If more people knew who Troy Donahue was, I suspect the Warner Bros. Romance Classics Collection would have followed its previous actor- and actress-themed box sets (Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, etc.) and titled it “The Troy Donahue Collection” considering all four movies star the studly blonde. Sadly to say I’m one of the reasons that the former teen heartthrob didn’t get his due on this DVD box set.
Connie Stevens stars in three of the films in the set. Had Rome Adventure not been included, the box set could have also been titled “The Troy Donahue And Connie Stevens Collection.”
Palm Springs Weekend (1963)
Donahue stars as Jim Munroe, captain of his college’s basketball team, who along with the rest of his teammates and many other 21-year-olds spend their spring break in lovely Palm Springs, California. I thought Florida and Mexico were the choice destinations, but then again I didn’t recognize Donahue.
It’s hard to imagine a film like Palm Springs Weekend coming out nowadays without being more overtly sexual or more clothing-optional. The storyline is similar to those of contemporary “romance” movies geared toward young adults, following the trials and tribulations of boys chasing girls and the girls trying to act uninterested the boys. The only differences are the location (think exotic like Cancun), the cheese (think possible overacting), and the jokes (think subtly, think kissing, think non-phallic).
There are the obvious clichés, like the party crashers and subsequent “gang” fight, but it’s pleasant to see how earlier spring breaks weren’t all that different from how they are spent in modern times. As one rich boy (Robert Conrad) puts it, just enjoy the “sex, sand, and suds.”
Stefanie Powers (Bunny), Connie Stevens (Gail), Ty Hardin (Stretch), and Jack Weston (Coach Campbell) also star in the teen (or college) desert romp.
Donahue stars as Parrish McLean, a young man searching to make a life of his own. He moves with his mother (Claudette Colbert) to Tobacco Valley in Connecticut to work on a tobacco farm. There he falls for an eclectic group of girls: Lucy (Stevens), one who works on the tobacco farm with him; Alison (Diane McBain), the daughter of the tobacco farm’s owner; and Paige (Sharon Hugueny), the daughter of the Tobacco Valley’s biggest tobacco baron Judd Raike (Karl Malden).
The number of love affairs that Parrish engages in could either make your head spin or make your ego plummet. The DVD’s tagline says it all: “He was more than a boy. He was not yet a man. Dangerously in-between… and between three girls!” The film’s romance plays second to Parrish’s struggles to stand by his convictions. While it’s hard to sympathize with tobacco farming, it’s amazing to see one man stand up for his values, his friends, and to do what’s right.
Rome Adventure (1960)
Rome’s beauty is showcased in the Delmer Daves-directed Rome Adventure. Donahue (Don Porter) and Suzanne Pleshette (Prudence Bell) star in the romance set against the sights, sounds, and exciting culture of the most romantic city in the world.
The film follows the non-Honeymooning couple as they fall in love from Rome through the Italian mountains. There was surprisingly little mention after the opening scene with Prudence quitting her librarian job because the library was going to fire her for giving a student an inappropriate book to read.
It also isn’t until the last quarter of the film that we finally get the usual jealousy, heartache, and love triangles normally associated with romance films. Surprisingly, these scenes aren’t cheesy or corny, with Prudence proclaiming her love for Don to everyone but him. Donahue and Pleshette have amazing chemistry, as they slowly reveal their souls to each other while simply spending time with each other.
Susan Slade (1961)
Why is it that movies always have the most exotic, most romantic boy-meets-girl encounters? Susan Slade (Stevens) has spent the last ten years living with her parents in Chile while her father Roger (Lloyd Nolan) was working as a mining engineer. His employers give Roger a retirement present in the form of a cliff house along the Monterey coast.
On the ship ride back to the United States, Susan falls in (and makes) love with mountaineer Conn White (Grant Williams), much to her parents’ disappointment. The encounter was brief as Conn headed toward Alaska to climb Mount McKinley and Susan headed home.
Susan spends the next few weeks waiting for Conn, while meeting new men Hoyt (Donahue) and Wells (Bert Convy). The lives of the Slade family is never the same again after the family hears news of Caan’s death and Susan’s hidden pregnancy. Susan’s parents sacrifice tremendously by declaring Susan’s baby as their own, and Susan will bear the weight of the fear of tarnishing the family name or denying her own son.
The burden of guilt is a dominant theme; however, the power of love and family bonds cannot ever be beaten in the Delmer Daves-written and -directed melodrama.
The only extras on the box set are theatrical trailers for each film in all their 1960s glory.
[photos via Warner Video]