Summer of '42 (1971) Blu-ray Review: There's a First Time for Everything

The obscured (if slightly controversial now) coming-of-age hit returns to home video courtesy the Warner Archive Collection.
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An unexpected box office sensation upon its 1971 debut, Robert Mulligan's adaptation of Herman Raucher's Summer of '42 has since become as distant to audiences as has the element of romance to the average Tinder user. Indeed, the advent of modern technology has far-removed the timeless coming-of-age motif from that of younger generations, who will more than likely find the film's characters ‒ to say nothing of their particular plights here ‒ weird, if not completely unsettling. A personal favorite of iconic rogue filmmaker Stanley Kubrick (it's the only live-action film featured in The Shining, I believe), Summer of '42 arrives on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection.

Set on an island resort shortly after the United States decided it was finally time to do something about World War II, Summer of '42 centers on three teenage boys with nothing but time on their hands. But they certainly have a lot on their minds (well, at least one thing!), as we soon find out. Based on Raucher's own memoirs from his distant youth, our main character here is a 15-year-old lad named Hermie, as played by Gary Grimes. When he isn't horsing around with his two best friends ‒ an obnoxious jerk named Oscy (Jerry Houser) and sensitive shy kid Benjie (Oliver Conant) ‒ Hermie obsesses over a mysterious older woman living nearby.

With her husband off to war, Dorothy (Jennifer O'Neill, Scanners, The Psychic) also has a lot of time on her hands, which hormonal Hermie is more than anxious to assist with. Eventually, it will lead to what has now become a controversial moment in film history ‒ an artistic ebebophiliac variation of 1967's The Graduate, if you will ‒ though one which is presented in a far-more serious sense. Meanwhile, Hermie and pals attempt to learn the bare necessities of love and lust, which they formulate via two methods: an educational booklet Benjie swipes from his mother, and a few racy dates with a couple of young (and equally eager) ladies also living on the island.

Despite the subject matter which may offend and rile up some social justice warriors, Summer of '42 is an honest and sincere look at that point in time where we really do start to grow up. The accompanying awkwardness inherent in early encounters ‒ such as Hermie's case of "mistaken identity" during a movie date ‒ is something most adults can relate to. (Well, at least to adults who weren't exposed to everything on the Internet at an early age, therefore having no realistic way of knowing what is and isn't expected ‒ or appropriate ‒ of them.) To say nothing of that hilarious scene in the drug store where a very embarrassed Hermie attempts to buy a pack of prophylactics.

Christopher Norris (Airport '75) and character actor Lou Frizzell (Hickey & Boggs) highlight this somber dramedy from director Mulligan, who concluded his career 20 years later with another coming-of-age classic, The Man in the Moon. Unlike most adaptations, Raucher wrote the script first (which Warner refused to buy outright for fear it would flop, offering the writer 10% of profits instead), then transformed it into a best-selling novel after the flick became a runaway hit (thus setting Raucher up for life). Summer of '42 even proved successful enough to warrant an unsuccessful sequel in 1973, Class of '44, reuniting its male teenage leads.

Having already seen two Standard Definition DVD releases, Summer of '42 hits Blu-ray via an MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode from the Warner Archive. Looking better than ever, the cinematography of Robert Surtees (who, interestingly, also photographed The Graduate) shines throughout this HD transfer, as taken from an original interpositive print and framed here at 1.78:1. A few shots appear to have been taken from a secondary source, and numerous instances where the image zooms in for no reason whatsoever are presumably transitions to said alternate material. Personally, I found the optical zooms very distracting, though I doubt most viewers will notice.

Summer of '42 sports a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono English audio track. It isn't the sort of thing you'll pen personal memoirs over in the future, granted, but it nevertheless enables composer Michel Legrand's popular soundtrack to shine throughout. Optional English (SDH) subtitles are also included, but sadly, there isn't much in the way of special features here. Rather, the only bonus goodie included for this once-Titanic-sized blockbuster (which has only grown shockingly obscure over the last 45+ years) from author Herman Raucher (who also provides the film's uncredited narration as the grown-up Hermie), is the title's original theatrical trailer.

Enjoy. If you can, that is.

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