Published April 14, 2008

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: This is part 3 of a series called The Best Damn Movies EVER, highlighting forgotten classics that many younger film lovers may have overlooked. This one is a bittersweet gem.

Director Robert Mulligan, who received worldwide acclaim for directing 1962’s powerful drama To Kill a Mockingbird, struck gold again in 1971 with the coming-of-age story, Summer of ’42.
Summer of '42 - original poster
Based on the memoirs of screenwriter Herman Raucher, the autobiographical story tells of Raucher’s teenage years on his family’s Nantucket Island vacation home. Named Hermie in the film (and played by Gary Grimes), the film opens with the 15-year-old playing on the beach with his friends, and spotting a newlywed young soldier carrying his bride into a beach house. All of the boys notice how beautiful the girl is, but Hermie is especially attracted to her. As the narration of Hermie’s grown self plays over this scene (actually voiced by director Mulligan), we know how traumatically this young man has been smitten.

“That house up there. That was her house. And nothing from that first day I saw her — and nothing that has happened to me since — has ever been as frightening, and as confusing. For no person I’ve ever known, has ever done more to make me feel more sure … more insecure … more important … and less significant.”

Gary Grimes as Hermie
Jennifer O'Neill as Dorothy
Not long after, Hermie sees his unattainable war bride kissing her husband goodbye on the docks, as he ships off overseas. Soon after this, Hermie meets her on the street as she is picking up a dropped bag of groceries. Offering to help, Hermie packs up her groceries and follows her to her house on the beach.

NOTE: As played by Jennifer O’Neill, the woman, whose name is Dorothy, not only caused Hermie to fall madly in love with her, but countless men and boys who have seen this film since 1971 … including me. Please forgive the overabundance of screenshots which follow, but somehow this face speaks volumes about not only Hermie’s crush, but the appeal of O’Neill, and the power of this movie. This is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.
Jennifer O'Neill
Jennifer O'Neill and Gary Grimes
Hermie and Dorothy on the beach
Jennifer O'Neill
Jennifer O'Neill
As the unlikely pair strike up an innocent friendship, with Hermie often helping Dorothy with manly chores, the lad falls deeper and deeper into the slough of unrequited love. This to the dismay and bewilderment of Hermie’s two best friends, Oscy and Benjie (played by Jerry Houser and Oliver Conant), who have more typically crude teenage thoughts regarding sex and girls.

I abhor spoilers, but … one doesn’t need to be a genius to figure out where this story is going. One night when Hermie comes to visit Dorothy, he finds a telegram on her coffee table telling of the death of Dorothy’s husband. What ensues between the two of them is moving and powerful, heartbreaking and unforgettable.
Hermie comes to visit
Jennifer O'Neill
Goodnight Dorothy
I’m sure I’m not the only one so moved by this film. Even simply hearing the haunting, Oscar-winning theme by Michael Legrand, stirs something deep within me. Watch the video below to hear it.

In 2001, Summer of ’42 was turned into an off-Broadway musical play, which can still be seen around the country.

Jennifer O’Neill, who after a horrible history of physical abuse, failed marriages and countless miscarriages, has since become an author, speaker and a Christian minister, preaching the Good News to women all over the world. She remains beautiful and sweet, inside and out. She has also been trying to produce a sequel to Summer of ’42, where Dorothy and Hermie meet again after decades — to date, this has not got off the ground, but I would be interested to see it. For much more info on what she is doing today, check out her official website.

If you have seen this film, and you wonder if Herman “Hermie” Raucher ever made contact with the real Dorothy again, follow this link to the Summer of ’42 Wikipedia page, where you can read all about it. Pretty powerful.
Outside Dorothy's house
Summer of ’42 has been, and remains, one of my favorite films. If you are a sucker for romances, even of the melancholy kind, this is the movie for you. Seek it out.

Warning: spoilers. Also low recorded volume — turn it up.