BERNARDINE pleased Pat Boone fans in 1957, with their handsome teen idol (one grownups actually liked) making his first movie appearance and singing a couple of his signature hits in the bargain. Old-fashioned when it was released, the quaintness today is so dopey it’s embarrassing, especially compared to Boone’s bona fide rock & roll competitor, Elvis, hitting screens in ’57 with Loving You and Jailhouse Rock. Squeaky clean Bernardine matched the box-office grosses of the first of those two, then easygoing Pat scored another success later in the year with the leisurely April Love.
Wingate High School: Somewhere, USA. A club of seniors, led by smooth-talking ‘Beau’ (Boone), are about to graduate but spend little time studying. Instead they race speedboats and moon over ‘Bernardine’, their make-believe ideal girl. Then the dorkiest knob in the crew (Dick Sargent) meets an actual dish (Terry Moore) and conventional comic complications collide.
Theodore Reeves screenplay came off a 1952 play written by Mary Chase. The flimsy material would have been dated back in the 30s, and would have probably played better if it was set then, but outfitted with soft-sell slang jive from the ducktail & crewcut era, the result is an earache.
Sargent, 26 playing 18, is awful, the other goons in the gang are likewise grating. Moore, 29, was maybe the worst actress of her day, the Jill St. John of the 50s. She was also in the year’s huge hit Peyton Place, again playing a teenager, albeit a hot-to-trot one. At 50, Janet Gaynor came out of a 19-year retirement for this one-shot return as Sargent’s mom (it can’t have been to work with Dean Jagger, shoehorned in as her suitor). Future The Virginian James Drury, 22, plays Boone’s older brother, who at least gets to drive a red T-bird convertible.
How about Pat? Boone was 22, married for three years, and thrice a father, but he pulls off his high school senior easily enough, and has a relaxed delivery on the order of Bing Crosby. Though Sargent has the larger role, and Moore had been around a lot longer, since Boone was a singing sensation, he commanded top billing.
He does sing, several times. One is joke version of a calypso number, which his denigrators (persistent and tiresome) will grate fangs over, but the title tune is pleasant and the standout is “Love Letters In The Sand”, which became a #1 hit. It had been around since 1931, but Boone’s deep baritone version is the standard, and is easily the highlight of the otherwise carbon-dated feature.
Directed by Henry Levin, who would also guide the star in the better April Love, and a genuine winner, Journey To The Center Of The Earth. With Ronnie Burns, Walter Abel, Russ Conway, Natalie Schafer. 95 minutes.