Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 2.6 “War Games/Queen of the Boston Bruisers”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1986.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

It’s time for another tonally confusing trip to Fantasy Island!

Episode 2.6 “War Games/Queen of the Boston Bruisers”

(Dir by Earl Bellamy, originally aired on October 28th, 1978)

We’re just six episodes into the second season of Fantasy Island but a definite pattern has emerged.  Just as in the first season, each episode features two fantasies.  But, in the second season, it appears that one fantasy is always comedic and the second is always serious.  This has created an interesting tonal mishmash on Fantasy Island.  Mr. Roarke spends half of his time laughing at the silliness of it all and the other half warning people that their fantasy could lead to death.

Take this episode for instance.

Rowdy Roberts (Anne Francis) is a roller derby champ whose fantasy is to become a “gentlelady” so that she can impress her daughter’s future in-laws.  (Rowdy’s future son-in-law, meanwhile, is played by a young Jonathan Frakes.)  Mr. Roarke and Tattoo spend an entire weekend teaching Rowdy how to speak properly, how to eat with silverware, and all the rest.  However, snobbish Betty Wendover (Joanna Barnes) doesn’t want her son marrying Rowdy’s daughter so she arranges for Rowdy’s roller derby rival, Hooligan Hanreddy (Mary Jo Catlett), to come to the island and challenge Rowdy to a fight.  Rowdy throws a punch and then runs off, ashamed at not being sophisticated.  But, it turns out that Rowdy’s future son-in-law is really impressed with what Rowdy did and the wedding takes place after all.  Yay!

Needless to say, this is all incredibly silly but it’s meant to be silly and both Anne Francis and Mary Jo Catlett seem to be having fun overplaying their rivalry.  There is nothing particularly realistic about this fantasy but it’s not meant to be.  It’s meant to make the viewer smile and, for the most part, that’s what it does.

But, at the same time, Vietnam vet Joe Beck (Christopher George) is chasing another Vietnam vet, attorney Ted Harmon (Greg Morris), through the jungle, intent on killing him.  Joe blames Ted for the death of Joe’s younger brother.  Apparently, they were all POWs together and Joe’s brother died during an escape.  Joe is convinced that Ted betrayed his country.  This is all pretty dramatic and it’s hard not to wonder why Roarke would have agreed to sponsor this fantasy in the first place.  Ted is a prominent attorney who is thinking of running for political office.  If he was murdered on Fantasy Island, that wouldn’t do much for the island’s reputation.  Fortunately, it all works out in the end as Joe discovers that his younger brother is not only still alive but that he’s also the one who informed the VC about the escape attempt.  Amazingly, Ted doesn’t seem to be at all upset that he was nearly murdered over a mistake.  I guess that’s the magic of Fantasy Island.

These two fantasies didn’t really go together and, as a result, this episode feels a bit messy.  But there is one cute moment in which Tattoo reveals to Mr. Rourke that his new side hustle involves selling phony college degrees.

Go Tattoo!

Back to School Part II #4: Summer of ’42 (dir by Robert Mulligan)


Originally, I was going to finish up the first day of my back to school reviews by talking about A Clockwork Orange.  I figured that, since the second film I reviewed was Andy Warhol’s Vinyl, it would just make sense that the fourth film would A Clockwork Orange.

But, I don’t know.  As I sat down and started to work on my fourth review, I realized that I’m not quite ready to write about A Clockwork Orange.  Instead, I’d rather hold off on that until tomorrow.  So, instead, I’m going to talk about Summer of ’42, another coming-of-age film that came out the same year.

That’s right — A Clockwork Orange and Summer of ’42 both came out in 1971 but — in content and sensibility — they might as well exist in different universes.  In fact, the only thing that they have in common is that they both tend to show up on TCM fairly frequently and that they’ve both influenced countless other films.

Speaking of TCM, that’s where I first saw Summer of ’42.  I have to admit that I’m writing this review from memory and that may not be the best way to review a film.  I saw Summer of ’42 about four months ago and, at the time, I thought it was a well-done but predictable little movie.  I even took notes for a future review but I didn’t get around to writing that review because … well, at the time, it just seemed like there wasn’t a lot to say about it.  Summer of ’42 is a sweet film but almost everything about it is right on the surface.  What you see is what you get.  I’m not surprised to discover that it was the 6th highest grossing film of 1971.  In a year that saw not only A Clockwork Orange but The Last Picture Show, The French Connection, Brother John, Billy Jack, Carnal Knowledge, Dirty Harry, Harold and Maude, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, Klute, Straw Dogs, Pretty Maids All In A Row, and The Zodiac Killer, audiences were probably relieved to see a film that was neither violent, morally ambiguous, nor apocalyptic.

Instead, Summer of ’42 is a coming-of-age story that was specifically crafted to appeal to a world-weary audience’s nostalgia for the simple and carefree days of World War II.  This is one of those films where an older narrator continually reassures us that we’re seeing the most defining moment of his youth and all of the pretty images are in soft focus.  Hermie (Gary Grimes), Oscy (Jerry Houser), and Benjie (Oliver Conant) are three fifteen year-olds, all of whom are spending their summer on Nantucket Island.  Benjie is obsessed with sex but he’s nerdy.  Oscy is obsessed with sex but he’s a jerk.  Hermie is obsessed with sex but he’s the narrator so we already know that he’s too sensitive to lose his virginity to any girl his own age.

Luckily, there’s a woman in her 20s who is living in a nearby beach house.  Dorothy (Jennifer O’Neill) is beautiful but she’s married.  However, her husband’s a soldier and it is 1942 so, pretty soon, he’s out of the picture.  Hermie develops a mad crush on her and then, luckily for him, her husband dies and she spends a night teaching him the ways of love.  The next morning, she vanishes but leaves Hermie a note, telling him that she will never forget him and that it’s up to him to decide what their night together meant.

(Hermie never gets around to telling us what their night together meant so I guess it’s up to us to decide.  Personally, I just hope Hermie was careful who he told because, nowadays, a 23 year-old can get in a lot of legal trouble if she’s caught having sex with a 15 year-old.  Maybe things were different in 1942…)

As I said before, my initial response was that Summer of ’42 was sweet but predictable.  And that’s the way I still feel about it.  It was well-acted, well-filmed, and Jennifer O’Neill was amazingly beautiful but there was still something about Summer of ’42 that kind of bothered me.  We never really got to know who Dorothy was.  Her entire character was defined by her one night with Hermie.  Yes, I do understand that was kind of the point because the story was being told exclusively from Hermie’s point of view.  But it still bothered me.  Beyond being beautiful, tragic, and ultimately available, who was Dorothy?

But really, it wasn’t just something about the Summer of ’42 that was bothering me.  Instead, it was something about the coming-of-age genre in general.  I have lost track of how many nostalgic films and TV shows that I have seen that feature a narrator talking about the summer that he “became a man.”  It’s amazing how many awkward teenage boys apparently lost their virginity to a beautiful older woman who promptly vanished afterwards.  If, as has been recently suggested, I spent next summer in a rented beach house, am I going to be obligated to be the first lover of every 15 year-old, aspiring writer who happens to come wandering down the beach?  That could be time consuming, depending on how popular the beach is.

I guess what I’m saying is that perhaps somebody needs to remake Summer of ’42 and tell it from Dorothy’s point of view.

Just a thought.