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This is a fine film and deserves a reevaluation. The film is
excellently cast with boys who look exactly as I pictured the
characters when I read the novel in 1960.
And the film is well acted. None of the boys, with the exception of Stevenson, were professional actors but students at Phillips Exeter Academy at the time, and Stevenson was making his film debut here. These boys convey the characters very well. Heyl is excellent as Finny, and Stevenson is fine as Gene. In particular, Heyl does the scene at the beach very well. Peter Bush conveys the timidity of Leper and Victor Bevine the arrogance of Brinker.
The dialogue is sometimes stiff, but the boys are young and unsure of what to say or whether to express their feelings at all. Conversely, much of the dialogue is more literary than natural, presenting the actors with the problem of having to say expository lines and make that talk seem natural. Even the best professionals have trouble doing this.
This movie was filmed at Phillips Exeter Academy, where author John Knowles went to school. There is a nice sense of the passing of the seasons here, though I would have appreciated even more attention to the colors or autumn and the blossoms of spring; summer and winter are well attended to here.
And the musical score is excellent. The moment when the film goes to flashback and the boys dash out of the dorm unto the playing fields to Benny Goodman's theme, "Let's Dance," is one of the finest openings in all motion picture history. For those with a frame of reference, it instantly transports one back to the 40s.
The clothing recalls a time when schoolboys, especially at private schools, dressed well to go to class. In the 40s, no one wore sneakers, blue jeans, or t-shirts to class.
The film is well composed, which is apparent if one sees it on DVD where it is shown in its proper aspect ratio. And it makes excellent use of color and lighting. The shot of Finny lying at the bottom of the white marble stairs after his second accident is a fine example of this. Another excellent example of the use of color (brown), lighting (shadowing), and composition (Gene is foreground left; Finny in background right) can be seen in the scene where Gene and Finny are in their room and Finny tells Gene he's seen the AWOL Leper on campus.
It's filled with the symbolism that was in the novel but also small bits like this one: during the trial scene, notice that Finny has his arm on the back of Gene's chair, symbolizing a closeness, an embrace of Gene, but as the truth of what Gene did penetrates fully to Finny, he lets his arm drop, symbolizing the break between the two. And what an excellent moment we have when the boys are shoveling snow from the tracks for the troop train to pass. There we have the soldiers in the train, already hostage to war, and the boys outside with their shovels, still free--what is, what will be.
The film isn't the book and to condemn it on that basis is unfair. The book can deal more completely with the interior lives of Gene and the others than the movie can, but the film does as good a job as it can without giving us arty stream-of-consciousness scenes.
About that scene at the beach and why a voice-over by Gene would be a helpful addition to the film. I'm quoting from the book here:
Finny: "I hope you're having a pretty good time here. I know I kind of dragged you away at the point of a gun, but, after all, you can't come to the shore with just anybody, and you can't come by yourself, and at this teen-age period in life, the proper person is your best pal." He hesitated and then added, "Which is what you are," and there was silence on his dune.
It was a courageous thing to say, Gene thinks. Exposing a sincere emotion nakedly like that at the Devon School was the next thing to suicide. I should have told him then that he was my best friend also and rounded off what he had said. I started to; I nearly did. But something held me back. Perhaps I was stopped by that level of feeling, deeper than thought, which contains the truth."
That level of truth is not that Gene loved Finny. Gene didn't trust Finny, was suspicious of Finny's motives toward him, had his defenses up, and no one can truly love another in that state. Nonetheless, the paragraph following Finny's dialogue should have been in a voice-over. Knowles agrees and made this point in the July/August 1987 issue of "American Film."
It's fashionable to see a homosexual subtext in the novel now. But I read and taught the novel before the 1969 Stonewall rebellion, in a time when a relationship between boys could be "just friendship and intense devotion" without its being sexual.
I had great success teaching this novel for two or three years at Harford Junior College in Bel Air, Maryland. I valued so much the joy of teaching the book and the response of the students there that I never again taught the book because I didn't want to have those memories tarnished by a later generation of lethargic, rebellious, resistant students. The male students of 1964 and 1965 were still subject to the draft, and the Vietnam War was reaching the boiling point. Like the boys of Devon on the rails shoveling the snow, my students (male, at least) could well understand that in the not-too-distant future they would be in the train on the way to war. And among those students I taught, several lost their lives in Vietnam.
Ok, I read the book too, but that was in - oh say- 1964 and I forgot it all. But the movie worked for me on its own merits. First of all, how many movies today are all about groups of 17 year old guys. Gone are the all-male schools and seminaries of the past. So it's a nice window onto a vanished (mostly, I think) subculture. Naturally someone in our own decade is going to read "homosexuality" into the relationships, but there was, in fact, a time when Finney could say to Gene "in this teenage period of your life, the best person to come to the beach with is your best pal, and we believed him. The cinematography was beautiful, even lyrical. I think the character of Finney was very well portrayed by John Heyl and wonder what ever happened to him. We know what happened to Parker Stevenson (he married Kirstie Alley). All in all, a succesful evocation of a time and place, whether or not it measured up to the themes and meanings of the book (which I note Leonard Matlin called "overrated" anyway.
