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Releasing in tandem with a number of other classics from Warner Brothers including Goodbye Mr. Chips, Far From the Maddening Crowd, The Yellow Rolls Royce, Waterloo Bridge, and Cannery Row, on January 27, the WB outdid themselves with a gorgeously packaged boxed set of four overlooked early '60s romantic works.
Crisply restored and presented in their original widescreen glory and all starring that era's blonde Rock Hudson-- Troy Donahue (incidentally represented by Hudson's agent)-- the films including Palm Springs Weekend, Parrish, Rome Adventure, and Susan Slade are all served up in compact slim-cases to save DVD shelf space and adorned with their original posters and retro tag-lines that make them irresistible to vintage film buffs. Likewise, they're a great offering for those looking around for a less-than-obvious Valentine's Day gift for movie lovers.
The quartet of films kicks off with Warner Brothers Studio's take on the Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon and Sandra Dee styled beach movies of the era-- Palm Springs Weekend begins with a spring break escape for a group of college basketball players led by medical student and team captain Jim Munroe (Donahue) who arrive in the town of Palm Springs, only to discover that their Coach Campbell (Jack Weston) has stowed away on the bus as well to keep an eye on his boys.
Romantic entanglements ensue as Jim falls for local record store employee Bunny (Stefanie Powers) and later learns that her over-stressed heart-attack-waiting to happen father is the chief of police. Luckily, when it comes to straight-shooter Jim, he has little to worry about but drama and intrigue is added into the mix when the beguiling and seemingly younger blonde (played by Connie Stevens) arrives at the same time and finds three men vying for her attention including a good-hearted cowboy turned Hollywood stuntman named Stretch and Eric, the mean-spirited rich kid with serious daddy issues.
While on the surface, it's saddled with taglines that promise "so much fun, so little time," and "it's where the boys are and the girls are... [in] that swingin' vacation weekend when American youth descends on America's swankiest playground," and overall-- it is the lightest of the foursome of films-- there's a bit more substance to director Norman Taurog's 1964 Springs than one versed in the Frankie and Annette movies would probably expect.
In fact, while just based on looks alone, one would've expected Springs to have been the dud of the lot, but shockingly, the one that takes that title and thankfully the only bomb in the bunch is the film featured prominently on the cover of the box set-- the gorgeously photographed Rome Adventure. Obviously looking for that same feeling found in Wyler's Roman Holiday and Lean's Summertime, 1962's Rome Adventure finds Suzanne Pleshette in her very first leading role as an independent minded librarian who-- in stark opposition to her name Prudence-- makes the imprudent professional decision to share her own personal copy of a banned book about romantic love with a college senior in order to help the young woman prepare for marital life.
Deciding to quit the stuffy librarian pool and live life rather than read about it by vowing to go out and fall in love on her own, the likable Pleshette's Prudence travels to Italy where-- despite being chaperoned by two men including the nerdy local boy Porter and seductive, older Italian fox Roberto, discovers romance in the arms of Donahue's heartbroken painter, still half in love with the woman who left him after a few years.
Mostly memorable and entertaining as a picturesque travelogue filled with remarkable visuals of not only landmarks but some rarely seen portions of northern Italy as well as the film ventures into the countryside-- while talented Summer Place writer and director Delmer Daves attempts to make magic out of Irving Finerman's novel with Adventure (which was also known as Lovers Must Learn), unfortunately, the chemistry between Donahue and Pleshette-- who ironically married for an extremely brief period two years later-- doesn't quite gel onscreen as the saucy Angie Dickinson dominates all involved whenever she's in the frame.
However, the ideal film for armchair travelers wanting to witness Italy in color without watching one of those stuffy travel shows-- the movie is punctuated by a memorable score by Max Steiner that finds its thunder being stolen away by an Al Hirt jazz club sequence and the film's remarkable song "Al di la" which-- although performed for the movie by Emilio Pericoli had won both the San Remo Festival (when it was first recorded by Betty Curtis) and been Italy's official "entry to the Eurovision Song Contest" in 1961 until it became "an international hit with a cover version by Connie Francis."
Saving the two best titles for last, director Daves returns to the Douglas Sirk like Summer Place territory he always mastered to great effect with the Warner's epic in the tradition of Giant-- Parrish, featuring not only Donahue's best performance in the collection but also the last onscreen turn by the legendary Claudette Colbert (The Palm Beach Story, It Happened One Night).
A grand classical soap opera set against the backdrop of the Connecticut tobacco farming industry-- the film finds Donahue's titular character trying to make a name for himself in the business while being torn between three loves (including Connie Stevens, once again) which grows even more complicated when his mother marries the rival of her boss and the two warring tobacco farmers pull out all the stops, using people as though they were pawns in a wicked game until a final emotional showdown.
Powerful, romantic and sudsy-- the type of film sure to appeal to those fond of Steinbeck inspired epics-- Parrish makes a wonderful companion piece to the set's final offering-- 1961's scandalous Susan Slade, which up until this set, had never previously been released on "video" as Warner's press release notes.
Based on Doris Hume's bestselling novel The Sin of Susan Slade-- Delmer Daves-- who wrote and directed the film to perfect effect befitting of its young actress Connie Stevens leads Stevens in her earliest tour de force as a romantically inexperienced and innocent teen who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant after her secret fiance perishes in a tragic accident.
An important work of Sirk level soap that still seems poignant today as the young woman and her family must share what society deems her "sin" of premarital sex that results into a touching and impressive finale as all of Susan's secrets and self-inflicted guilt culminates in a fiery and moving conclusion.
Additionally, it's one of Stevens' most overlooked performances, now thankfully unearthed in a set that will make viewers such as myself not only become acquainted with the handsome teen idol Troy Donahue but revisit some of these dynamic works by Delmer Daves and gain a new appreciation for the female singer turned actress, Ms. Connie Stevens.