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.

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