The many negative comments on this elegant tale of the rites of adolescent
angst insisted I watch again to see what they are talking about. These are
teenagers so their actions aren't obliged to make sense. The pregnant pauses
and alleged poor acting is awkward emotional teenage behavior mildly
obscured because they're bright, articulate kids with lots of rivalries -
but there is more going on here.
No one has even mentioned the emotional range of the very powerful snow-shoveling scene euphoria to unutterable sadness, screaming to silence: terrified kids. While the war is symbolic for the emotional swings of the children throughout the film it is very much less important as an influence.
Thematically what no reviewer seems to see here is the love story which foments the jealous, insecure, blind, ignorant savage underneath', illogical urge to strike out. When you don't know what else to do somebody's going to get hurt: these are scared, hormonal, vulnerable, lonely, forty's boys and coming out just isn't done.
Worse still - it may be unrequited love - even though it's just you and me buddy', and I'm good for you' and the beach is where you don't just come with anybody' and Finny's got himself and Gene undressed down to their underwear every chance he gets. Confusion reigns supreme afterward in the dorm when Gene - hasn't been the same since the beach' - and he's worried about something' unrevealed. And again later when he's wearing Finny's clothes and then again when he's stuttering on the phone.
Consider the reaction devastation when Finny thinks Gene might enlist and the ode to friendship that is the Winter Carnival where Gene wins all the gold - after training for the Olympics'. These boys are experiencing feelings which are strong and bubbling over all the time and they have no experience to cope with them.
The confession deals marvelously with the ethical problem of the selfish, sociopathic moment the stupid impulse the temporary insanity, when everything was changed forever, but in tears stops just short of Gene telling Finny he loves him. Then again in the hospital - a confession and forgiveness, but no relief from what the lad cannot express: there is no unraveling, no spilling his guts and no moment of truth.
Years later, all the fear and anger returned' - there is no peace, ever.
When I read this book some years ago it was because I was forced to read it in English class in High School. I grew up in the town where the book and movie were set, Exeter New Hampshire. Seeing the film brought back memories of my childhood in Exeter and all the visits I made to Phillips Exeter Academy, otherwise known as Devon in the book. The character development is much better in the book, but the movie does do the book some justice. This movie is a must-not miss and should always been shown to a child growing up.
The 1972 film version of John Knowles modern masterpiece is a class act
for the reason that Paramount Pictures went to Phillips Exeter Academy
and filmed it on location with all student actors from Exeter with the
exception of Parker Stevenson whom attended The Brooks School. Though
the acting is a little amateurish,so what,it should be, for it is the
drama society of the school and alumni putting on a Paramount Film!
John Heyl,a former Exeter Student, was eighteen and son of the school's doctor. John Heyl does a great job as Finny at the age sixteen,seventeen that Finny would have been in the novel. This was also Parker Stevenson, at eighteen, his first film and in my view his best role as Gene.
It is a good adaptation of the book but I would strongly suggest that you read the novel first for the tensions of love, hate,jealously, denial, sexual undertone, and regret are pale compared to John Knowles' writing.
It is a love story with war looming closer to the boys of The Devon Academy. The viewer decides if this love is emotional and / or physical. What else could motivate ones "Best Pal" and roommate to do such a violent act as to attempt to maim him hence excorise him (Finny) from Genes life i.e. emotions so deep that Gene could not deal with at sixteen.
I have recently viewed Showtime's 2004 version which was filmed at a college in Canada and has actors that are in there late twenties playing the parts of teenagers. No sorry - Veto! John Heyl will always be Finny and Parker Stevenson will always be Gene. The 1972 film version shot at Exeter is the true "Preppy Classic".
"A Separate Peace," in novel form, is a nicely paced story filled with
deep, sometimes complex metaphors and symbols. It is not for the reader
who prefers the path of least resistance; the majority of enjoyment in
reading the book is in the process of decoding the story. But that's
what book-to-film renditions are for, right? "A Separate Peace," in
movie form, is not such a far cry from the book as far as storyline
goes. Instead, it follows the key points of the story while ignoring
additional details that would create depth within the novel. In
essence, streamlining the content of the novel. Much like in Peter
Jackson's "Lord of the Rings Trilogy" adaptation, "A Separate Peace" is
short, sweet, and to the point.
