Last Summer (1969) Frank Perry

Last Summer LC2

As an adolescent, acceptance into your peer group is always an undeniable desire, rejection from the group scars you for life. Few films broach this topic as compelling and intelligently as “Last Summer.”  Based on a novel by Evan Hunter (The Blackboard Jungle), “Last Summer” is the story of three middle class teenagers who spend a summer on Fire Island with their parents, though the parents are never seen. Sandy (Barbara Hershey), a beautiful dark longhaired girl is highly intelligent and while she expresses a sexual confidence her actual experience is limited. The two boys, Peter (Richard Thomas) and Dan (Bruce Davison) are sexually less sure of themselves; they talk a lot about getting laid, would Sandy be willing, when should they make a move.

The three form close-knit circles of friendship. When they first meet, Sandy is on the beach nursing a wounded seagull. They remove a hook and the three nurse and rehabilitate the injured bird back to health. They spend the summer swimming, drinking beer on the beach, smoke pot and bonding. The threesome go on a date to the movies on the mainland where the boys work up the nerve to feel up Sandy, sharing a breast each. The look on Sandy’s face tells you she’s excited. Outside the theater she tells the boys how sexy they made her feel. They run into some local punks and are chased, barely escaping their reach by catching the ferry back to the island.Last Summer -poster

Into their tight circle comes Rhoda (Catherine Burns), a short plump lonely girl who practically forces her way into their company. She really does not fit in but they let her hang out with them, mostly because they take spiteful pleasure in taunting and mocking her. One afternoon, the boys discover Sandy has killed the seagull after the wild bird bit her. Admonishing her for lying, Peter begins to spend time with Rhoda teaching her how to swim.

Sandy instigates a decision to push the reluctant and inexperienced Rhoda to go on a computer matched date that Sandy initiated as a kick to “trick the computer” with a shy Puerto Rican man named Anibal (Ernesto Gonzalez). At a bar, after a night of drinking and dancing, they run into the same bullies who they escaped from a few nights earlier at the movies. They run off again abandoning the inebriated Anibal who is beaten up by the three punks. Rhoda, the only one reluctant to leave the scene, is dragged away by the others. Later she berates Peter for his behavior which only makes him run take with Sandy and Dan.

On a hot summer’s day, the three go into the woods to cool off from the burning sun, Rhoda tags along. Annoyed that she followed, Sandy removes the top of her bikini swimsuit and badgers Rhoda to do the same. Disgusted by Sandy’s unashamed behavior Rhoda attempts to leave however, Sandy pushes the boys to stop her. Sandy’s desire to destroy Rhoda results in a brutal scene that will bind the three forever.Last SUmmer - Still

     Sandy, Dan and Peter, lack a moral compass. Everything they do is just for kicks, not seeing any problem; heck all they were doing was having a few laughs. They didn’t mean for the Puerto Rican guy to get beat up; the whole date thing was just an attempt by Sandy to screw up the computer-dating model. This callous treatment is seen throughout the film, Rhoda, is similarly treated, like the wounded seagull, at first she is somewhat accepted into the group and then disregarded always at the mercy of the callous indifference of Sandy.

The four leads are all portrayed so well that it is challenging to select a standout though, Catherine Burns as Rhoda, has a touching monologue sadly describing the circumstances of her mother’s death that is extremely moving. Burns received an Academy Award nomination for her role. Richard Thomas was still a few years away from his career making role of John-Boy in “The Waltons”, and fans who associate Thomas only with that role may be a bit shocked seeing him here as one of the two callous immature teen boys. Of the two, Thomas’ Peter at times shows a sensitivity the others lack, yet his strong bond with Sandy and Dan draws him to side with them in the film’s final heinous conclusion. Bruce Davison adds a strong and convincing dimension as the cocky, sex minded Dan. The two boys are well matched and come across as realistic buddies. One of the film’s strongest features is the authenticity of the way the characters talk, like real teenagers. Barbara Hershey was the best known of the four actors, having already starred in the TV series “The Monroes” a few years earlier. As Sandy, she uses her beauty and brains to sexually tease the horny boys as well as manipulate them. A combination of heartless cruelty and teenage seduction, she’s a dangerous adolescent mix, at one point killing the rescued seagull, then turning the boys against Rhoda.

