The scene: a New England island. The mood is one of pitched adoration. The words are poetic; the recollection is filtered through the mind's eye and age's mellow influences. Hermie, now a middle-aged man, remembers the summer of '42 when he and his two friends, Oscy and Benjy were caught up in a fascination with sex. The time was consumed in an enthusiastic exploration of eros.
The "Terrible Trio," as they call themselves, hijack a marriage manual from Benjy's parents. With eagerness, they learn of the sexual process: "Everybody takes off their clothes and they play foreplay." Meeting some gals at the movie house, Benjy (Oliver Conant) runs away too scared to even sit with a girl. Oscy (Jerry Houser) and Hermie (Gary Grimes) struggle to achieve an elementary seduction of the girls. With awkward gestures they manage to put their arms around the girls and Oscy even touches the knee of one of them. Encouraged by their encounter, the two lads prepare for a double date on the beach at night. In a hilarious sequence, Hermie confronts the druggist in a stumbling roundabout manner and obtains some prophylactics for the evening's activities. That night on the beach, Hermie and his shy date sip soda and eat marshmallows while Oscy and his anxious girl ramrod steps 1 through 12 of the marriage manual.
Beyond this initial encounter with sex, Hermie's real concern is centered around Dorothy, a 22-year-old war bride who lives in a cottage overlooking the ocean. One day he helps her carry her groceries home from the town. He blurts out: "You should be more careful you could get a hernia." On another occasion, she asks him to help her store some boxes in her attic. Aroused by her physical presence, he nearly falls off the ladder. Trying to compliment her he says clumsy things such as "your laughter becomes you."
Ultimately Hermie comes to an experience with Dorothy that alters his understanding of himself and life. On the same night he is visiting her, she receives news of her husband's death. Grief-stricken and lost, Dorothy holds on to Hermie in a half-dance of dazedness and vulnerability. He consoles her with his presence. Words will not suffice. She leads him to her bed and baptizes him with a passageway to manhood. Her love making is a blend of melancholy and mystery. At the end of the evening, Hermie knows that he has been initiated into another world. Years later he recollects: "In the summer of '42, Benjy broke his watch, Oscy gave up the harmonica, and in a very special way, Hermie was lost forever."
Director Robert Mulligan evokes the period with double-dip ice cream cones, paddleball, saddle shoes, packages of Fels Naptha, and the mist of memory in which Hermie's thoughts are enwrapped. Herman Raucher's screenplay is a discerning and appreciative translation of one boy's trip along a trajectory of psychological and sexual change.