A Separate Peace


1h 45m 1972

Brief Synopsis

Gene and Finny are two boys who are best friends living in 1943, at the height of World War II. The idea that the boys will most likely be drafted when they turn eighteen is surrounding them, and they are practically forced to live their lives to the fullest. The two boys attend the Devon School, which prepares them for military life that they will most likely be subjected to. The film begins with a narration by an older Gene, traveling back to Devon some years later. The thing he wishes most to see is the tree, which had a great effect on the boys' lives.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Oct 1972
Premiere Information
Venice Film Festival screening: 28 Aug 1972; New York opening: 27 Sep 1972; Los Angeles opening: 27 Oct 1972
Production Company
Wildwood Productions, Inc.;
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Exeter, New Hampshire, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles (London, 1959).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 45m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)

Synopsis

Fifteen years after graduating from the Devon School in New Hampshire, Gene Forrester returns to campus to reflect on his student days. Amazed that the school has changed so little over the years, Gene walks down to the river to look for a specific tree that he finds near the riverbank: In the summer of 1942, Gene attends Devon summer school with his roommate, Phineas, known as Finny, and their friends: Elwin "Leper" Lepellier, Brinker Hadley, Chet Douglass, Bobby Zane and Cliff Quackenbush. Finny, athletic and boisterous, leads the gang down to the river to a tree where seniors preparing to enlist in the military train by jumping from a high branch into the water. Finny quickly climbs the tree and from the limb invites the others to make the leap but they refuse. After Finny urges Gene on, he nervously complies. Walking back to their dorm later, Finny tells Gene that the leap from the tree has bonded them and that Gene did well once Finny "shamed" him into action. Soon after, Mr. Patchwithers, the summer term headmaster, throws a garden tea party at which Finny arrives wearing a flashy pink shirt and the school tie as a belt. Alarmed at Finny's reckless daring, Gene is nevertheless surprised when his friend evades a reprimand by charming the usually gruff headmaster. A few days later, as the boys swim in the river, Finny announces the start of the Super Suicide Society, whose initiation will be a jump from the tree. Although still frightened by the tree's height, Gene is the first member of the new club and Finny the second. Later Gene and Finny are alone in the gym and Finny breaks an old school pole vaulting record with ease. To Gene's amazement, however, Finny refuses to reproduce the vault for witnesses or let Gene tell anyone about it. Back in their room, Gene grows irritated by Finny's continual interruptions and refusal to study. A few days later, Finny convinces Gene to cut classes to go to the beach where they spend the day at the boardwalk attractions and, later, swimming. That evening as the boys settle down to sleep on the beach, Finny thanks Gene for a wonderful day and tells him he considers Gene his best friend. The next day after returning to school, Gene angrily confesses that during his absence he missed a test that will spoil his academic average. Finny dismisses Gene's concern, assuring him that he is bright enough to overcome one missed exam. Some days later out on the school grounds, when Finny finds a large medicine ball, he quickly devises a game called "Blitz Ball" in which there are no teams, or clear winners, only individual effort. That afternoon, Finny bursts into their room to tell Gene that Leper has agreed to jump from the tree, but Gene lashes out angrily at his studies being interrupted again. Puzzled by Gene's genuine irritation, Finny explains he considers Gene's academic abilities natural, much like his own athletic talents. Assuring him that they are not competing against each other, Finny convinces Gene to come down to the river for Leper's jump. Arriving at the tree, the boys do not see Leper, so Finny asks Gene to make a simultaneous jump with him. When Gene joins Finny on the limb however, the large branch bounces, causing Finny to lose his balance and fall to the ground below. Suddenly unafraid, Gene makes a clean dive into the river. At the school infirmary, Gene learns from Dr. Stanpole that Finny has suffered a badly broken leg and although he will walk, he will never compete athletically again. After Finny returns home to Boston to recover, Gene goes to their empty room and dons his friend's pink shirt and school tie as a belt. At the end of summer vacation, Gene stops by Finny's home on his way back to Devon to confess that he believes he may have deliberately caused Finny's fall. Although Finny refuses to accept Gene's admission, he asks him to leave, adding that he will be able to return to school by Thanksgiving. Back at Devon, Brinker teases Gene for having a room to himself, saying he recognizes Gene's plot to "get rid" of Finny in order to have privacy. Later down in the dorm's smoking room, Brinker repeats the "charge," and while Gene attempts to go along with the joking, he soon grows uncomfortable and returns to his room to study. Weeks pass and after the first snow, Gene joins several other schoolboys shoveling snow from the tracks for trains carrying troops headed overseas. In the dorm, Gene happily discovers that Finny, walking with the aid of a cane, has returned. After the other boys greet Finny, Gene and Brinker confess that they are considering enlisting before school ends, but Finny claims the war is an invention by fat, old rich men. Over the next few days, Finny convinces Gene, who has renounced athletic competition, to take up athletic training in his stead, to qualify for the Olympics despite the fact that they have been canceled for the duration of the war. Meanwhile, Leper turns eighteen and, inspired by a film on ski troops, enlists. A few weeks later, Finny arranges a winter sports festival in which Gene wins all of the competitions. In the midst of the celebration, Gene receives a telegram from Leper asking to meet him privately. Gene goes to Leper who admits he is AWOL as he was scheduled to be dismissed on a "Section 8" based on mental instability. When Leper then accuses Gene of pushing Finny from the tree, Gene angrily knocks him down. Returning to campus, Gene confides Leper's situation to the others but Brinker is unmoved. Over the weeks Gene trains under Finny's guidance and takes no further steps to enlist. Suspecting that Gene feels uncomfortable about enlisting because Finny cannot, Brinker asks if he could help "clear up" details on Finny's accident, but Gene ignores him. Soon after, Finny tells Gene that he saw Leper hiding near the chapel and accepts that the war must exist if it can drive someone crazy. Just then Brinker and several others burst into the room and force Finny and Gene down to the assembly hall where Brinker has arranged a mock tribunal to investigate Finny's accident. Declaring the honor of the school at stake, Brinker demands Finny recall the details of the incident at the tree. Although Finny admits it felt as if the tree "shook" him out, he says Gene was on the ground at the time. Gene agrees, but then Finny recalls suggesting a double jump. When Brinker regrets that Leper, who was on his way to the tree to make his initiation jump, is not there to "testify," Finny reveals that Leper is on campus. Brinker immediately summons Leper who recalls that both boys were in the tree and one moved "up and down, like a piston" causing the other to fall. Aggravated, Finny gets up and hurries away, only to fall down the marble staircase. That night, when Gene sneaks into the infirmary to visit Finny, who has re-broken his leg, Finny lunges at him angrily. The next morning Gene brings Finny some clothes and reminds him that he tried to tell him in Boston about the accident. Finny then admits he has been writing to every branch of the military but has been rejected because of his physical condition. Gene tells Finny he would be no good at war, as he would constantly be setting up sports teams between the sides. When Finny asks if it was a blind impulse that caused Gene to jounce the branch Gene agrees, but says he wishes he could prove that he has never hated Finny. Finny says he believes Gene's subsequent actions have demonstrated Gene's feelings and forgives him. The next morning, Gene returns to the infirmary to check on Finny, who has had surgery to reset his leg bone. Dr. Stanpole tells Gene that Finny is dead after a bit of bone marrow unexpectedly moved to his heart. Two months later, Gene and the others graduate from Devon. In the present, the adult Gene recalls that he never cried for Finny then or at his funeral as he could not help feeling that the funeral was his own.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Oct 1972
Premiere Information
Venice Film Festival screening: 28 Aug 1972; New York opening: 27 Sep 1972; Los Angeles opening: 27 Oct 1972
Production Company
Wildwood Productions, Inc.;
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Exeter, New Hampshire, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles (London, 1959).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 45m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)

Quotes

Did you come here to abuse me?
- Leper

Trivia

Notes

The following written acknowledgment appears in the closing credits: "The producers gratefully acknowledge the assistance and cooperation of the faculty and students of The Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire."
       Screen rights to John Knowles's novel ^A Separate Peace changed hands several times before the film's production. According to a January 1964 Variety news item, actor Richard Burton and Joseph Sirola, who then owned the screen rights to the novel, intended to co-produce a film version. A July 1964 Hollywood Reporter news item indicated that Burton would direct an adaptation by Clyde Ware, with the setting shifted to a British school. However, an October 1965 Daily Variety item noted that actors Keir Dullea and Martin West had formed a company to produce the film, in which they planned to co-star. In July 1967 Hollywood Reporter announced that television producer Irving Gitlin had purchased the rights to Knowles's novel. An August 1968 Publishers Weekly news item noted that producer, and Paramount's then-president, Stanley Jaffe, had purchased the screen rights and anticipated beginning shooting the following year with director Larry Peerce.
       The film shot was on location at Knowles's alma mater and model for the fictionalized Devon School, Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH. Shooting was broken up into two sequences, in winter for snow scenes at the middle and end of the film and in summer for the first half and final scene of the film. Assistant directors Miles Tilton and Jonathan Bernstein, listed in the Hollywood Reporter production charts, were not credited onscreen and May only have worked on the winter sequences. A Separate Peace marked the feature film debut of Parker Stevenson ("Gene Forrester"), a then recent graduate of the Brooks Prep School in Andover, MA. Stevenson's co-stars, including John Heyl ("Phineas"), were all students at Exeter Academy. Paul Sadler, credited as "Naval officer," was an Exeter faculty member. Of the Exeter students appearing in the film, only Victor Bevine ("Brinker Hadley") went on to pursue an acting career. Filmfacts noted that one of the few other professionals in the cast, Ruth Ford, played Finny's mother, a part edited out of the release print. Many reviews were critical of the film because of the limited abilities of the young cast.
       Filmfacts noted that Knowles's novel, which initially was rejected by every major American publishing house, was first published in England in 1959. After U.S. publication the following year, A Separate Peace became a bestseller and a staple for high school and college reading curricula. Knowles based Gene on himself and Finny on classmate David Hackett, who, unlike Finny, was never injured at school. Hackett went on to become a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic hockey team and later worked in the Justice Department. In an October 1972 New York Times article, Knowles admitted there was indeed a "Super Suicide Society," but there were no broken bones or deaths associated with the club. He also indicated that the character of the aggressive "Brinker" was modeled after novelist Gore Vidal, an outstanding debater when he went to Exeter, but whom Knowles did not know, as he was two years ahead of him. In 1968 Knowles released a collection of short stories called Phineas about the same character from A Separate Peace, and in 1981 had modest success with a companion novel, Peace Breaks Out, also set at the Devon School in the period after World War II. In 2004, Showtime cable network broadcast a remake of A Separate Peace, starring J Barton and Tobey Moore and directed by Peter Yates.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1972

Released in United States 1972