Little Darlings


Return with us to a halcyon age of cinema when mature subject matter wasn’t forbidden, it was simply rated R. So it was with Little Darlings, a surprisingly sweet and remarkably honest snapshot of adolescence circa 1980. There’s no real violence or profanity, and the teenage coitus at its core is merely alluded to, never shown. See, summer camp brings together youngsters from all walks of life, and one of the more experienced girls strong arms two newbies into a bet: whoever loses her virginity first wins.

The subsequent talk isn’t nearly as trashy as we might expect, instead exploring the loss of innocence in more ways than one. To its credit, the sensitively imparted story sidesteps the pitfalls of similarly themed bawdy comedies or maudlin dramas of the period. Its one shortcoming might be its incongruous juxtaposition of wholesome, G-rated food fights and such with its more serious content — augmented by matter-of-fact underage beer drinking and abundant cigarettes — but taken as a whole it still works.

A hit in theaters and on cable, Little Darlings incredibly had no U.S. DVD release that we could find, and no Blu-ray until this Ultra HD combo pack.

The new 4K restoration is all that we could hope for. The widescreen image pulls ample detail from the original camera negative, to the point where we can practically count the blades of grass or star Tatum O’Neal’s freckles. A respectable level of grain is retained, while extremely rare, minor imperfections do nothing to spoil the experience. Many shots were initially captured soft, although others reveal excellent depth of field. Colors can lean toward the drab sometimes but are given new life with the disc’s re-grading and wide color gamut.

We learn from the extras that director Ron Maxwell is quite proud of Little Darlings, right down to its sound mix. The simple lossless two-channel presentation of the original stereo soundtrack works extremely well for the material. Fairly basic sound effects and ambiance are occasionally elevated by the addition of well-chosen pop songs (Supertramp!). This is a dialogue-driven movie, always perfectly clear even with a silent center channel.

Twin commentaries adorn the 4K disc, one from Maxwell and another from podcaster/expert Millie De Chirico, both repeated on the HD Blu-ray, which adds a nigh-hour-long on-camera interview with the director, a well-researched video essay, an audio discussion of the broadcast TV edit, and 6 minutes of deleted scenes. We reviewed the numbered, limited-edition set, its two discs collected inside a clothbound book housed in a darling little slipcase.

STUDIO: Cinématographe/Vinegar Syndrome, 1980
AUDIO FORMAT: DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
LENGTH: 95 mins., R
DIRECTOR: Ronald F. Maxwell
STARRING: Tatum O’Neal, Kristy McNichol, Armand Assante, Matt Dillon, Krista Errickson, Cynthia Nixon

coreda7142's picture

The film's overall sincerity and candid storytelling make it a memorable snapshot of its era. | Delaware Drywallers