Posted in Uncategorized

Are You a Bad Girl…

Update!

My first book: Are You A Bad Girl: The Evolution of Female Sexuality in Post-War Hollywood Cinema is now available!

Check it out here: https://scholar.colorado.edu/arth_gradetds/2/

Abstract

The 1950s are commonly regarded as a conservative and repressive era through the period’s entertainment, as reflected in situation comedies like Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best. However, the post-war era was not as chaste as it appeared on television. In the summer of 1953, Dr. Alfred Kinsey released Sexual Behavior of the Human Female, and in December of that year Playboy Magazine hit newsstands. Ten years later Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, a book that played an important role in setting the second wave of American feminism into motion. Friedan’s research followed housewives from all backgrounds through the 1950s: some married right out of high school, many graduated from college before settling down, and others had completed graduate work. Friedan exposed what seemed to be a universal lack of fulfillment among the women.

The topic of gender and sexuality in classic Hollywood is defined by the work of Laura Mulvey in “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema,” an essay which outlines her theory of the “male gaze.” According to Mulvey, the Hollywood narrative structure aligns viewers with the perspective of the male characters and pigeon holes the female characters as figures of erotic interest. While the foundational nature of Mulvey’s work is evident, I believe that the representation of gaze in Hollywood cinema, and thus male and female desire, became more complex throughout this period.

In the decade separating Kinsey’s report and Playboy Magazine from The Feminine Mystique, American society underwent substantial changes relating to female sexuality. An examination of films discussed in this thesis from Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) to Love with the Proper Stranger (Robert Mulligan, 1963), reveals how the status of women in America evolved. The second wave of American feminism did not begin in full force until after 1963, but through these films female characters begin to emerge from the narrative periphery and by the time Where the Boys Are (Henry Levin) was released in 1960, a literal “female gaze” enters the narrative structure of Hollywood films, granting the female characters more agency, and the power of the gaze over their male counterparts.

Posted in Uncategorized

Classic Film Through a Feminist Lens: Beach Blanket Bingo

Beach Blanket Bingo
Beach Blanket Bingo

“Just think of me as your Father,” Bullets (Paul Lynde) tells Sugar Kane (Linda Evans) as he helps her slip out of her wet sky-diving suit, revealing the bikini she wears underneath. This line demonstrates where Beach Blanket Bingo sits when viewed through a contemporary lens. It’s problematic. While the teen film has some interesting elements, these are largely overshadowed by the movie’s numerous problems.

Beach Blanket Bingo opened April 14, 1965, and is the fifth film in American International Pictures’ Beach Party franchise. The series began with 1963’s Beach Party. There were 10 films made before the series ended with the release of Thunder Alley in 1967.

Beach Blanket Bingo follows a group of surfers, lead by Frankie (Frankie Avalon) and Dee Dee (Annette Funicello). One day, they rescue a female skydiver from the ocean. In reality, the girl was in no danger. The rescue was actually a publicity stunt promoting Sugar Kane’s new album, “Come Fall With Me”. Chaos ensues as the surfers squabble with Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his motorcycle gang, who don’t want to see Sugar fall in with the band of surfers.

The gendered split between the boys (led by Frankie) and the girls (led by Dee Dee) is immediately clear. The boys go out and surf; meanwhile, the girls watch primly from the sand. Even at their beach house, the girls sleep upstairs, while the boys bunk on the lower level. In fact, the boys and girls only seem to talk to each other because they are all in relationships.

Furthermore, teenage characters in this film have very little depth. The girls are all searching for one thing: a wedding ring. In an early scene, as the boys ogle and cat call Sugar, the girls sit near-by, their arms crossed in annoyance. They mumble to themselves at Sugar getting so much attention, but they do little else. Meanwhile, the boys are the very personification of: “Boys will be boys”. They are wild, hyper-active, and while their attention occasionally strays to a beautiful woman, they will always return to their mate.

The female character’s lack of development is problematic. There are a number of moments where the girls almost strain against their stereotypical traits; however, they aren’t permitted to break free. The dialogue is demeaning in places, particularly when directed at the girls. Early in the film, the boys watch the then unknown skydiver with interest. Bonehead (Jody McCrea) smiles as they learn it’s a woman, “Someone must’ve left the door open”. Later, there are a number of scenes where Frankie openly forbids Dee Dee from skydiving. At one point he even says, “Well, boys are just different”. As Frankie and Dee Dee finally prepare to take a solo dive, she says, “Please. I need to do this for me”. While he relents, the following dive goes so poorly, it’s likely she will never skydive again. As the surfers rescue them from the water, Frankie and Dee Dee kiss.

The Beach Party films can’t be analyzed without a discussion of Annette Funicello’s star persona. The actress first rose to popularity when she joined the original cast of The Mickey Mouse Club. She enjoyed a lengthy career in the Disney stable of stars, appearing in dozens of serials and movies even before she turned twenty.

There is a clear denial of Annette Funicello’s sexuality during the peak of her career. Watching the Beach Party series, Funicello is the only actress who doesn’t wear a bikini. The commonly accepted story is that her wardrobe was at the behest of Walt Disney. While she was making these films, she was still under contract with Disney. Even while she was making the Beach Party series,  the Disney organization kept Funicello busy. During this time, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones hit theaters in 1964, followed by The Monkey’s Uncle in 1965. Annette’s Disney persona followed her through her career, and definitely affected the Beach Party series.

Beach Blanket Bingo came two years after the release of “The Feminine Mystique”. The fire of second wave feminism had started to simmer in the mid 1960s. The National Organization for Women was established in 1966. While society in the mid-1960s had started in one direction, Beach Blanket Bingo seems to be moving in the other.The film seems totally out of place in the growing rebellion in the 1960s, which would come to a boil just a few years later.

While Beach Blanket Bingo is a fun and entertaining comedy, the teen film is problematic. The movie crafts very dated, and unrealistically cookie-cutter characters. This in turn hampers the relationships between characters. As such, the scenes between the them are often forced and dated . Finally, despite the fact that the female characters are smart and intelligent women, they really aren’t allowed to step out on their own. Instead, the remain in insular groups watching the action from the sidelines.

Posted in Uncategorized

Classic Film Through a Feminist Lens: Gold Diggers of 1933

Gold Diggers of 1933

There’s been a lot of analysis written about the string of Busby Berkley musicals which filled the Warner Brother’s release slate during the 1930s. Films like 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1933 and Gold Diggers of 1937 made up the unofficial series of movies which headlines marquees while the United States struggled through the Great Depression. Gold Diggers of 1933 is an early entry in the series, and the film features not only a largely female driven narrative, but also noted equality in the story. The Great Depression is almost a character in the film. From the producers to the showgirls, the Depression has knocked everyone to the same level.

The film follows a troupe of performers as they struggle to put on a show during the height of the Great Depression. There’s life, love and struggle backstage as the Broadway musical comes together on screen.

Gold Diggers of 1933 is a who’s who of the actresses who filled the Warner Brothers stable stars during the 1930s. The performers, lead by Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers, Joan Blondell and Aline MacMahon are viewers entrance point into the narrative. The story opens after the morning after their previous show goes bust. The group of women share a room in a boarding house, struggling to survive in what is considered a brutal decade in American history. Due to their prevalence in the narrative, the Gold Diggers of 1933 easily passes the Bechdel Test. In the first scene, the women talk about food, work and the world situation. Very rarely does the conversation stray fully to the subject of men.

In fact, there’s only one substantial romantic pairing in Gold Diggers of 1933. Crooner Dick Powell enters the narrative as a love interest for Polly (Ruby Keeler). The two had solid chemistry, and often worked with each other as romantic leads throughout the 1930s. Early in the film, there’s an interesting moment showing a potential subversion of the concept of the male gaze. While Polly moves into the kitchen, she hears Brad playing piano. He’s the girls’ neighbor across the narrow alley. As Polly leans against the window sill, watching him. He notices her after a beat. Most noteworthy, the shot lingers from her perspective as she watches him through the window. As his song plays, the scene cuts back and forth between Brad and Polly. The gaze maintains a noted equity.