There are few adults in their lives with who they can connect. When we do see an adult it turns out to Sandy’s mothers’ boyfriend who she confesses, as a “major truth” to the boys, attempted to molest her. The boys talk about uncaring parents who are too busy with their own lives to have much concern for their kids.

Last Summer-LC “Last Summer” was directed and  written by the husband and wife team of Frank and Eleanor Perry. Eleanor adapted the screenplay from  Evan Hunter’s novel. During the 1960’s the Perry’s worked on the fringes of Hollywood, other films included “David and Lisa”, “Ladybug, Ladybug”, “Trilogy”, “The Swimmer” and Diary of a Mad Housewife.”  Overall, their career together, they separated in 1970, was an interesting mix of flawed successes and misfires.  “Last Summer” fits right in as a flawed (technically, I noticed some mismatching shots in some scenes) though engrossing lifelike middle class story about the growing pains of adolescence.

A recurring theme in the Perry’s work is the battle between the sensitive individual dealing the more callous tougher personalities met in life.  Here it is Rhoda versus Sandy. In “Diary of a Mad Housewife”, you have Carrie Snodgrass’ meek wife finding her independence faced against an obnoxious husband and a sexiest callous lover.

Add “Last Summer” to the list of films unavailable for DVD. The film was released on VHS video many years ago (Key Video), however it has since remained an elusive work to the home video market, as has “Dairy of a Mad Housewife”, another that has only seen a VHS release. I found a used VHS tape some years ago at a video store  specializing in used videos. The film was released with an R rating though it was originally given an X until scenes from the explicit ending were toned down. Be careful if you find the film on TV. Apparently, there are some PG versions floating around that will ruin the premise.  Overall, “Last Summer” is an effective though disturbing look at youth with too many empty summer hours to fill with experimentation, sexual awakening, the desire to fit in, and the cruelty of just growing up. Then again, isn’t that what adolescence is all about.

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41 comments on “Last Summer (1969) Frank Perry

  1. Hannah says:

    The only film I watched starring Barbara Hershey was Beaches, but this sounds very interesting; it’s really a shame that it is unavailable on DVD.

    Your last statement rings true I think in most coming-of-age films or films that deal with youth culture. And, these disturbing but very real looks into adolescence is what probably makes these kinds of films so arresting. Thoroughly enjoyed this review!

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Hanna,

      A couple of B Hershey films I recommend are Hannah and her Sisters, The Stunt Man and The Last Temptation of Christ.

      This film deserves a DVD release!!!

      Like

  2. Nice essay! Thanks for shining a light on a film that seldom gets mentioned — even among the movie crowd. I saw it last year on the Key VHS and thought it was something of a rough draft, and possibly a bit contrived. As if Perry had the idea for the final scene first, and then tried to construct a picture that would lead up to it. I’m not so sure he pulled it off — I don’t think the boys would go so far or be so gullible. Either way it’s a fascinating picture that would get a ton of discussion were it more readily available.

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Mark,

      thanks for your comments. I am not sure about Perry having the final scene first and constructing the rest of the film around it. interesting thought but the film is based on Evan Hunter’s novel and though I read the book around the time of the film’s release,it (the film) follows the book closely , if my mind memory me well.

      Like

  3. Sam Juliano says:

    “A reoccurring theme in the Perry’s work is the battle between the sensitive individual dealing the more callous tougher personalities met in life.”

