"You insist on de-sexing her, as if sex were synonymous with dirt." -- Ken
Lifeguard Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan) went off to make his fortune and got married to Helen (Constance Ford) after his true love, Sylvia (Dorothy McGuire), married a man of her class. Her husband Bart (Arthur Kennedy) has fallen on hard times and he and Sylvia now run an inn with their son, Johnny (Troy Donahue), on Pine Island, off the coast of Maine, where Ken and Sylvia first fell in love. Ken returns to the island with his family; feelings between him and Sylvia are rekindled even as Johnny begins an intense romance with Ken's daughter, Molly (Sandra Dee). Then Helen finds out about the affair between her husband and Sylvia ... A Summer Place is distinguished by some very good acting, a frank and positive look at sex, and Max Steiner's lushly romantic score. [This includes the main theme and the younger couple's love theme, which became a hit record; other music is recycled from Steiner's A Stolen Life.] Richard Egan [Wicked Woman] and Dorothy McGuire are excellent, and Arthur Kennedy has an outstanding scene where a drunken Bart confronts his son and Molly when they ask his permission to marry. Egan is especially good in a well-written scene when he's telling off his wife and listing her assorted prejudices. One flaw (among a few) in the film is the characterization of Helen, who is presented strictly as a one-dimension villainess. As such, Constance Ford is fine, but the script and direction (both from Delmer Daves) limit her. Sandre Dee is quite effective as young Molly, and Troy Donahue -- who obviously did his more memorable work with the coaching and encouragement of Delmer Daves -- gives one of his best performances. [Daves used Donahue in four movies, and the actor was always better than he was in such later films as My Blood Runs Cold, in which he was back to being as stiff as a board.] Beulah Bondi has a good role as Sylvia's wise old Aunt, who lives in the inn and tries to give Sylvia sage advice about the affair. A Summer Place borders on the edge of soap opera, and never becomes a great movie -- it's overlong and talky at times -- but it's full of interesting scenes, such as a certain moment between Ken and Sylvia. Sylvia tells Ken that she's sorry she's not as pretty as she used to be. You would expect Ken to immediately tell Sylvia that she's wrong, but instead there's a long pause and he says, "I love you too much to speak." The closeness between the two is so intense that there's no need to tell pretty lies or even to say anything to each other. It's hard to realize that A Summer Place was once extremely controversial, but now it serves as a time capsule detailing the difficulty of sexual and romantic relationships in a less enlightened era. This is another movie that could be filed in the category: How The Rich Suffer!
Verdict: For romantic souls and Troy Donahue fans. ***.