Almost as if it was written today, SUSAN SLADE (1961, directed by Delmer Daves) is a glossy melodrama about the dangers of premarital sex and disgrace of being an unwed mother.
The story goes like this: family man Roger Slade (wooden cue-card reading Lloyd Nolan), his upstanding wife Leah (the lovely, but soft-focused Dorothy McGuire)
and sickeningly sweet daughter Susan (kittenish Connie Stevens) take a cruise on The Love Boat, which is traveling from South America to San Francisco.
Susan meets a fellow passenger “the handsomest man on the ship” Conn White (Grant Williams), a dashing mountain climber who wants to mount Susan's slade.
Conn romances (or cons) his way into Susan's heart (and lower) as the theme from Daves' other film A SUMMER PLACE (1959) plays, reminding us that Troy Donahue is about to enter our story.
After Susan sins with Conn in his cabin, he promises to marry her–but only after he returns from Alaska, where he is going to climb Mount McKinley. Right.
Meanwhile, the Slades hobnob with the snobby super rich Corbett family (Natalie Schafer aka Mrs. Howell is the mother) including their dashingly handsome son Wells (TATTELETALES host Bert Convy). The Corbetts gift the Slades with a gorgeous new Asian/modern house in Monterey.
Painfully good-looking Hoyt Bricker (Troy Donahue) is the son of a former Corbett employee, who blames his father's death on papa Corbett. Hoyt is now a stable boy, and Susan is quick to put him in his place, even after he saves her from a horse accident.
Susan has not heard from Conn, but begins to worry about him. While visiting a doctor in San Francisco, she learns she's knocked up! Hoyt begins to look more attractive to Susan after he tells her that he aspires to be a famous writer just like Robert Lewis Stevenson or John Steinbeck.
The Slades throw a snazzy cocktail party, and Susan still hasn't heard from Conn. Was he indeed a con man? During the party Conn's father calls to tell Susan that her groom-to-be was killed in a climbing accident. Oops. There goes the wedding plans.
This news causes Susan to furiously pull her dress off and want to miscarry her bastard child—so she saddles up a horse and rides out into the ocean in an attempt to drown herself and the baby. Unfortunately Hoyt rescues her.
After she confesses her "sin" (The film is based on a novel called The Sin of Susan Slade) to her parents, rather than get an abortion they concoct a plan to move to South America for two years and then return with the baby - and say it's Leah and Roger's child! So, without appearing pregnant at all, Susan soon gives birth to her baby “brother” Rogey (Ragi?), but has a hard time letting go of him. Mrs. Howell notices that Susan is more mature and oddly attached to her infant sibling. Then grandpa Roger suddenly drops dead.
Susan and her mother return to Monterey with baby Rogey and there is much tension between them, especially when absent-minded Leah leaves her cigarette lighter lying around. Now that Conn is long forgotten, Susan finds she now has two men to choose from: filthy rich Wells Corbett, who proposes to her and pathetic stableboy Hoyt Bricker, whose ass looks great in white jeans.
Susan decides she can't walk down the aisle in a soiled wedding gown because she's no longer pure. Soon afterwards, Susan is babysitting Rogey, when Hoyt comes by to tell her that his book is going to be published. Hmmm, maybe he's not a loser after all!
While they are celebrating, Rogey somehow climbs out of his crib gets hold of Granny's cigarette lighter and sets himself on fire!!!! This scene is totally over the top and must be seen to be believed.
At the hospital, Susan reveals that Rogey is her baby and Wells rejects her. Hoyt, it turns out, is okay with burned bastard babies. Then we learn that Rogey is going to be just fine–well, eventually...
What a ridiculous movie! I laughed out loud a bunch of times, but at 2 hours in length, the laughs didn't come as quickly as they should have. I give it a 6 outta ten. Connie was no Sandra Dee, Dorothy Maguire was no Constance Ford and SUSAN SLADE is no SUMMER PLACE.