Meanwhile, the film’s somewhat problematic title stems from the class inequity bubbling within the narrative. The story’s conflict revolves around the discovery of Brad’s true, blue blooded identity. Later, Brad is forced to take the stage, alerting his brother J. Lawrence Bradford (Warren William) and the family lawyer “Fannie” Peabody Guy Kibbee to his location. The two men, representing Brad’s wealthy family, are the film’s two antagonists. Their aim is to protect Brad from falling in with a “Gold digging, parasitic showgirl”. Trixie (Aline MacMahon) and Carol (Joan Blondell) decide to take the two men for a ride, hoping to teach them a lesson. As the scenes progress, the dialogue between the two men emphasize their status as generational and class outsiders. Thus, the problematic and misoginst behavior diminishes in importance.

The Great Depression is not only a prominent character, it actually serves as the film’s villain. The ghost of Depression and poverty hangs over the narrative, placing everyone on equal footing. There’s an overt sexualization of the showgirls in the other films which does not happen in this one. The film begins from the point-of-view of the female leads, and we see their excitement as they learn Barney (Ned Sparks) is putting on a show. Later, Barney comes to their apartment to outline his plan. Hence, there’s no audition scene. Consequently, the movie is notably missing the “Show us your legs” scene, which is all too common in musicals of the era. Barney knows these girls, and wants to work with them. As he forms the show around their skills, it becomes clear. They’re a team. Working together, they’re going to pull themselves above the struggles of the Depression.

Gold Diggers of 1933 debuted in May 1933, a year before the Production Code Administration rose to prominence. It’s a treat to watch as the prudishness associated with the Hayes Code era is notably absent. There’s sexuality and double entrees abound in the dialogue. Early in the film, Faye (Ginger Rogers) says, “If Barney could see me in clothes…”. There’s only a beat before Trixie jumps in, “He wouldn’t recognize you”. Some of these moments lead to the problematic elements in the film. A breakdown of the “Pettin’ in the Park” music number is worthy of a book by itself.

Gold Diggers of 1933

Gold Diggers of 1933 is a fascinating film when viewed in examination of gender and sexuality. The film, despite its’ very early release date features not only one, but four interesting and unique female leads. The classic musical, despite its’ problematic title, features an equality among its characters, as they struggle against the Great Depression, which is built up as a character the the narrative.

Keep an eye out for Sterling Holloway (the voice of Winnie the Pooh. The actor appears as a messenger boy half way throughout the film.

Posted in Uncategorized

Classic Film Through a Feminst Lens: Laura

Laura

“I shall never forget the weekend that Laura died…”. It’s one of the most interesting opening lines in film history. Spoken by Clifton Webb, the line sets the film’s tone. The 1944 movie is a fascinating study of gender. It not only presents a different take on the the femme fatale, but an unconventional image of masculinity.

Laura presents diverse male characters, especially Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) and Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews). Laura fits inside the film noir movement which ran from The Maltese Falcon in 1940 through Kiss Me Deadly in 1955. Of the men, only Andrews’ Mark McPherson is the “hardboiled” leading man, typified by Humphrey Bogart’s characters in movies like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.

In his book More Than The Night: Film Noir and It’s Context, James Narmore writes about Lydecker, “He is depicted as a… contrast to the… tough guy who is the hero of the narrative… He is a more complex and and significant presence than the equally closeted homosexuals in the average Hollywood comedy”.

Naremore mentions Dana Andrews “…tough guy”. Yet, even McPherson is played through a lens of wounded masculinity. McPherson has a history, which Lydecker immediately mentions, “…Mark McPherson the siege of Babylon, Long Island. The gangster with the machine gun. Killed three policemen. I told the story over the air and wrote a column about it. Are you the one with the leg full of lead, the man who walked right in and got him?”. Dana Andrews subtly injects a fragility into Mark McPherson. While he’s Laura‘s hardboiled detective, his flaws emerge as the story progresses. He’s a valiant and stoic police officer. However, as his fixation with Laura’s picture grows, there’s something he isn’t saying. Could it be anger at himself for not being able to protect her? As it’s unstated in the story, the answers can be wide ranging.