    Indeed John! And I echo what the others have stated here in saying ‘Bravo!’ to you for dealing with this sadly neglected film. But this is th ecase with the early 70’s as I have myself complained about in the lack of DVD availability with works by by Stanley Kramer, Gilbert Cates, Larry Pearce, etc. Yes, John, the film is technically flawed, but it’s still a fascinating examination of characters and relationships. of course, this film did just as much to define a time and place as it did the people it considered. As such it is important and should be available. I saw it in the theatre in the early 70’s in fact, but have never owned it sinced in any format.

    BTW, I did agree that Cathy Burns deserved her Oscar nomination (that’s what drove me at that time to see the film, as in those years I was an oscar fanatic)and gave the film’s best performance, though as you note the others were most fine too.

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Sam,
      How true about neglected film from that period. Our friend Samuel Wilson of Mondo 70 recently wrote about another fine forgotten work, Straight Time with Dustin Hoffman, and of course you have done some fine work on your own with fantastic looks at some neglected 70′ works over at Wonders in the Dark. And there are so many more to do!
      Sadly, Larry Pearce ended up doing a lot of TV work but he did some nice films in the 60’s and 70’s.

      Like

  4. atesligece says:

    i like it,its very nice

    Like

  5. Walter says:

    One of the best of Barbara Hershey’s films. One thing I think you forgot to mention was the impact of the film on her – the killing of the seagull so affected her that for years afterward, she would insist on being billed as Barbara Hershey Seagull.

    Like

  6. John Greco says:

    Thanks Dennis!

    Like

  7. John Greco says:

    Thanks Tnelson!

    Like

  8. Gary says:

    Hi:

    I just came across your blog and must tell you that I’ve had a forty year endeavor to bring “Last Summer” to the attention of today’s generation and to DVD. It is truly a film that everyone was seeing in 1969 along with “Midnight Cowboy,” “Easy Rider,” etc. yet it is never mentioned in books and literature regarding that year or era. What a shame. I’ve gone so far as to contact George Feltenstein of Warner Home Video, which now owns the film and I’ve personally spoken to Robert Osborne of TCM about it and and gave him a copy of the Key Video release. I’ve also tried to rally the troops with posts on “Last Summer’s” site on IMDB. It is truly a gem waiting for rediscovery.

    For me the most remarkable image is the expression on Richard Thomas’ face after the deed is done. It is the very last shot in the film before the end, and has haunted me for years.

    Thank You

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Hi Gary and welcome! I agree with you this is a film that certainly deserves a DVD release. I found a used copy of the Key Video some 12 years ago or so and have held on to it since. I have no idea whay but you are right, this film is rarely if ever brought up in any books on that era. I was unaware that Warner’s now owned the rights. They should at least put it out as part of their Warner’s Archives series.
      Thomas’ character was the only one of the three with any sense of wrong or right.

      Like

      • Gary says:

        I sctually spoke with George Feltenstein of Warners in 2005 who is a big Frank Perry fan. Warners is clearly in the forefront of releasing older titles, especially in box sets, and he envisioned an “x-rated” set from the sixties with complete restorations. That was then, this is now. Unfortunately, even Warners is feeling the economic pinchn and “Last Summer” remains on the back burner. Warners has it because they obtained the complete Allied Artists library. Certainly a grass roots campaign is always helpful, this is what I’ve been trying to mobilize on several sites and it’s on DVDsavant’s “wish list” every year. We never give up!!!

        Thanks,

        Gary

        Like

  9. John Greco says:

    Gary,

    That is interesting what Feltenstein said. Thanks for sharing. I will go to the TCM website and add my name to the wish list for its release and encourage others to do the same!

    Like

  10. Gary says:

    Hi John:

    I was contacted by a fan of “Last Summer” in the UK who kindly informed me that Warner Archive will release “Last Summer” this year (2010) on DVD. The info can be found here http://yfrog.com/jdyb6j, which is the March 2010 Warner Archive newsletter. On the site the newsletter looks tiny, but if you just click on it, it will enlarge. This is exciting news, and I look forward to this as the beginning of a whole new generation rediscovering the film. Hopefully next, “Diary of a Mad Housewife.”