Being from the early 70's, this movie should not be expected to have the "best" visuals. For what it is, the cinematography does a fantastic job of illustrating what was conjured into my mind as I read the book. As does the acting, which is remarkable- actual Devon (the school in which the story is set) students and faculty were casted for leading and supporting roles in the movie.
I personally found this movie both entertaining and well adapted in relation to the novel. I'd say that it is definitely worth watching for anybody who has read, is currently reading, or plans to read "A Separate Peace".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A Seprate Peace is a story about two boys and their experiences
throughout the year at an all boy's boarding school in New England. The
movie was filmed at Exeter Academy, the school Knowles, the author,
attended as a boy and all the actors in the movie are actual students
The movie itself I thought was quite well done and followed the book closely except for a few minor parts. Although the acting was done by students and not professional actors, I thought the kids did a very good job. Although cheesy and a little unrealistic at some parts, they played their roles very well and using actual students allowed for them to fit into their rolls perfectly.
Because it is a movie and under time constraints, not every event that took place in the book happened in the movie. This can cause a little bit of confusion for those who are watching the movie but have not read the book. The book is written in first person and allows for much more insight into the characters head than a movie can offer. Sections where an insight from a character had to be skipped or shortened or modified to fit into the movie like SPOILER ALERT Finny's conversation with Leper after Leper has deserted in order to avoid a section 8 discharge. This section was confusing because the inner workings of the two characters brains cannot be seen or understood clearly unless the viewer has read the book. It is also very difficult to understand that Gene intentionally jounced the limb. The scene in the movie was extremely hectic and awkward and it is hard for the filmmaker to convey Gene's inner savageness without being able to get inside his head END SPOILER.
Some of the symbols that were used in the book were not used in the movie either such as the contrast of the two rivers and Gene's "baptisms" in each or how blitzball is the perfect game for finny. Although the absence of these symbols does not detract from the viewers ability to enjoy the movie, they are an added bonus that readers can gain that viewers cannot.
Overall I thought the movie was well put together and much more entertaining than the book. The book seemed to move to slowly and the movie seemed to skip the boring parts and cut right to the action, which means that without having previously having read the book, the viewer might be a little lost at some points throughout the movie.
I was disappointed. The source material was interesting, although overrated. So it had the potential to be a pretty good story. But this doesn't do it. Part of the problem was that they attempted to convey a late 60's - early 70's mood to a story that took place during World War II, and they did a poor job of capturing the time and place. Obviously, there are parallels to the Vietnam War for those who care to look for them, but that was not suited to this story. The plot is somewhat mysterious. Gene, a nerdy honor student, has become roommates with a handsome, charismatic jock named Finny, and becomes very enamored with him. To Gene's surprise, Finny seems equally devoted to him, but he can't figure out why. Partly as a result of that and the pressure to excel at school, he fears that Finney is plotting to undermine him academically, so when they are preparing to jump off of a large tree together, he makes a fateful and decision with devastating consequences. There is a message that the story tries to convey- perhaps about the competitive atmosphere of school, perhaps about the nature of friendship and devotion, or perhaps Gene thinking that no one would want to be friends with him without having an ulterior motive. And there are other possibilities as well. But the film never explores this in anything more than a superficial way. Because of the source material, there are some interesting scenes and some nice scenery, and the inexperienced cast does well enough. But it never gets the viewer all that interested in the story, even for fans of the novel.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To capture an image, an idea, or transferring text to television is not
an easy task. A Separate Peace by John Knowles had lots of interior
dialogue in which the director of the Separate Peace movie had failed
to capture. The director did a good job telling the story, but not
showing the things that were going on in the characters mind. In the
end one could see what the characters were going through and put
together what they were thinking, but during the rising action one
could only make guesses.
One of the key points in the plot that I was disappointed the director didn't capture was the scene were Gene visits the stairs as an adult. These are the same stairs that Finny fell down which eventually leads him to his death. It failed to show how "hard" the stairs were. This was my only disappointment in the movie. However the rest of the movie was quite enjoyable and kept me entertained through the whole movie.
In conclusion, the movie missed a few vital points but in the end captured the picture of John Knowles, A Separate Peace. After all that has been said, I give this movie two stars.
A Separate Peace, Based on the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles its aspects that keep it true but overall it is way to different from the novel. I feel that the actors chosen for the parts seem to fit what I imagined the characters from the book would look and act like; they also spoke in a considerably less modern tone which helped keep the idea that this took place in the nineteen forties believable. This aspect was the only part that had any quality to it, the movie deviated way to far off course of the novel, it changed scene s that it later made the plot make less sense and I could not think of a logical reason for the change. It did not reduce time or help show the symbolism at all. On that note this film didn't bring out the symbolism the book had very well. Since the symbolism didn't come out to well it just seemed random and sporadic with a weak plot. Ultimately this film could have used a lot of work, I would rate it a four out of ten.
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