Movie Reviews

DVD Review: “Warner Bros. Romance Classics Collection”

(Warner Home Video. 4 Discs. Not Rated.) Parrish (1960, 138 minutes, directed by Delmer Daves), Susan Slade (1961, 116 minutes, Daves; first time on home video), Rome Adventure (1962, 118 minutes, Daves), Palm Springs Weekend (1963, 100 minutes, Norman Taurog).

Warners should have grouped these movies with A Summer Place and called it “The Troy Donahue Collection.” Perhaps they feared few would remember who Donahue was, or how popular he was, which is too bad. He was tall (6’3″), lanky, with a shock of blond hair, and large, deep-blue eyes. He wasn’t a great actor, but he came across as earnest, looked great onscreen, and girls swooned! The former ’60s teen idol and Warners contract player (1936-2001) stars in all four movies here. The first three are melodramas, which like A Summer Place deal with the traumas of young love; the last is a would-be romantic comedy. With Place they make up the significant entries of Donahue’s big-screen heyday. (The studio capitalized on Donahue’s popularity by having him also appear in their TV detective shows Surfside 6 and Hawaiian Eye.)

Fellow Warners workhorse and Eye costar Connie Stevens appears in Parrish, Slade (in the title role) and Weekend; I sure wish Warners had gotten some commentary from her in this extras-free set (trailers are all you get). Heck, they could have asked me! I met Troy at a reception in Houston a couple of years before his death, I named several of his films and he said, “Wow, you really know your movies.” We spent a pleasant evening talking about his career and the constrictions of being a contract player in the waning years of the studio system. I told Troy I’d watched my VHS tape of Rome Adventure many times. He and Suzanne Pleshette (pictured with Troy, right, in her film debut) fall in love as they travel the gorgeous Italian countryside. Rossano Brazzi (South Pacific) and the sultry Angie Dickinson are on hand as spoilers. Life imitated art (“I courted Suzanne during filming,” Troy told me) and they married, but divorced within a year (she was the second of his four brief marriages).

I teased him about Weekend, a clunky comedy which clearly tried to capitalize on the popularity of MGM’s Where the Boys Are. He laughed while protesting, “They made us do that! Believe me, we tried to get out of it!” “We” included Stevens, Stefanie Powers, and Robert Conrad. Still, teens flocked to see Weekend and Troy’s other movies, but kids’ tastes change, and his career and personal life went into a tailspin after his contract wasn’t renewed in 1966. He would overcome substance-abuse problems, but was relegated to mostly low-budget schlock the rest of his life, with few exceptions (he’s seen in The Godfather II as Connie Corleone’s fiancé Merle Johnson, which is his real name). He found happiness with opera singer Zheng Cao in his last years, but died of a heart attack at 65, about a week before 9/11. Troy Donahue’s Warners movies have been a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine for a long time, and I’m glad to see they’re now on DVD (not available separately).