Dana Andrews work with this wounded masculinity further in The Best Years of Our Lives. In the 1946 film, Andrews plays returning WWII veteran Fred Derry. The movie follows three returning veterans trying to adjust to civilian life. The narrative shows Derry’s problems with shell-shock/PTSD, as well as how it affects his relationship with Peggy (Teresa Wright). Looking at both these movies, this wounded masculinity is an important part of Dana Andrews’ post-war star persona.

Gender relations changed in the years following World War II. As the war ended, and men returned from the front, culture at home had shifted. During the war, women had no choice but to fill the jobs left open by the soldiers. Thus, when the men returned the women were expected to return home. This didn’t sit well with everyone. This slow shift in culture is evident in the cinema of the era. The hardboiled, but often wounded male hero finds himself butting heads with the independent femmes fatales.

The title character of Laura (Gene Tierney) stands out, especially during this post-war period. While typically labeled a femme fatale, Laura Hunt is different from the other memorable characters from the same time: like Phyllis Dietrichson, and Cora Smith. Waldo’s flashback’s tell Laura’s story. At the beginning, she’s a young and hungry career girl. She first meets Lydecker as she represents her ad agency to him. It is through him that Laura’s able to grow professionally. As the story advances, she develops at her company, becoming a successful career woman.

However, Laura’s biggest crimes stems from her love life. She quickly looses interest in Waldo, and becomes engaged to Shelby (Vincent Price). In contrast, the characters mentioned above plot murders and stage crimes to get what they want. Laura does none of this. In fact, when looking at Laura, it’s hard to call her an active player in the story. She’s largely powerless, merely able to react to the men around her. Though, it is important that she does not fall into the usually evil femme fatale.

Laura opened in January of 1945, and stands as a classic example of film noir. Coming in the month’s directly before the end of World War II, the film is an example of the changing gender relations of the period. Laura shows not only an unique view of masculinity, but it presents an interesting femme fatale.

Posted in Uncategorized

Classic Film Through a Feminist Lens: Love With a Proper Stranger

Love with the Proper Stranger

Sometimes there’s a film where all the stars seem to align. Love with the Proper Stranger is not a message picture. Rather, the film is an example where subject matter, star persona, and historical significance all combine to make an important movie. The drama holds a vital place in the cinema of the pre second wave feminist era.

The film follows Angie Rossini (Natalie Wood) and Rocky Papasano (Steve McQueen). The two characters struggle with the consequences of a drunken one night stand. In fact, when Angie tells Rocky about her pregnancy, he has difficultly even remembering who she is.

Angie is a young department store sales girl, bursting under the pressure of her crowded, close-knit Italian upbringing. She feels stifled. She expresses frustration that her family doesn’t care what her brother Guido (Harvey Lembeck) does. However, they are fiercely protective of her. She says,

Don’t love me so much! I can’t breathe… Every day you meet me in the truck. 3 or 4 times a week you take me to lunch. You follow me around on dates, you pick out my boyfriends. Why don’t you protect Guido? Take him to lunch!

Angie’s mother (Penny Santon) says, “Guido’s a boy! Who cares what he does!”. This pressure contributes to Angie’s acting out. Rocky and Angie’s one night stand, as well as the resulting pregnancy, have already happened as the film opens.

The film, which was released on Christmas Day of 1963 comes at a period in popular culture when the subject abortion was just starting to become slightly less taboo as a topic of conversation. Books like “Revolutionary Road” and television series like The Defenders were starting to show a more realistic portrayal of abortion, as well as the often life threatening danger women who underwent the procedure experienced st this time in history.

