Summer of '42 (1971): Part 2 of 2
Director: Robert Mulligan
Writer: Herman Raucher
Cinematographer: Robert Surtees
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
It was at this point that the long scenes dominating the first third eventually faded. I really couldn’t tell you if any of them were cut down or just better constructed, but the last two thirds of this movie is incredible. We watch the descent of friendship, no longer reserved or as violent as it was before, but rather based on a true problem between Oscy and Hermie. Oscy’s the type of friend we’ve all had, wrought with selfishness, with hardly an ounce of empathy. And like most friends of this sort, we get the feeling that it’s all a disguise, as Oscy is overwhelmed with jealousy. Instead of supporting Hermie and his confusion, there’s a barrage of ball-busting and criticism. In a great and equally true scene, we see as Oscy, Hermie, and Benjy meet a few unprepossessing girls at the movie theater, as Oscy approaches them after eating an ice cream, with cream covering his mouth. He finds success, bringing back the three girls to the beach, assigning them out, leaving the least desirable girl for Benji, to which he storms off, heads home with the girl taking off shortly after, leaving Benji, Oscy, and their dates. What I’ve always failed to understand is a guy’s willingness to sleep with anything, and given that Mulligan clearly casted less desirable women, it makes it all the more disgusting when Oscy puts the moves on his date, unable to control his desire and constantly fondling her.
While it’s easy to accuse the scene of crossing the line, having been in similar situations with friends like Oscy, who are quick to grope and feel, I also think it’s honest. These types of people always pushed the boundaries of the less attractive girls, knowing that their chances were all the greater and making the situation all the more uncomfortable, and in later years, disgusting. Later, in another brilliant scene, Hermie has to go buy condoms at the local drug store. This scene could have easily been cut down, but the length works in capturing the moment’s awkwardness - as Hermie navigates between pacing around, asking for ice cream, and then finally requesting the rubbers. When they meet up with the girls at the beach, complete with their twelve-step (or however many) list of how to have sex. Oscy makes it with the girl. Mulligan keeps the focus on Hermie and his date, as Oscy and his date lie in the sand dune’s nadir, with Oscy makes his way through the list, finally requesting Hermie’s condom. It’s particularly gross that we don’t see it, as we wonder how much of the situation is two-sided. Whatever is going on, I was disgusted by Oscy’s animalistic desire. As it’s clear with Hermie that while he wants his first time to be memorable and with the right person, Oscy just wants to stick in his dick in something - anything. I felt bad for the girl, as she seems to know that Oscy would probably never call her again.
When Hermie heads to Dorothy’s house one night, discovering a K.I.A. letter from the government, stating that Dorothy’s boyfriend or husband was now dead, you’re suddenly pulled back into understanding the time. Although the story could play just as well today, we were watching a film that took place during WWII. It’s never suggested (or not so I noticed), but I imagine Mulligan was commenting on the filtration of youth, where the boys existed in a bubble of protection and security, only seeing what’s within their immediate vicinity, never really understanding what’s going on in the world beyond. To think that the parents were spending their summer in this idyllic place, when hundreds of thousands of men were being killed overseas, battling against a genuine threat to their existence becomes all the more eerie by the concluding scene. Hermie and Dorothy eventually have sex. The scene is so quiet and the moment so balanced, that I both smiled at the supreme significance it stood for Hermie, and how dark it must have been for Dorothy. We did not need to see tears or hear big monologues to understand that this was her way of dealing with pain, to find anyone, no matter the age, that loves her and could comfort her. Hermie understands none of this, only knowing that a woman who has dominated his thoughts and passions has finally taken him. These two emotions playing together is unlike any I’ve ever seen.
It’d be tragic if Hermie never learned what it all meant, and yet I believe that’s what Older Hermie was reminiscing about (strangely enough voiced by director Robert Mulligan). With the present moment taking place at the peak of the Vietnam War, as the body counts reached their zenith, I think Hermie was coming to understand how pure and innocent those times were, while also grasping what it meant for Dorothy and his friends. There’s a forgiveness in Older Hermie’s tone, as he pieces it together, staring into the sunset, realizing that while it was all so innocent compared to his current world. There still were moments of depth and significance, of profound meaning that will remain with him until the end.
BELOW: A Perfect Score
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