A Separate Peace
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLarry Peerce
Written byJohn Knowles
Fred Segal
Based onA Separate Peace by John Knowles
Produced byRobert A. Goldston
Otto Plaschkes
StarringJohn Heyl
Parker Stevenson
Narrated byParker Stevenson
CinematographyFrank Stanley
Edited byJohn C. Howard
Music byCharles Fox
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • September 27, 1972 (1972-09-27)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,250,000 (US/ Canada rentals)[1]

A Separate Peace is a 1972 American drama film directed by Larry Peerce. It was adapted by John Knowles and Fred Segal (the brother of actor George Segal) from Knowles's best-selling novel of the same name. The film stars Parker Stevenson.

Plot summary

During the summer of 1942, the 16-year-old Gene Forrester attends The Devon School, a private boarding school in New Hampshire. His roommate is Phineas (nicknamed "Finny"), a free-spirited and cheerful nonconformist who is loved by everyone he meets. Gene, an introvert, tries to stifle his growing jealousy but is unable to control his envy of Finny’s athletic skill; natural popularity; and, above all, innate goodness.

Unable to bear the knowledge that Finny is a better person, Gene apparently shakes a tree branch that Finny is standing on. Finny falls to the ground and breaks his leg, which permanently disables him. After the incident, Gene meets with Finny and attempts to confess but then realizes that Finny desperately needs the illusion of friendship and that he must boost his fallen friend’s self-confidence.

Finny returns for the winter semester: refuses to accept the wartime influences permeating Devon; and, though his own athletic career is finished, starts to train Gene for the Olympics. Finny is initially resistant to the fact that a war is raging around them until another student, "Leper" Lepelier, returns absent without leave and corroborates the horrible stories that are only now been corroborated by a first-person narrative.

Another student, the judiciously-minded Brinker Hadley, instigates an inquiry into Finny’s accident and convenes a kangaroo court of fellow students. During this hearing, Leper reveals the truth about what happened, as he had been looking up from under the tree in which Gene apparently shook the branch. Finny begins to cry and in his effort to escape the tribunal, he falls down the stairs and breaks the same leg.

The second disaster has a curious healing effect on both boys, and when Gene visits Finny in the infirmary, both are reconciled. Finny accepts the fact that Gene never meant to hurt him, and Gene reveals his belief that Finny would have been emotionally unfit for war anyway. During a second procedure on his leg, bone marrow enters Finny's bloodstream, travels to his heart, and kills him. The surgeon tells a shell-shocked Gene "there are risks, always risks," and the surviving boy realizes that part of him has died with his best friend.



Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote:

Larry Peerce's film version of A Separate Peace is so good and true in small, subsidiary details of costume, music, weather and such that the ultimate banality of what it's all about is just that much more apparent, and just that much more difficult to accept without seeming unnecessarily ill-tempered [...] Peerce is very good with his almost completely nonprofessional cast, especially with John Heyl, a stocky, handsome young man whose face reflects the profound cheerfulness of someone who will never grow old. Parker Stevenson has the more difficult role (perhaps an impossible one) and I'm not sure I'd have had much idea of what was going on in his mind had I not read the book. As he displayed in Goodbye, Columbus, Peerce has a positive talent not only for period detail, but also for knowing when and how to cut around and away from the performances of non-actors so that Heyl, Stevenson and a large proportion of the Exeter student body manage to come up trumps.[2]

The film historian Leonard Maltin denounced the picture in his annual Movie and Video Guide: "This supposedly-sensitive story, from an overrated novel, is morbid enough to make anyone gag. The acting is incredibly amateurish, and the direction has no feeling at all for the period. A Total Bummer is more like it."[citation needed]

The film received glowingly-positive reviews from William Wolf in Cue magazine, Wanda Hale in the New York Daily News and Rex Reed, who at the time was also writing for the Daily News. Reed called it "one of the best films about youth ever made" and added, "I have seen the film three times, and I dare say I have more left in me."[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60
  2. ^ Vincent Canby, "Peerce's Version of 'A Separate Peace': Story of Friendships at School; Exeter Locale Adds to Emphasis on Details" Sept. 28, 1972 https://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9A02E0D6143BE43BBC4051DFBF668389669EDE