Frank Perry’s “Last Summer” was one of a handful of high-profile X-rated movies that were released in 1969 along with the Oscar-winning best picture “Midnight Cowboy” and Haskell Wexler’s docudrama, “Medium Cool.”
Unlike “Cowboy” and “Cool,” though, “Last Summer” has fallen off the radar. It was briefly released on VHS in the early days of home video but has had no DVD release. There haven’t been any recent screenings because there were no available prints in the U.S.
But Thursday evening, the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre is showing a 16-millimeter print that was found in Australia. Screenwriter Larry Karaszewski (“Ed Wood’) will be presenting the program, which also features a Q&A with one of the film’s stars, Barbara Hershey.
It took two years for the Cinematheque to locate the print from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, according to Karaszewski. “We have been told it has excellent color and is in good shape. Nobody has seen it. At the end of the day, it may not be the best print, but it is the only print.”
“I haven’t seen it since 1969,” Hershey said of the film, which led to her briefly changing her last name to Seagull after she blamed herself for the death of a seagull used in the film. “It will be a very strange time capsule for me to watch.”
Adapted by the director’s wife Eleanor Perry from the novel by Evan Hunter, “Last Summer” revolves around four teenagers coming of age on Fire Island, N.Y. Hershey plays Sandy, the flirt who is not above taking off her bikini top. She becomes friends with two boys also staying on Fire Island, Peter (Richard Thomas) and Dan (Bruce Davison). Into the group enters Rhoda (Catherine Burns in her Oscar nominated-performance), who is shy and overweight and is frequently teased by the trio. The film’s X rating — it is now rated R — was based on a graphic, disturbing scene in which Sandy encourages Peter and Dan to rape Rhoda.
“It was one of the first films that really treated teenagers as real people, as adults,” Karaszewski said. “It is not a conventional coming of age movie. It is a rather cruel vision of teenage life. Coming out of the era of all of those teenage beach movies of AIP, this is a teenage beach film that is at some points difficult to watch because it is so powerful.”
Hershey (“Black Swan”) had appeared on TV in the ABC series “Gidget” and “The Monroes” and had made two feature films, 1968’s “With Six You Get Eggroll” and 1969’s “Heaven With a Gun,” when she went in to read for Perry for “Last Summer.”
“It was the first movie I did that was artful,” she said. “Frank was really receptive to me and didn’t know which part he was interested in me for. I kept pushing for Sandy because to me it was such a great part. I was 19 and even then I was interested in variety.”
The nudity, she said, was difficult for “such a good girl. I was a shy person. Frank, bless his soul, was very good in how he worked with all of us kids. He talked to me a lot. I had never had any real formal training, so I wasn’t expecting what it would feel like to go on a journey of being someone who I wasn’t.”
As Hershey recalled, the four young actors didn’t really bond during the shoot. “Bruce and Richard might say something different, but I think Frank was encouraging us more to be into our characters than to bond. He was sort of isolating us from our lives.... We had interaction with each other, but it wasn’t like we were a close-knit group.”
For more information on the screening go to americancinematheque.com.