Love with the Proper Stranger has a hard-hitting, but realistic account of abortion in the early 1960s. Angie is brought to a rundown apartment to have the procedure. It’s far from medical. Instead of an exam room, it’s going to happen on a dirty mattress on the floor. Angie undresses slowly on screen, her anxiety gradually growing. The scene is difficult to watch. Rocky eventually pulls her from the room before she can undergo the procedure.

Love with the Proper Stranger is an unconventional romance. When Angie recovers from the ordeal of the abortion, a protective, but reluctant Rocky wants to marry her. Angie says no:

Even though you don’t want to marry me, you’re willing to do it anyway… I know this may come as a shock to the both of you, but underneath all this hair and skin is a human girl with all the regular things going for me, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life married to a man who’s doing me a big favor! I made a mistake… but that doesn’t mean I have to ruin my whole life and his, and the baby’s!

Wood is dynamic in the sequence, and take the active focus, before terminating the conversation herself. Her brother and Rocky are speechless, unable to comprehend her agency in the face of everything going on in her life.

While surprisingly little is written about her lengthy (but still tragically cut-short) career, Natalie Wood is an actress who’s film choice and star persona is deeply indicative of the era just before the onset of second wave feminism. The actress started in Hollywood at the age of five, and was a mainstay on movie screens for almost forty years. Had it not been for her premature death at the age of 43, Wood could have made films for decades more.

The most interesting part of Wood’s career begins during her teen years and lasts through her early twenties. Coming in 1963, Love with the Proper Stranger falls squarely within this period. At this time, Natalie Wood was making some of her most interesting and adventurous film choices.

During this period, Wood made films like Marjorie Morningstar, Splendour in the Grass and West Side Story. In each of these movies, Wood plays young women straining against the societal expectations of sexuality and love placed on her by the older generation. This is deeply representative of Wood as an actress. She is often quoted talking about her childhood in Hollywood, “I had worked as a child and I had always done as I was told… I was a rather dutiful child…”. This lead to her expanding her roles, and taking these unconventional parts as she became an adult. Very much like the growing movement towards second wave feminism, Wood was learning to define herself against the expectations placed on her by society.

However, Love with the Proper Stranger struggles with its ending. As with a number of films examined in this series, the movie reverses course in the last few minutes. As the film ends, and Angie seemingly melts over Rocky’s “Better Wed than Dead” street performance, they kiss passionately. They seem to be moving towards a turbulent, but exciting relationship. And the question of the pregnancy is noticeably absent. However, this drastic change in tone does not detract from the narrative of the film. Love with the Proper Stranger remains an important, vital film to post World War II Hollywood cinema.

Posted in Uncategorized

Classic Film Through a Feminst Lens: White Christmas

White Christmas

The 1950s is the golden age for Hollywood musicals. White Christmas stands as one of the classics, alongside films like: Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, and Gigi. The glossy and well made movie features not only catchy songs, but well-developed characters which audiences are quickly able to care about. Unlike the movies listed above, the romantic relationships in White Christmas are not the main focus. Rather, the pairings of Judy and Betty Haynes, as well as army buddies Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, are more important to the narrative. The film treats its’ characters in an equal fashion, as it stresses the important themes of friendship and loyalty.

White Christmas follows former World War II veterans Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye). Wallace is a prominent Broadway song and dance man, and Davis is a burgeoning performer and songwriter. So, of course the men team up once their service in Europe concludes. Their climb to success is quick. Wallace and Davis receive a letter from one of their former army buddies, Benny Haynes “The Dog Faced Boy”. In the letter, Benny asks them if they would go see his sisters’ nightclub act, and give the girls some pointers.

Wallace and Davis visit the Haynes Sisters, where they work as a floor show at a Florida supper club. Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen) are a couple of career minded women, interested in making their act better. They strike up a quick relationship with Wallace and Davis. The two men help them escape from a crooked landlord, giving them train tickets to Vermont, where they will be playing over the holidays.

