Seeking higher education

Shallow sequel gets a failing grade

Published: Jun 02 2015, 01:01:am

Monday, April 16, 1973.
CLASS OF '44. Witten by Herman Raucher. Music by David Shire. Produced and directed by Paul Bogart. Running time: 95 minutes. Mature entertainment.
LIKE IT OR NOT (and I didn't like it), 1971's Summer of '42 was a financially successful film. It returned more than $18,500,000 to its producers. In Hollywood terms, dollars are the true gauge of success, and success breeds sequels.
    Sequelization, unfortunately, is the most failure-prone kind of movie-making. The director begins by accepting a package of essential ingredients from the revered founding film, and sets out with the clear understanding that serious deviation from the original recipe might well upset the moneycart.
    Producer-director Paul Bogart knows how to follow a formula. A TV-movie maker, his theatrical feature experience has been slim — he made Marlowe in 1969, Halls of Anger in 1970 — and derivative. He manages to be competent without being particularly creative, a good combination for a man making a sequel.
    Class of '44 is a flimsy, essentially foolish follow-up to Summer of '42, the film that introduced us to Hermie (Gary Grimes), Oscy (Jerry Houser) and Benjie (Oliver Conant). In the earlier story, the three boys spent a summer on an island where they did a lot of thinking, talking and worrying about sex.  
    The earlier film focused on Hermie, a sensitive lad hopelessly in love with Dorothy Walker (Jennifer O'Neal), an "older woman" whose husband is in the service. Unlike Oscy, who has a positive talent for finding girls as direct and sex-oriented as himself, Hermie was looking for a "meaningful" relationship.
    His fantasies were fulfilled on the evening he visited his older friend and found her in sorrow over a telegram from the the War Department. In a scene drenched in contrived sentiment and the sugar-syrup of Michel Legrand's lush musical score, Dorothy took Hermie into her bed.
    Class of '44 opens about 20 months later. The three heroes of director Robert Mulligan's Summer are graduating from high school. Unfortunately, screenwriter Herman Raucher had no original novel to work from on this outing, so he was forced to jury-rig some already familiar parts into a plot, mining several recent films for ideas.
    His graduation ceremonies, for example, are borrowed from 1972's The Last Picture Show. Benjie, the least developed character from the earlier film, immediately joins the Marine Corps and disappears from the story.
    Hermie and Oscy enter college and start replaying scenes from 1971's Carnal Knowledge. Hermie, who apparently is content to go through life letting girls seduce him, quickly becomes the chosen morsel of a poor little rich girl named Julie (Deborah Winters), a Sterile Cuckoo (1969) spin-off if there ever was one.
    The only recent growing-up-on-campus film that Raucher seems to have missed is David Secter's Canadian-made Winter Kept Us Warm. Even so, filmgoers familiar with Secter's 1965 feature risk déjà vu from the current picture.
    Secter, a student at the University of Toronto, shot his film in and around that urban campus. Bogart also uses the U. of T., and alumni will recognize his repeated use of the distinctive Hart House exterior and University College interiors.
    By working in Toronto, Bogart solved the problem of overly familiar American settings. What he fails to solve are his problems of plot and character development.
    Despite their obvious aging, neither Hermie, Benjie or Oscy have grown one bit since their famous summer. They remain what they were — aggressively adolescent, completely self-centred and utterly insensitive. A trio of cardboard cutouts, their friendship makes no sense. Why does intellectual Hermie hang around with Oscy, a sex-obsessed lout?
    Their relationships with the story's other characters make no more sense. The fault, of course, lies with the script.
    Fearful of tampering with the formula, Raucher offered a series of comic set pieces designed to showcase rather than shape his characters. Surrounded by the carefully arranged artifacts of a bygone era, the young actors are directed to do little more than rhubarb loudly.
    Summer of '42 was a shallow exercise in adolescent longing and contrived sentimentality. Class of '44 is even more shallow and contrived, ladling out ersatz nostalgia and uneven humour.
    An episodic comedy, the film lets its period setting give it awful pretensions. Unless I miss my guess, this sequel will end up as the pilot for yet another mindless teen TV series.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1973. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: OK, I missed my guess. TV viewers were spared the further adventures of Hermie and his gormless friends. If I had made the same guess about another 1973 feature filmed on the University of Toronto campus, The Paper Chase, I would have been right on the money. Director James Bridges's Harvard Law School drama spun off a TV series that ran for four seasons (1978-1986) on CBS and the Showtime cable network. As for Gary Grimes, his feature film career was surprisingly brief. He starred in three Westerns — 1972's The Culpepper Cattle Company, Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973) and The Spikes Gang (1974) — and Gus (1976), a dimwitted Disney comedy about a mule that kicks field goals for a college football team. “I got to the point where the work wasn’t up to the quality that I wanted," he told an interviewer in 2011. He celebrates his 60th birthday today out of the public eye.
    By contrast, the University of Toronto remains a go-to location for filmmakers. As noted in the above review, my old alma mater was the setting of David Secter's 1965 feature Winter Kept Us Warm. I can also recall seeing it on screen four years earlier, in Julian Roffman's The Mask, famous for being Canada's first 3D feature film. And U. of T. alum David Cronenberg shot his first two features — 1969's Stereo and Crimes of the Future (1970) — on campus. Bob Clark's first Canadian film, the 1974 sorority-house shocker Black Christmas, was filmed there as well. All the interest naturally led to the establishment of a Film Liaison Office at the university, with the resulting production of more films, made-for-TV movies and TV series than I can list here. From the 1988 Tom Cruise vehicle Cocktail, The Freshman (1990) with Marlon Brando, and Robin Williams's Good Will Hunting (1997) to the big-budget The Incredible Hulk (2008), Total Recall (2012) and RoboCop (2014) remakes, Hollywood just keeps calling.