Where the Boys Are Review

Wherever the boys are, it’s certainly not in the frozen Midwest. So four co-eds – Merritt (Dolores Hart), Melanie (Yvette Mimieux), Tuggle (Paula Prentiss) and Angie (Connie Francis) – set out for sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from Spring break, where the boys really are. Lots of boys.

Adapted rather loosely from the 1958 novel by Glendon Swarthout, Where the Boys Are was a popular success in its day and still has something of a cult following. Some of this is down to people finding the film campy, but watching it afresh shows that it is for the most part anything but. Back in 1960, films like this and Splendor in the Grass brought youthful sex to the big screen. The idea that women could have sex before marriage, and indeed would want to, was quite something in its day, and you can sense the filmmakers’ urge to push the envelope in what you could say or show on screen. Needless to say, we’ve come a lot further since 1960, partly because censorship of the day would not allow anything too frank, and certainly wouldn't permit any nudity. Nowadays, for Tuggle to say that her main ambition is to become a “walking, talking baby factory” would be seen as very anti-feminist, but of course in 1960 it would be more accurately described as pre-feminist and very much of its time. It’s certainly preferable to a film like Mona Lisa Smile, set in the same era, which puts 21st-century attitudes into a 1960s setting, which inevitably rings false. For the most part Where the Boys Are is content to be a lighthearted romantic comedy with a few musical numbers courtesy of singing star Connie Francis in her film debut. However, towards the end the mood darkens: a rape happens, and remarkably for the time it’s not seen as a just reward for the character’s promiscuity, and the film is unequivocal in saying that when she said no, she didn’t really mean yes.

Where the Boys Are also introduced a lot of fresh talent to the cinema. The four lead actresses were all new to the cinema. This was the first of four films Prentiss made with Jim Hutton, the two often cast together because they were taller than the other contract players on the lot. Dolores Hart was a film star for the next three years – along the way, giving Elvis Presley his first screen kiss – before leaving Hollywood to become a nun. As for the men, George Hamilton was always a bland actor, but here he’s not asked to do more than look handsome, which is no stretch. In smaller roles, Frank Gorshin and Chill Wills are funny as, respectively, the short-sighted double-bassist in a “dialectical jazz” band and the Fort Lauderdale police chief. Henry Levin’s direction is competent with some lapses – he's hardly a great stylist – but generally concentrates on propelling the story forward.

This film did lead directly to the “beach party” films, beginning with Beach Party itself in 1963. They soon became a genre in themselves, but it’s more interesting to see Where the Boys Are as an early example of a female-ensemble film (another is 1996’s The Group), a kind of film where you can see Hollywood struggling to deal, not always successfully, with changing social mores and the role of women. Where the Boys Are itself was remade in 1984, in a version that apparently ups the sexual content. There’s no doubt that many will find the 1960 version dated and possibly even naïve, but you do have to take a film like this in the context of the times in which it was made. Back in 1960, this was a film which was more than a little daring, proposing ideas that an older generation would find hard to deal with and would oppose. The fact that it seems so naïve today is because that older generation failed. And, although no-one would place it amongst the great comedy-musicals, Where the Boys Are is still entertaining to this day.

Where the Boys Are was a MGM production which – along with most of the rest of that studio’s output up to the end of the 1960s – is now owned by Warner Bros. As with many Warners discs, this DVD is encoded for Regions 2, 4 and 5. The DVD has an anamorphic transfer in a ratio of 2.40:1, which is faithful to the way the film would have been shown in cinemas. (Strictly speaking, Scope is 2.35:1, but cinemas often show such films at the slightly wider ratio to avoid white framelines, splices and the like appearing on screen. The difference in composition is minimal to non-existent.) The picture opens with some stock footage of Fort Lauderdale, which is somewhat grainy with dullish colours, but fortunately that isn’t typical of the rest of the transfer. The picture is generally colourful. There’s a slight softness throughout, but that’s most likely due to the age of the material and the anamorphic lenses it was filmed with. (Anamorphic lenses have less definition than ordinary “spherical” lenses, and this was even more the case back in 1960.) But this is more than acceptable, even without making allowances for the film’s age.

The soundtrack is plain mono. It’s an entirely professional job of work, with dialogue, effects and music well balanced. As no original stereo track existed, I'd sooner have the original mono than an artificial multi-channel remix. No doubt it would be made differently were the film shot now, but that's frankly irrelevant.

Even though this is a back-catalogue release, it’s good that Warners have provided some extras. First of all is a commentary from Paula Prentiss. This is somewhat gushing and rather lacking in offscreen anecdotes: a non unpleasant but inconsequential listen. It would probably have been better if this had been a joint commentary with one of the other three lead actresses. “Where the Boys Were” is a short (7:53) making-of featurette, interspersing interviews with Prentiss and Francis with extracts from the film. The featurette is 4:3 non-anamorphic, with the film extracts letterboxed. The same applies to the newreel footage of the film’s premiere in Fort Lauderdale, which runs 1:13. Finally, there’s the trailer, a rather lengthy (3:05) effort that begins with an animated sequence.

Where the Boys Are still has its following, though I suspect it will play to more established fans of old movies rather than a modern audience. However, Warners have provided a good picture and sound. The extras are a little slight, but at least they are there, and you should be able to buy this at a reasonable price.

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