I saw Summer of '42 with my elder-brother at the Safire theatre in Madras. We went to Madras, my first visit to the city where I stayed from 1972 to 1978, to attend the marriage of our cousin, Rajyalakshmi, whose nickname is Chitti. It turned out to be a lovely mood film tale of a young woman, whose husband is away fighting the war and she lives alone in the village, an object of mystery, adulation and fantasy of a group of adolescent boys. The young lad follows her and seeks her attention in myriad little ways that gawky adolescents do. And she humours him as an older woman would a young boy, a bit of indulgence and a bit of imperious negligence. But the lad is only too happy to get the tid-bits of attention he manages. But it is on the night she receives the letter of husband's death, and she is devastated. The boy hangs around and she turns to him for solace rather instinctively. Now without doubt this is a situation that can happen only in the Western cultural ambience. That is why, it retains its innocence and rare beauty of relationship. It would be deeply misunderstood in any other culture.
What keeps the film going is the awkward and comic ways that teenagers discover sex, especially when the group of boys and girls go to movies or spend the night on the beach, running up and down to compare notes and refer to manuals on sex! But it is the ethereal presence of this woman, played by Jennifer O'Neill, that lends poetry to the story.
The director I now discover is Robert Mulligan, the man who directed 'To Kill A Mocking Bird' starring Gregory Peck, a 1962 black-and-white masterpiece of racial relations in the American south. Mulligan infuses 'Summer of '42'with beautiful photography, music and scenic landscape. The emotion of innocent love and sorrow meld with the landscape. There was magic when I saw the movie 40 years ago. Will I feel the same thing if I were to see it now? Perhaps it is worth testing it out. I have seen "To Kill A Mocking Bird' on the TV and found it powerful and moving when I saw it nearly 50 years after it was made.