In 1960’s “Where the Boys Are,” she’s among a quartet of girls (Dolores Hart, Yvette Mimieux and Paula Prentiss are the others) heading to Fort Lauderdale for spring break. There, the party crowd is 80 percent boys, and the gals are hoping to meet “some Ivy Leaguers.”
Unlike other screen depictions of girls of that era, this batch is horny and not hiding it. One even hopes to play a game or two of “backseat bingo.” Among the potential partners are Jim Hutton as a quasi-con man, George Hamilton as a rich kid, and Frank Gorshin as a cross-eyed jazz musician in Coke-bottle glasses. (It’s weird to see him in anything but The Riddler garb.)
Keep in mind, this was a time when bikinis had buttons, a semester’s tuition cost less than $2,500, and an evening’s entertainment at a restaurant included a live mermaid act (not surprisingly, the film’s funniest scene). Despite a tonally wrong rape scene (offscreen) that threatens to turn the comedy into a tragedy, “Where the Boys Are” is a happy-go-lucky affair where the color palette includes heavy swaths of salmon, teal and Pepto-Bismol.
Francis sings once, and while dressed like Alice from “The Brady Bunch.” But it’s really Hart’s vehicle, and it’s too bad she left Tinseltown for the convent, because her saucy-girl-next-door routine here reminds me of early Jane Fonda. It’s also too bad she’s not on the disc’s retrospective pieces, because not many Warner Archive releases have them; Francis and Prentiss participate, however.
Francis is front-and-center for 1964’s paper-thin but pop-friendly “Looking for Love,” giving her far more opportunity to showcase her vocal talent. She sings amid a retro living room during the opening credits; then later at a party; impromptu on “The Tonight Show” at the urging of Johnny Carson; again in a noisy bar; in a ridiculously elaborate production number on Danny Thomas’ chat show; a duet with him following that disaster; one sexy, slinky number to seduce her love interest; and then at a dinner with him.
She plays Libby, an old-fashioned girl who eschews the lure of showbiz to pursue an Mrs. degree. Her biggest ambition: “To get married and have babies. That’s where my real talent lies.” Egads.
In the meantime, she gets a switchboard job at a brokerage, at which he’s terrible, and causes even further slapstick chaos at a grocery store, where she meets entrepreneur Paul (Hutton, who partakes in a visual gag worthy of “The Girl Can’t Help It” director Frank Tashlin). She mistakes his interest in the anti-wrinkling contraption she’s invented as interest in her romantically. The remaining 70-ish minutes hinge on this simple misunderstanding.
Befitting of the period, Francis calls everyone “tiger,” and talk of the character Gaye Swinger doesn’t raise an eyebrow from anyone. Hutton’s not the only “Where the Boys Are” vet making a return, as Hamilton, Prentiss and Mimieux have cameos as themselves.
A year earlier, Francis and Prentiss comprised half of another quartet of on-the-go gals in “Follow the Boys,” playing wives and lovers to Navy fleet men stationed in the hardscrabble locale of Cannes, France. And although Francis plays the same stock character of the daffy, goofy girl with pipes of gold, this overseas affair has little to offer beyond its scenery.
She does sing an Italian lullaby, for what that’s worth — like, say, an afternoon nap. —Rod Lott