The hilarious inside story of those rip-roaring spring vacations!
One of five films released as part of Warner Home Video's DVD Decision promotion, in which you the viewers voted from among 20 unreleased classics from the Warner vault, comic confection Where the Boys Are did boffo box office upon its release in 1960, and became MGM's biggest film of the year. It's not hard to see why; starring four bikini-clad ingénues looking for love—or at least lust—during Spring Break, Where the Boys Are was the '60s precursor of "Girls Gone Wild," its beach party premise offering up the tantalizing promise of college coed sex with a frankness that shocked audiences of the time.
Facts of the Case
It's springtime, but Midwestern college coeds Merritt (Dolores Hart), Melanie (Yvette Mimieux), Tuggle (Paula Prentiss), and Angie (Connie Francis) are up to their bullet bras in snow. Desperate for some fun in the sun, the foursome skip town for their spring vacation and head down to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the Spring Break capitol of the world. But what on Earth could four young women possibly be looking for on the beaches of Ft. Lauderdale? Tide pools, perhaps? Driftwood sculptures? T-shirts with alligators on them?
Why, boys of course! And, true to the title of the film, Ft. Lauderdale is teeming with eligible (and not-so-eligible) bachelors looking to play beach blanket bingo. No sooner have their feet hit sand than the girls set to work snagging themselves a boy toy. Merritt (the sensible one) hooks up with wealthy Ivy Leaguer Ryder Smith (a positively wan George Hamilton in one of his earliest roles, before he developed his über-tan); Tuggle (the tall one) winds up with eccentric (read: dorkwad) "TV" Thompson (Jim Hutton); Angie (the geeky one) meets a kooky jazzman, Basil (Frank Gorshin, who'd go on to play The Riddler on the '60s Batman series), who plays something called "Dialectic Jazz" (which thankfully made its one and only appearance in this film); and Melanie (the naïve one) falls in with a group of hunky party-hearty louts.
What plot there is in Where the Boys Are follows the classic "youth sex comedy" formula, tracking the ups and downs of the four women as each discovers the ecstasy and heartbreak of romance in her own way. For the most part it's harmless, mildly salacious fun—until near-tragedy strikes one of the girls, and the film takes a screeching left turn into ABC Afterschool Special territory.
Women in the pre-Sexual Revolution 1950s and early '60s had it tough (though it's debatable whether things have changed all that much even forty years later). Society placed women in a position where just about the only thing they were valued for was their sexual attractiveness; and yet, if they expressed their sexuality, they were condemned as harlots. In order to snag a man they had to put their wares on display, but if they did so too boldly, they became the kind of girl that guys would date but never marry. It's this tortuous path that Where the Boys Are travels, with varying degrees of success.
As scandalous as the film was in 1960, Where the Boys Are is really a morality tale disguised as a sex romp. While appealing to randy teens with its talk of sexual freedom and a bright patina of Dionysian excess, the film is far more conservative than its reputation would lead one to expect. As the film begins, Merritt clashes with a fusty old professor when she expresses then-shocking views about free love and women's liberation, in a scene that almost breaks its back pandering to its youthful target audience; yet, no sooner has Merritt gotten together with rich boy Ryder than she reverts to chaste "good girl" form, enlightened notions of sexual freedom giving way to conventional wedding-ring fantasies.
In fact, for a movie that talks as much about sex as Where the Boys Are, almost no one in the film ever actually gets it on. The one girl of the four who does see some action, Melanie, is brutally punished for her indiscretions—not only does she end up being sexually victimized, but after an ambiguously presented date rape (?) scene, the demoralized and degraded girl literally becomes damaged goods when she takes an ambiguously suicidal nighttime stroll through highway traffic. For all its surface raciness, Where the Boys Are never ventures far beyond safe territory, finally retreating back into traditional "good girls don't" morality.
Moral bait-and-switch aside, Where the Boys Are transcends its featherweight premise with this third-act change of tone, and becomes less of a sex comedy than a coming of age tale, which finds its protagonists graduating from teenybopper fantasies to grapple with adult issues of sexuality and its consequences. As prudish as the film ultimately becomes, it is nevertheless true to life in its cautions—young women do need to protect themselves in the face of reckless male lechery—and surprisingly insightful in its characterizations, especially the insecure, self-destructive Melanie.
As with the other DVD Decision releases, Where the Boys Are gets a decent, if not exactly special-edition, treatment on DVD, with a clean, well-defined 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. Aside from some minor print defects, image quality is, in the parlance of the times, far out. Audio is presented in Dolby mono, and as such isn't especially spectacular, but aside from the film's musical scenes, which would have been much livelier in stereo, the monaural soundtrack is quite adequate.
Extra features on the disc include an informative and entertaining commentary by Paula Prentiss, a short retrospective featurette featuring Prentiss and a somewhat odd-looking Connie Francis, a newsreel with footage of the film's premiere, and a theatrical trailer. While it won't put the Lord of the Rings sets to shame, this is a solid set of supplements that is more than generous for a catalog release.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Although the film's treatment of young love and male-female relationships remains as relevant today as it was in 1960, other aspects of Where the Boys Are haven't fared as well. The kooky comedy may have had 'em rolling in the aisles forty years ago, but today the humor feels a trifle campy and seriously dated. Dialectic Jazz? Groan. The only thing the film is missing is bongo drums.
It's also kind of amusing (and by "amusing" I mean "tediously annoying") to note how strenuously the film works to convince us that cute-as-a-button Connie Francis is actually a frumpy bow-wow. Scarcely a minute goes by where someone isn't remarking upon Angie's lack of beauty or showing a guy running roughshod over her to get to a presumably more babelicious gal. Considering how much abuse she receives here, it's a wonder that the then-pop-sensation even agreed to take on the role.
Where the Boys Are is far too cheerfully lightweight to offend modern sensibilities even at its most conventional, but I found myself exasperated by its capitulations to traditional 1950s social mores. The film doesn't so much talk about sex as talk about the act of talking about sex; it presents the notion of sexual liberation without actually being liberated itself. Though complete candor may be too much to expect from a film that predates the sexual revolution—and, make no mistake, Where the Boys Are has its moments of bold frankness—there's an element of condescension about the proceedings; the film appears at first to empathize with its protagonists, but talks down to its audience at every important juncture. Beneath the fluffy comedy is a sensitive portrayal of young people coming to terms with adult responsibility, but beneath that is a fairly conventional cautionary tale that affirms rather than rebels against convention.
If the style of overtly wacky comedy popular in the 1960s is your thing, Where the Boys Are will more than satisfy. And once you get past the substantial camp factor, there is much about the film that remains surprisingly relevant to today's audiences. While the years have dulled much of its risqué shock value and dated much of its humor, Where the Boys Are remains an eminently watchable artifact of an earlier, more innocent age.
Where the Boys Are is found not guilty on all charges, but is cautioned to stay away from those bad boys lest it gain a bad reputation and never snag a husband.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Paula Prentiss
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