    Like

  11. Dana A. says:

    Let us not forget the magical imagery of LAST SUMMER from the Director of Photography, Gerald Hirschfeld, A.S.C. His was one of the films that caused me to become a director as well as my own D.P. from the 600 plus commercials I directed. Many thanks, Jerry! Happy 90th birthday and onwards!

    Dana

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Dana, – Welcome and thanks very much for stopping by and I agree Gerald Hirschfeld should not be forgotten. He actually did another one of my favorite films from the late 60’s, THE INCIDENT.

      Like

      • Dana Augustine says:

        Hey, John — sorry that I just now am discovering your reply … and gee-whiz, only about 5 years later I’m replying to your kind comment back about Gerry Hirschfeld.

        I’ve been fortunate to know he & his lovely wife Julia for — wow — about 25 years and they’re truly … truly ….

        Wait ….. so many superlative words can & do apply — so best to say, get out the dictionary —

        — look up the words, ‘Good,’ ‘Great,’ and ‘Outstanding’ and that’s only a smidgen of the esteem I hold for them as people — let alone his collective work as a Cinematographer in arguably, some of the most important films ever made.

        There is much to learn from the way Gerald / Gerry / Jerry paints a ‘moment’ with light for the up and coming artisans d’cinema of tomorrow … or …. for that matter the ones of today.

        Take care & thanks for this site … it gives much water back into the well … BRAVO-!

        Dana

        Like

      • John Greco says:

        Dana,

        Your comment made me take a look at Gerald’s filmography on IMDb and it’s staggering on how many great films he worked on: Fail Safe, Diary of a Mad Housewife, Young Frankenstein just to name a few.

        Like

  12. Trevor says:

    Any new news on the release of “Last Summer” on dvd?? Its now nearly 2 years since that Warner Archive announcement… Super hopeful it will actually happen in a fully restored version in 2012!!. ??..

    Trevor.

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Trevor, I am with you on this. Unfortunately, I have not read anything about an upcoming release on this since 2010. I always keep checking the WB archives for new releases. Here hoping something happens soon!

      Like

      • ziegfeldman says:

        Hi John:

        As one who has written about “Last Summer” here before, I think you and your readers will be interested in this story about a special screening of the film that just happened in Hollywood last week with Barbara Hershey present. I wasn’t there, I was on vacation (on a cruise to the Bahamas) instead. Had I known about this in advance, I would have gladly traded the cruise for this.

        http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/movies/la-et-last-summer-201 20118,0,4972829.story

        Thanks,

        Gary

        Like

    • John Greco says:

      Gary, thanks for the link! I hope Trevor who left a comment earlier today gets to read this. This film and Perry’s DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE both need a DVD release!

      Like

  13. Ziegfeldman says:

    Here is the latest on “Last Summer” from Warner Archive as posted today on Facebook:

    Warner Archive Collection
    We have been planning to release this film for quite a while now. We scheduled it to be remastered over two years ago. Our goal was (and is) to release the film in its orig. version and aspect ratio. We’ve run into problems trying to re-construct the original cut from 35mm orig. materials, hence the delay. Many elements are mis-identified. However, we hope that our continued efforts will lead to success, in order to bring this great film to DVD as soon as we can do so properly.

    Best,

    Gary

    Like

  14. ED LORELLO says:

    CAN I GET A DVD OR THJE MOVIE ANYWHERE OR CAN IT BE DOWNLOADED

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Ed, the film was only released on VHS many years ago. There were rumors of a DVD release but nothing yet. That said, if you surf the web there are bootleg copies out there but beware the quality varies. Hopefully, the film will someday get a DVD release.

      Like

      • Ziegfeldman says:

        Ed and John:

        As far as I know “Last Summer” is still on the “short list” for Warner Archives for restoration and release. I had posted on their FB page some months ago, and that’s. the response I got. They are working on getting all of the “elements” together for a proper restoration. I believe them since they also posted that this is one of their most requested titles. Based on their product released so far, I have faith that it will be worth waiting for.

