd been worried that their night together might have traumatized him. But she was glad that he "turned out okay".
    • And in the film itself, the event isn't necessarily portrayed as romantic. Dorothy is either sad or ashen faced throughout the whole thing, and her expression post sex in fact seems to show regret or uncertainty. Hermie doesn't appear to be happy or excited the next day; just confused and solemn.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: When Hermie returns to Dorothy's cottage, he finds the "We regret to inform you" telegram, and an empty bottle of liquor. In real life, he said she was even drunker and kept calling him by her husband's name.
  • During the War: Set on the American homefront during World War II, obviously. Other than killing off Dorothy's husband, the war has little impact on the storyline. Our teenage male protagonists are, of course, too young for military service. The war looms much more heavily over events in the novel, in which Hermie's sister has a fiancé fighting in the Army who is ultimately killed on D-Day.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Miriam, the attractive girl Oscy gets with, is indeed a blonde.
  • Gaussian Girl: The entire film is shot in this manner, the better to convey the nostalgia of the adult Hermie's recollections.
  • The Ghost: Dorothy's husband, save for a couple of brief, distant glimpses Hermie catches of him at the beginning of the film.
  • Hands Play In Theater: Hermie at the theater does the arm-over-shoulder maneuver and grabs what he supposes to be Aggie's bosom. He's later disappointed to find out it was only her arm. At the very same time Oscy gets the "Stop it!" reaction with Miriam.
  • Head-Tiltingly Kinky: Oscy and Hermie's reaction to the anatomical pictures in the medical book that Benjie takes from his mother's house.
  • Invisible Parents: We briefly hear Hermie's mother (see The Voice, below) but never see her, nor his father. Nor the parents of Oscy or Benjie.
  • Jizzed in My Pants: Not definitively stated, but certainly implied during a scene where Dorothy, clad in a midriff-baring halter top and short shorts, asks poor Hermie for help in loading some boxes in her attic.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Oscy and Miriam slip away behind some dunes on the beach and wind up doing this.
  • Minimalist Cast: Hermie, Oscy, Benjie and Dorothy are the main cast members. Miriam, Aggie and the pharmacist have speaking parts. Everyone else is either a featured extra (Gloria, Dorothy's husband) or just a voice (Hermie's mother).
  • Mrs. Robinson: 15-year-old Hermie winds up losing his virginity to a woman who is at least ten years older than he is.
  • Nerd Glasses: Benjie sports a round horn-rimmed pair.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: While Raucher's real-life experiences took place on Nantucket, the island is left unnamed in the film and called Packett Island in the novelization. In any case, the film was shot in and around Mendocino, California, which is not on an island but does offer plenty of coastal Scenery Porn regardless. (According to Word of God, Nantucket looked far too modern by 1971 to realistically pass for the 1940s setting.)
  • Nostalgic Narrator: Robert Mulligan providing the voice of the adult Hermie.
  • Novelization: Written by Raucher and published prior to the film's release, it became a bestseller, to the point that the studio began advertising the movie as an adaptation of the book instead of vice-versa. The book became so popular that stores were literally selling out. A little more of Hermie's background, and the circumstances that brought him back to the island as an adult, is fleshed out.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Hermie employs some of this to obtain some condoms from a pharmacist. When asked what he wants them for, he says they're actually for his (nonexistent) older brother and that he assumes they're for filling with water and dropping on people from a roof.
  • Pair the Spares: Inverted. Miriam and Aggie's friend Gloria is supposed to be paired with Benjie, but he gets cold feet and runs home. Gloria then says the girls can go on without her.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    Oscy: Sometimes life is just one big pain in the ass.
  • Primal Scene: When Hermie and Aggie go to check on Oscy and Miriam at the beach.
  • Quest for Sex: Oscy is desperate to get laid before the summer is over, and Hermie sort of is as well.
  • Questionable Consent: Oscy is repeatedly trying to grab Miriam's boob or put his arm around her at the movies, which she keeps telling him to stop doing. Later, they happily make out, and by the end of the film Oscy has lost his virginity to her.
  • Ruptured Appendix: Toward the end of the film Oscy relates that Miriam suffered this and had to be taken off the island.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: The adult Herman notes in his closing narration that he said goodbye to "Hermie" forever that summer.
  • Shout-Out: Hermie, Oscy, and their dates watch Now, Voyager at the local movie theater.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Inverted with Oscy, sort of. In the novelization he's mentioned as having died while serving as a medic in The Korean War, but the movie makes no mention of this.
  • Stacy's Mom: Hermie and both his buddies gawk at gorgeous Dorothy.
  • That Nostalgia Show: Herman Raucher's almost-autobiographical look back at his own summer vacation of 29 years previous.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: Aggie is asexual and completely innocent of sex, running away in shock when she discovers Miriam and Oscy doing it (Child). Dorothy is the older, kind, nurturing presence (Wife). Miriam, who Oscy loses his virginity to, is also given a high sex drive (Seductress).
  • Title by Year: A 1971 comedy-drama film set during the titular time.
  • Title Drop: In both the opening and closing narration.
    In the summer of '42, we raided the Coast Guard station four times. We saw five movies, and had nine days of rain. Benjie broke his watch, Oscy gave up the harmonica, and in a very special way, I lost Hermie... forever.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Provided by Dorothy as she undresses for sex with Hermie. This was due to Jennifer O'Neill's reluctance to do full nudity.
  • Trojan Gauntlet: Not easy to get when you are a 15-year-old boy in 1942. Hermie finally gets a pack but not before he's grilled by the pharmacist.
  • Vague Age: Dorothy's age is never given, as in real life Raucher never knew (he said in interviews "she could have been twenty for all I knew"). The casting call was for actresses over thirty, but Jennifer O'Neill was twenty-two.
  • The Voice: Hermie's mom, heard a couple of times through the walls but never seen. Her voice is provided by an uncredited Maureen Stapleton.
  • Wartime Wedding: Dorothy and her husband are newlyweds.