In 2003 Turner Classic Films had a poll where fans could vote (out of a list)for films they would like to see on DVD. The top five vote getters would be the films getting the DVD treatment. Surprisingly, this is one of the five films that voters preferred along with Days of Wine and Roses, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and The Wind and the Lion. It's a testament to how well this film has held up for the past forty-three years, not an easy task considering it's subject matter.
The basic premise is this: Four college girls escape the freezing north during spring break and head to Ft. Lauderdale because as the title says, that's where the boys are. Not much to make a film about I suppose, but stories have hit the big screen with a lot less plot than that going for them. What Where The Boys Are does have going for it is a witty ahead of it's time script by screenwriter George Wells (based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout), a cast of attractive relatively new stars assembled by producer Joe Pasternak and some nice Florida Scenery.
The cast is headed by Dolores Hart as Merritt Andrews. Although having a high I.Q., Merritt is having trouble in college because she has a tendency to say what's on her mind, and sometimes what's on her mind must have sent a shiver down the spine of many parents in the early sixties. In one class, she dares to suggest that premarital sex (playing house is how she puts it I think) might not only be OK but quite necessary. Daring stuff in those days. It also immediately gives us a more complex character in Merritt which helps lift this film a cut above others in this genre. Dolores Hart is exceptional as Merritt, and because of this she is the center of our attention from the beginning of the film to the end. Ms. Hart is one of those actresses whom was never given a chance to show us her real potential in the short time she was an actress before answering her calling to enter the convent. Pay close attention to her performance as Merritt as I did and you'll understand what we may have missed.
Paula Prentiss makes her big screen debut as Tuggle and immediately shows a fine screen persona with a flair for comedy. She's the one who has vowed to be a "good girl". In other words, no wedding ring, no hanky panky. The parents of the sixties probably loved her.
Yvette Mimeaux plays naive freshman Melanie. She ends up taking Merritt's ideas in class about sex and putting them into action. In 1960's morals, we know she's headed for trouble and was probably the poster girl for parents to point out the evils that would befall you for indulging in a little bit of bedroom parlor games. Mimeaux is OK in the role, it's just a role that isn't written very well and probably the weakest part of the film.
Connie Francis is a revelation as girl hockey player, Angie. We are never given her views on sex so you can paint her in a neutral corner. For some reason (I guess because she's a hockey player)she has trouble getting a guy. I seriously doubt someone who looks like her would have that kind of a problem, but Francis plays the role in a ditsy kind of way. She's adorable, and we love her. Add to this the fact that the girl can sing up a storm and you'll replay the opening titles several times just to hear that heart throbbing voice.
Then there's the fellows. Jim Hutton plays TV Thompson, a hitchhiker who has a thing about hats, that the girls pick up on their way to Fort Lauderdale. He hooks up with Tuggle, and their wit blends together so perfectly, that Hutton and Prentiss went on to make several more films together. Their moments together on screen are priceless. George Hamilton plays Merritt's love interest Ryder. Ryder is a millionaire who goes to Princeton, rides around in his grandfather's yacht and has eyes for Merritt. Hamilton is playing the usual George Hamilton type of role, but for this film it's perfect as Ryder Smith would probably be just like George or vice versa. His scenes with Merritt are very cleverly written. He attempts to find a way to seduce her, but knows she is way too intelligent to fall for the standard come ons. They have good chemistry together. Frank Gorshin plays a nearly blind jazz musician named Basil, whom Angie seems to end up with by default. It works because they both seem to have a whacked out comedy sense. Unfortunately, all poor Melanie can end up with is a couple of wicked evil guys who want her for only one thing and I'm sure you know what that is. John Brennan as Dill and Rory Harrity as Franklin manage to be sleazy enough to do what they have to do, than you can forget them both which apparently most people did as evidenced by their lack of screen credits after this film. Also on hand are a delightful Barbra Nichols as the sea nymph and Chill Wills in a couple of brief but funny scenes as a police captain.
Where this film excels is in the performances and chemistry of it's young cast. Together they make for many enjoyable screen moments. Where it greatly falters is in some of it's very out dated premises about relationships between men and women. Despite the fact that they are all college women, Where The Boys Are would still have us believe that the only thing these women are interested in is finding the right guy who will wrap a ring around their finger. Even Merritt, who is outspoken early in the film, ends up wanting nothing more than to get Ryder and his millions down the aisle. The fact that this film also falls back on the premise that if you hop in the hay with a guy, you'll suffer severe penalties for it. This is hammered home by the presence of Melanie. Because she makes the "mistake" of doing what nice girls shouldn't, she automatically is punished for it. Enough of the film is taken up with this aspect, that it continually brings a cloud cover over the proceedings and bogs down an otherwise enjoyable film.
My advice is to overlook the drama. Enjoy the witty dialog, the on screen chemistry of the stars, the Florida scenery, and listen to Connie Francis belt out Where The Boys Are a few times. Heck, that alone is enough for me to give this film a B.