Bob and Phil follow Betty and Judy up to the Columbia Inn. Arriving at the intimate hotel, they discover the manager is their old boss from their army days (Dean Jagger). The adorable lodge is suffering financially, blaming the trouble on a lack of snow in “New England’s Snow Playground”. The performers work their magic, staging a heartwarming effort to help out their old friend with Christmas fast approaching.

Betty and Judy stand out as sisters and performers in their own right, not simply love interests for the leading men. The film passes the Bechdel Test. Betty and Judy have a number of conversations about their career, as well as their relationship, not simply the men in their lives.

In fact, the film features equal treatment between the two male and the two female leads. Before they even meet the Haynes sisters, Phil wants Bob to find himself a girl. “I want you to get married. I want you to have 9 children. Even if you only spend 5 minutes with each kid, that’s 45 minutes all to myself…”. So, when Bob immediately hits it off with Betty, Phil goes into match-making overdrive. This drive to marriage is usually a quest for female characters during this era. Interestingly, Judy has a similar relationship with her sister. Judy tells Phil that Betty has always been a “Mother Hen”, and that she wouldn’t leave the roost until Judy was “taken care of”and married. Phil and Judy’s matchmaking efforts are important to the narrative, and are responsible for the misunderstandings which are ultimately craft the story.

The bond between the sisters in the movie is strong. Halfway through the film, Judy and Phil get engaged, hoping to encourage Betty and Bob to start a relationship. Rather than being excited for Judy, Betty is heartbroken at the thought of loosing her sister and breaking up the act. There’s a powerful scene as the sisters sit in bed. Judy tells Betty that’s she’s now free to go ahead and do what she wants. Betty lays in bed, listening to everything her sister says. She feigns sleep, tears running down her cheeks. Yet, Betty surprises everyone. Rather than running to Bob’s waiting arms, Betty moves to New York City. Breaking up the act herself, she signs on for a solo run at The Carousel Club.

Bob follows Betty to New York, hoping to get her back. He goes to the Carousel Club and watches the sultry Betty perform “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” She wears an amazing dress and is surrounded by a group of male dancers. Clooney shines in the sequence as the film gives her a stage to do what she does best, belt out a sultry torch song. The lyrics of the song parallel the narrative, “My one love affair, didn’t get anywhere from the start/ To send me a Joe, who had winter and snow in his heart, wasn’t smart.” Betty, who is aware that Bob is in the audience, tries to change her song before going on. She pleads to her bandleader, “Play Blue Skies… Anything.” Betty goes on and sings her heart out, knowing full well that Bob is in the audience, hoping to get her back.

Eventually, Betty comes back on her own terms. Returning to the Inn, the most important reunion is with her sister. The scene is a quick one, and the camera cuts to an intimate close-up as the two women embrace tenderly. Meanwhile, Bob and Betty’s reunion happens on-stage, as the characters sing “Gee, I Wish I was Back in the Army”. As Betty enters with Judy, this is the first time Bob sees her. The only clue to this is in Wallace’s face. The moment is well acted by Crosby. He spins around as he sees Betty, briefly pulled out of his performance by his glee at her entrance. However, the moment is a small one, of the blink and you could miss it caliber.

White Christmas is a beautiful and heartwarming musical from the golden age of Hollywood cinema. While the film has come to be defined by the timeless title song, White Christmas is a strong movie all the way through. It has vibrant characters and well-developed relationships. It also refuses to loose itself in the romance. Rather, it builds the relationship between sisters Betty and Judy Haynes just as much as the coupled pairings.

Did You Know:

Rosemary Clooney is George Clooney’s aunt. Clooney was a popular singer during the post WWII era, and reportedly sung for both Betty and Judy. While Vera-Ellen was a tremendously talented dancer, she was not a strong singer.

Look for a very young George Chakiris dancing in the “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” music number. Chakiris is best known for his portrayal of Bernardo in West Side Story.