        In the meantime, the Key VHS is usually available on Ebay and is worth the price. It’s the R version and is perfectly acceptable. For the differences between the X and the R, which are not great, you can check my posts on IMDB on this subject.

        By the way, the film was just shown on TCM (June 22), but if you missed it, it’s a good thing. This is the “Lawn-Mower” utra-sanitized version that is a complete abomination. In fact, I brought this very issue up with Charlie Tabesh, Head of Programming at TCM, whom I met at the last TCM Hollywood festival. He was thoroughly aware of this and said that, unfortunately, sometimes TCM is at the mercy of whatever they can get. This is not a knock to TCM–this is the only TV I watch.

        So, good things are worth waiting for.

        Best,

        Gary

        Like

  15. John Greco says:

    Gary Thanks for the update. I was aware TCM recently showed thsi film on TV and was wondering which verison they would show. Fortunately, for me, back in the late 1990’s, I found a used copy of the Key Video VHS tape for something like four or five bucks. Again, I appreciate the update and we keep on hoping.

    Like

  16. Doc says:

    I saw this movie for the first time on TCM. I was immediately captured by the writing and the pitch perfect tone and the randomness of idling away an adolescent summer; the awkwardness of finding new friends and the strong (though ephemeral) bond it can create. There were many moments that struck me as brilliant. One being, the foreshadowing of the rape and mistreatment of Rhoda by the killing of the seagull. Second, the day that the three teens smoked marijuana and washed each other’s hair was, to me, some sort of communion and water baptism. More so, when Rhoda doesn’t get to take part of the group, we se she is not part of their Trinity. Of course, I don’t mean to reiterate the religious imagery, for I don’t think it was intended, but I think symbolically it illustrates the solidarity of their group. I think Barbara Hershey was fearless in this role, to be so young. They all were fantastic. This was a pleasant surprise to find this movie and I hope to find more like it on this channel. It was a little Altman-esque and even the dialogue flowed in the way that natural disjointed dialogue in a Woody Allen film does. Terrific…and a disturbing ending.

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Hi Doc,
      You’re right, Perry captures “the randomness of idling away an adolescent summer” perfectly, though if giving credit, some has to be given to Evan Hunter whose novel the film is adapted from and the screenplay follows pretty closely. Rhoda is definitely an outsider, and no matter, what she never really fits in with the group. Hershey’s character is the most disturbed, she bright, self centered, with a very alienated dark streak. The two boys basically follow her lead, it all centers around her. Rhoda is more down to earth and has more common sense than the others and that is what basically makes her different from the three and the outsider.
      As you point out, the entire cast is excellent especially the two girls. The print that TCM showed unfortunately was the edited PG version. There’s an “R” rated version which is a bit stronger. The film was originally rated “X” but soon after its release the rating was changed to “R”

      Like

  17. Doc says:

    I posted a comment on this site and went back to view it and it was gone. Don’t know what happend. Is there a way to find it and retrieve it to re-post?

    Like

  18. Kristopher says:

    A wonderful movie, and it is absolutely timeless.. I shall wait for this movie for as long as it takes, for it to become released on the DVD format..
    I have got a copy of Last Summer on the Key Video VHS format, and have had it for many years.. The VHS version of Last Summer of which I have got is a priced possession..

    Kristopher

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Kistopher, I totally agree and I have the same VHS video which I picked up years ago at a video store for a couple of bucks. This is the original R rated version unlike the edited version they showed on TCM a while back so yes it should be treasured. When a DVD comes out we have to hope it is the original version!

      Like

  19. Kristopher says:

    Ralph Waite is mentioned to have been in Last Summer, although I do not see him anywhere in the movie..
    I guess I kind of find his disappearance rather puzzling..

    Kristopher

    Like

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