Each year, the term "Spring Break" means the residents of Fort Lauderdale in Florida will be invaded. Invaded by college students, that is, and this year Merritt Andrews (Dolores Hart) is considering visiting there herself, especially in light of how her course work has been going recently. For example, she was full of the cold and dozing in the sex education class when she was asked to get to her feet by the tutor to answer a question. This turned into Merritt giving her forthright views on sex before marriage, and she was sent to the head of the university as a result, where she was told she might not have a place there after Spring Break. So she goes off to Fort Lauderdale with her friends to collect her thoughts and, who knows, maybe meet a boy...
If you're looking for the culprit for all those beach party movies of the nineteen-sixties, the success of this might well be found guilty. But it's not an empty headed romp with the boys meeting the girls and staging an abundance of relentless fun, it takes the worries and opinions of its four main characters seriously, although the fun is still present. Setting itself up to take a level headed approach to dating in the early sixties, it opens with a narration as if we were about to watch a documentary, yet it never comes across as patronising, more protective and informative.
The script was adapted by George Wells from the book by Glendon Swarthout, and after the initial setting up of Merritt's situation, the girls hit the road and drive down to Florida, where on the way they pick up hitchhiker T.V. (Jim Hutton), a lanky eccentric who is happy to talk all the way to the beach, and beyond. When they reach their destination, the girls - Merritt, smart Tuggle (Paula Prentiss), vulnerable Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) and funny Angie (Connie Francis, who also sang the hit theme song) - settle down to find somewhere to stay (they all sleep in the same one-room apartment) and then commence their search for a good time.
Tuggle and T.V. (so called because he wants to work in, erm, T.V.) hit it off almost immediately, but like all the girls Tuggle is reticent about commiting to a sexual relationship and like all the boys T.V. is keen on starting one. This becomes the theme; it's not that the girls aren't interested, it's just that they don't want to get into trouble, and Merritt for one is keen to settle down with the boy she gives her virginity to, despite what she said at the start of the film. Her beau turns out to be Ryder Smith (George Hamilton - that tan was made for a beach movie), a dashing millionaire who respects her decision not to end an evening in the way he wants - he's obviously safe marriageable material, so not much conflict there.
It may seem quaint now, but Where the Boys Are isn't quite as innocent as it first appears. The storyline isn't a strong one, but the appealing characters make up for it, with Angie taking a liking to jazz band leader Frank Gorshin, who wears Coke-bottle lensed spectacles that predictably go amiss for that Velma from Scooby Doo-style running gag. It may look as though there are no villains, yet poor Melanie winds up with the wrong crowd and events take a grimmer turn when she is raped. It's quite jarring to see a film that has previously been so light hearted go down this road, and the drama threatens to turn into an awful warning tale, but it's made clear that not every male is like the ones who Melanie encountered, so there is a happy ending of sorts. It may be an artefact now, but the film remains full of interest. Music by George Stoll.