Posted in Uncategorized

Classic Film Through a Feminist Lens: Come September

Come September

Mother Nature’s a clever gal

She relies on habits 

Take two hares with no cares 

Pretty soon you have a room full of rabbits 

The lyrics above from the Bobby Darin song “Multiplication” crafts a clear image of the tone of the 1961 sex comedy Come SeptemberThe film is up-front and open in its’ treatment of sex. The narrative comes from a number of points of view. Not only does it show the prevailing views of sex coming out of the early 1960s, but also the rapidly changing ideas taking root with the younger audiences. However, a deep dive into Come September shows there are definite problems with the narrative, particularly relating to gender and the crafting of film’s lead Robert Talbot (Rock Hudson).

Come September features Rock Hudson as American Robert Talbot. Every September he travels to Italy to spend time in his villa. While there, he also enjoys the company of his gorgeous Italian mistress, Lisa Fellini (Gina Lollobrigida). However, when he travels to Italy one July, he learns that nothing is quite as it seems. For 11 months out of the year, his servant Maurice (Walter Slezak) runs a hotel out of his villa. Even worse, it turns out that Lisa is bored. She has all but given up on the relationship and is preparing to marry another man.

Talbot finds himself surrounded by a group of American students, who he’s unable to kick out of his villa. There’s a group of girls (led by Sandra Dee) staying while their guide recovers from a back injury. Joining the fun is a group of boys (led by Bobby Darin). As the film develops, the youngsters begin to pair off. Robert takes it upon himself to discredit the boys, hoping to protect the girls from their wolfish behavior. He does everything in his power to get the girl’s to remain abstinent, despite his sexual relationship with Lisa. Talbot even tells one girl, “The bedroom is like your wedding gown. It’s bad luck to let a fella see you in it before you’re married.”

The film has a varied and diverse female cast lead by Italian siren Lollobrigida and American teen star Sandra Dee. Sandy (Dee) is a college student studying to be a therapist. Lisa’s background is not as developed, but she’s a strong, smart and independent woman. However, she has one weakness: Talbot. Despite her engagement, it only takes one call from Talbot for Lisa to give up everything and go to his villa with less than 1 day’s notice. Talbot tells her, “Anything you have couldn’t possibly be that important. Pack your bags, and catch the 1:20.” Lisa manages to not only pack her bags, but also dumps her fiancee over lunch before catching the train to the villa the same day.

Come September makes a statement on the idea of the ugly western tourists, though it is debatable how intentional this is. Talbot makes this clear during the above conversation with Lisa. His total disregard for her life (and her willingness to run to him) is infuriating. Furthermore, there is the problematic treatment of the college girls, and the fascination with their virginity. Yet, Talbot is more than willing to enjoy Lisa’s sexuality. They see each other one month a year. Is it believable to make Robert and Lisa’s a romantic couple? Or is it simply an example of a wealthy American tourist enjoying everything the country has to offer.

Later, Lisa has lunch with Spencer (Ronald Howard). As they talk about cancelling the wedding, he says, “I had the deuce of a job convincing them that it’s the accepted thing for an Englishman to marry a foreigner”. Lisa does however get a jab in, “Here in Italy, I am not the foreigner. You and your sisters are the foreigners”. Looking thought the film, the ugly tourism seems limited to the older male characters (namely, Talbot). The college students make more of an effort to blend into the Italian culture. Many of them attempt to speak Italian, while Talbot refuses to learn the language. They are completely at ease with the country as they tour various Italian locations.

Lollobrigida (like her contemporaries Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot) packs a powerful and free sexuality in her screen persona, which was rare in Hollywood performers of the time. This is especially evident when looking at Lollobrigida contrasted with Sandra Dee, who bordered on virginal in many of her early roles. Even in A Summer Place, when her character get’s pregnant through pre-marital sex, she’s very much labeled a “good girl”. Remember the Grease song, “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee?” That refers to Dee.

Rewatching the 1961 sex comedy Come September, the film stands as a problematic one. Many of the problems hinge on the intentions behind Robert Talbot. While his relationship with Lisa is ultimately built as a romantic connection; it results from an affair they conduct one month out of the year. It is his needs that come first throughout the film. Thus, Talbot cancels out any the progressive elements in Come September. He’s very much a character of his time.