Oh New England – home of the Lobster Roll. Films set in New England tend to emphasis a unique mix of patrician and rustic. Most films set in New England are set in and around Boston – which we’ll get to in our next article, but there are plenty from the surrounding states as well. Let’s get started.
Connecticut gets a bit of a bad rap in the movies. Where does Hollywood go when they want to set a movie in a bland, soul-sucking suburb? Films like Revolutionary Road (2008), The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (1956), Rachel Getting Married (2008) and The Stepford Wives (1975) tell us that the answer is Connecticut.
Connecticut also gets its share of dysfunctional family drama. The classic Long Day’s Journey into Night (1962) is the definitive adaptation of Eugene O’Neil’s epic dinner table drama. Katherine Hepburn’s performance alone qualifies this as the most influential film set in The Nutmeg State.
It’s not all dark and dreary in Connecticut though. One of the greatest truths in Hollywood is that if you make a successful Holiday movie, it will be seen year after year. Sure 1945’s Christmas in Connecticut doesn’t get as much airplay on TV as it used to, but it’s definitely in the cannon of great holiday classics.
Idyllic New England is really just Idyllic Maine, or so says movies like The Cider House Rules (1999) and Children of a Lesser God (1986). Unless of course you’re Stephen King, then Maine is a vicious hellscape of all kinds of monsters and mayhem. Pet Sematary (1989), Cujo (1983), and The Dead Zone (1983) come from the mind of America’s most prolific horror writer.
The Shawkshank Redemption (1994) is also based on a story by Stephen King, only instead of a tale of terror it is a story of injustice, and ultimately, you guessed it, redemption. It is a beloved, and exceedingly well made film that has a rightful place among the very best American cinema.
Films set in Maine have a goofy side as well. The cult hit Wet Hot American Summer (2001) lampoons the state’s many summer camps. Disney’s 1977 hit Pete’s Dragon is also set here, although it is far from a classic, it’s a pretty fun kids’ movie.
In recent fiction New Hampshire is best known as the home state of President Jed Bartlett on the television series The West Wing. Sticking to movies, there are surprisingly few set in the Granite State. Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (1962), and The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) are two notable films set there, otherwise you’re kind of scrapping the barrel with Jumanji (1995) and What About Bob (1991).
Fortunately for those who seek to live free or die, one of the most notable acting tour-de-forces in movie history is set in the state of New Hampshire. On Golden Pond (1981) gave Henry Fonda his only Oscar and Katherine Hepburn her fourth. It remains one of the most profound and heartbreaking portrayals of aging ever made.
Rhode Island gets a bit of the brush-off from Hollywood as well. Once home to America’s old money elite, old Rhode Island is the setting of films like High Society (1956) and Mr. North (1988), but not much else is made of the old money yachts and mansions that used to line the shores of Newport. Even Dumb and Dumber (1994) only stays in Ocean State for about fifteen minutes.
The Witches of Eastwick (1987) remains the most notable movie set in Rhode Island. Based on John Updike’s novel, it’s become a bit of a Halloween tradition on basic cable.
We’ve come to the last state in this tour of New England. When setting films in New England, Vermont doesn’t get as noticed as some of its more populated brethren. The goofy Super Troopers (2001), the tragic Dead Poets Society (1989), and Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) are about it for the Green Mountain State. About it – except for one film, one film you’ve seen more than once whether you sought to or not.
Michael Curtiz directed one of the greatest movies of all time, Casablanca (1942). He also directed the joyous holiday ode to the music of Irving Berlin and the magical powers of Bing Crosby known as White Christmas (1954). Mention it’s very name and you’ll have one of its songs stuck in your head for the rest of the afternoon.
Next up: Focus on Massachusetts.
(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe