I first saw the old 1960 hit "Where the Boys Are" at a campus film series when I was in college. By that time, the innocent tale of four Midwestern coeds who spend a tumultuous spring break in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was already 15 years old.

I thought the movie would be pretty dated and corny, and it was. But to my surprise, it was also charming, funny and completely irresistible. I wasn't the only one who loved it, either. The whole audience had a great time, even giving it a round of applause when it was over.

Unlike most of the forgettable beach movies of the 1950s and 1960s, "Where the Boys Are" has become a classic over the years. It's still loads of fun to watch, thanks to a priceless cast and a story loaded with sun, sand and lots of sexual tension.

Our story begins in the Midwest, where a nasty March blizzard sweeps across the campus of Penmore University. As if the weather weren't bad enough, freshman Merritt Andrews (Dolores Hart) also has a terrible cold, failing grades and no desire to face her parents over the upcoming spring break -- especially not after she's thrown out of class for telling her professor she thinks it's fine for girls to "play house before marriage."

That's quite a shocking opinion to have back in 1960, when even mentioning the name of noted sex researcher Alfred Kinsey was considered to be in poor taste. Merritt's views land her a visit with the dean, which isn't as bad as it sounds. The dean acts like she's on some sort of medication, blandly refusing to dole out any kind of punishment until Merritt returns from break.

What's a girl to do? Since going home isn't an option, Merritt decides to join her best friend, Tuggle (Paula Prentiss, in her film debut), on a trip south to sunny Fort Lauderdale. Sharing the ride and the hotel bill are "tomboy" Angie (Connie Francis, also making her film debut) and Melanie Tolman (Yvette Mimieux), a na?ve little waif who dreams of nothing except snagging an Ivy Leaguer hubby.

Along the way, the gals pick up charming hitchhiker, TV Thompson (the late Jim Hutton), who is instantly attracted to Tuggle. The feeling is mutual, although Tuggle insists they keep it platonic. She's a "good girl," after all. So is Merritt, who soon lands Ryder Smith (21-year-old George Hamilton), a smooth-talking senior from Brown who wants to go all the way. Poor Angie can only find Basil (Frank Gorshin), a near-sighted bass player who ignores her, but like any plucky girl-next-door, she makes do. And poor desperate little Melanie gives herself to any Ivy Leaguer who will have her, with tragic results.

It's all fabulous. Prentiss and Hutton have amazing screen chemistry, and Dolores Hart, who would become a cloistered nun a few years later, is simply lovely. Loved it when Hamilton draws question marks in the sand for her. The fish tank scene is a cornball classic, and Francis's gorgeous vocals on the title song never get old. Keep your eyes open for screen vet Chill Wills as the police chief and for Barbara Nichols as the campy Lola Fandango.

You can find "Where the Boys Are" at Hastings. The DVD includes a great commentary from Paula Prentiss. Check it out!

Mary Anne Hempe


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