Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Watched at Random: Teens Sail the Seventies in The Dove (1974)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 2, 2012

deborah-raffin-the-dove-1974-poster2.jpgEvery now and then, I happen to watch an old movie that I know nothing about and the results fascinate me because they are so far out of my wheelhouse. Such is the case with 1974’s The Dove, a film released by Paramount, produced by none other than Gregory Peck (who sadly not does appear) and directed by Charles Jarrott, best known for British costume dramas like Mary, Queen of Scots. The Dove is a sailing movie, a subgenre I’ve always found interesting because I have no understanding of or interest in the activity itself whatsoever, and have always wondered why anyone would want to do that. I still haven’t seen a sailing movie that communicates the appeal of it to me, but then I have never understood why people risk their lives climbing really tall mountains either. “Because it’s there” doesn’t really do it when you’re suffering from frostbite.

Anyway, those of us who were children in the ’70’s remember a time that seems to have been forgotten by mainstream chroniclers of the decade like That 70’s Show. It wasn’t all punk rock, Star Wars and Zeppelin – there was a weird leftover hippie vibe typified by smiley faces, “Keep on Truckin'” stickers, Free to Be You and Me, The Electric Company and other strange effluvia. If you remember any of this, chances are you will enjoy The Dove, because it’s all about being a free spirit and love and doing your own thing, man. Groovy. We even get a warbly Joni Mitchell sound-alike on the soundtrack encouraging our hero to be a song on the wind or something like that (oh, if only Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” had been recorded by then).

The Dove is based on the true story on Robin Lee Graham, a 17-year-old American boy (played by Joseph Bottoms) who sails around the world. And that’s pretty much the plot, so if you expect much more than that, you’re out of luck. Wikipedia tells me this happened between 1965 and 1970, but the film version seems to take place very much in the loosey-goosey 70’s. Robin even has a Leif Garrett-style hairdo. I guess he avoided that whole Vietnam thing somehow, but let’s not get into that. I would’ve liked to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation with his parents – “Mom and Dad, instead of going to college or getting a job, I’d really like to spend the next five years sailing around the world by myself.” I know, different times. But the movie doesn’t even show us that conversation. The possible safety hazards involved don’t even seem to be an issue with Robin’s Dad whenever he pops up, so I guess young Robin must have been an excellent sailor already. Anyway, we don’t get much of a sense of the passage of time in the film itself, so for all we know it takes place within a few months. I know, that’s probably not possible, but most of the people watching the movie are not experienced sailors.

Along the way, Robin meets Patti Ratteree (Deborah Raffin, who sadly died recently at the age of 59), a lithe young beauty who is only two years older than him but fancies herself a sophisticate. Patti is also traveling around the world, and the explanation of how she talked her parents into giving her the money they would have spent on her last two years of college so that she can “educate herself” in this manner is quite hilarious in its youthful narcissism. At first Patti kind of annoys Robin (who is bummed about losing his cat – he has bizarrely bad luck with cats on this voyage), then Robin kind of becomes her stalker for awhile (but of course she finds it “charming”), then eventually, just when the audience can’t take much more of this, they somehow decide to fall in love. Never mind that they have nothing in common and don’t really know each other that well – they’re young and they’re in love, OK? It’s the 70’s, man!

The really strange thing about The Dove is that Robin himself seems to have serious doubts about his own journey, quitting several times along the way before deciding to pick it back up again. At one point he decides to quit sailing and become a construction worker in Australia. At another point he and Patti decide to get married, despite the fact that they have none of the documents they would need to get married in a foreign country. Oh, those wonderful naive youth! Never mind that Robin’s parents invested a ton of money in his boat, he has a contract with a magazine for a photo layout, and he’s a celebrity and an inspiration to people around the world. It’s all about him and what he wants to do at that moment, you see? The most hysterical scene in the movie comes about 3/4 of the way in, when Robin has decided once and for all not to finish the voyage. He’s found a buyer for the boat and he’s going to hang it up once and for all. Then suddenly he comes to a realization: “I NEED TO FINISH IT FOR ME!!!”

Wow. OK then.

deborah-raffin-plays-guitar-in-the-dove-1974.jpgI don’t want it to sound like I didn’t enjoy The Dove. I actually did like it quite a bit despite my sarcastic tone. It’s very much a movie of its time, and I accept it as that. That’s exactly why I find it so fascinating. I’m sure I would have viewed it a lot differently had I seen it at a younger age. It’s not a great film by any means, and I doubt anyone in 1974 saw it as such. But viewed nearly 40 years later, it’s kind of an amazing little curio. I’m sure any decent shrink would see it as a celebration of young narcissism, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But I think The Dove is basically a movie about every kid who only saw their own tunnel-vision dream and wanted to live it, the rest of the world be damned. Who didn’t want that at 17? Who didn’t want to be a song on the wind, or whatever the hell that song said? I feel sorry for anyone who didn’t.

Note: I have no doubt that the real Robin Lee Graham learned quite a lot on his voyage. You just wouldn’t know it from watching this movie.

The Dove is available to watch on Netflix streaming. Groovy.

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4 Responses to “Watched at Random: Teens Sail the Seventies in The Dove (1974)”

  1. Anna said

    Hey there, I just discover this movie, it’s been showed in Australia every summer for the last few years. And i love it too, i was in primary school at the time of this voyague. Thank you for your article I agree with you. Cheers from Melbourne Australia.

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