Movie Links #4 – Last Summer (1969)

January 18, 2012

I’ve recently taken up the challenge (again) to watch a new movie every now and then (free time allowing) that I’ve not seen before and then blog about it. One extra part of the challenge is to link each film to the next via a shared cast or crew member.

Continuing my movie links adventure I watched another film starring John-Boy from the Waltons. I picked Last Summer which stars Richard Thomas (my link), Bruce Davison (you may know him as the senator guy in X-Men) and Barbara Hershey as three friends who become very close and form a “sort of threesome” as IMDB puts it. Eventually their friendship is put to the test when an outsider called Rhoda arrives, played brilliantly by the practically unknown Catherine Burns.

The film is no longer available. It was released on video but hasn’t as yet seen a DVD release. It’s quite a peculiar film. The quality of the version I watched wasn’t altogether great and sometimes it’s hard to listen to some of the conversations. Also a lot of the scenes on the beach look like they’ve been re-dubbed in post processing because there is a massive lack of lip syncing at some points.

The subject matter of the film is also rather awkward. These are three teens that obviously aren’t sexually active but they know enough about it to want to be. This was in a pre-internet age where sex was far more of a taboo and the film seems to feel quite safe and innocent for the most part but can still shock you occasionally.

Last Summer is rated X, which leaves you wondering throughout most of the film why it has got itself such a restrictive certificate. There is barely any swearing, violence or nudity throughout the whole film. This lack of any examples of why it deserves an X rating makes the ending far more shocking.

Please look away now if you don’t want spoilers. In the final act of the film, the trio end up raping Rhoda. I think what makes this most shocking is that I don’t really feel it was signposted very much in the film. Richard Thomas’ character Peter had started to grow great affection for Rhoda by the end of the film. During their time alone together she confesses to loving him and also mentions how much nicer he is when he’s alone with her. Also throughout the film Peter’s friend Dan (Bruce Davison) keeps mentioning how they should try and “lay” Sandy (Barbara Hershey). That is pretty much all the signposting there is. Finally when Peter and Dan get Sandy alone in the woods near the beach Dan (the more brash of the pair) is clearly ready to try to “lay” Sandy until they are interrupted by Rhoda. Needless to say, I expected better from John-Boy. In case you are worried about his reputation, it was actually Dan that raped Rhoda, but John-Boy did help hold her down.

Ok, it’s probably safe to look again. On reflection, I think the lack of signposting actually helps push the awkwardness and unpredictability of being a teen and the dangers of peer pressure.

Catherine Burns was excellent in this, and she was in fact nominated for an Oscar for her role. Her monologue about the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death is brilliantly acted. I would really recommend you watch the clip, it doesn’t really spoil the film if you are waiting to see it. Sadly she hasn’t really been in much since then. Throughout the 70s and early 80s she was in a handful of TV shows (single episodes) and had small roles in other films. I think that’s a massive shame as she was so good in this. I wanted to watch a film from her as my next choice but unfortunately I have been unable to track any down.

Verdict: 4/5

It’s a very good film. The actors do an excellent job of keeping you watching, despite nothing much happening for the majority of the film. If anything I think it ends a little too abruptly. I would rather see what happens after the final event. I would recommend watching it just for a unique view into what is for me a different time. It is far more than your run of the mill coming of age summer holiday nostalgia movie.

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