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As we watched the movie, my grandmother pointed out things she had thought as a young adolescent girl, and also things that she thought of now that had been difficult to put into words at a young age. "That blue of the ocean, oh, even as a young girl, from then on it meant sexuality to me," my grandma confides, as she looks to see that no one else heard her. As Francie breaks away from her friends, she begins to find her self more and more, in the middle of a group of about eight very attractive, muscular, and tanned men, all older than she is, teaching her how to ride those big blue waves. The guys call her Gidget, a cross between Girl and Midget, which is a barrier to Francie in the beginning, because it shows that the guys only see her as a little girl.
My grandmother explained as we watched this film together, that this movie was what "made me look at those things in a different way. I had more interest in boys at the end of the movie!" It was the first teenage love story she had ever seen, and she seemed to almost regress to a teenager as we watched the movie together. "Oh, James Darren is such a hunk!" and "I had such a crush on him..."and "what cute clothes she wears!" She commented that after this movie she made it a point to make her wardrobe similar to Sandra Dee's. "Those shirts with the hood like you wear today, they were popular back then too." She went on to say that when girls wanted to get clothes like Gidget's, they shopped at Judy's, and that it was "the absolute place! And I got to shop there!" I could hear her begin to revert to the phrases she used as a teenager as she got excited about the fashions of her childhood.
Before the movie began, my Grandma thought about what she remembered most clearly about the movie. "I remember the dress she wore, and what color it was. It sticks in my mind to this day." During the scene where Gidget gets dressed to go to the luau, my grandmother interrupts the movie to tell me something else. "There's the dress! I don't even like orange, in fact, I hate the color orange...but that's a very special dress to me."
This movie was filmed in vibrant color and shot on the beach in Malibu. This alone drew many young people to the film. It was about discovering sex and growing up, and teenagers of the fifties were very interested. This movie was memorable to my grandma and to her friends of the fifties because of a combination longing to be on a beach surfing with hunky surf bums and the excitement for the beginning of love stories made especially for teens. Sandra Dee was the perfect teenage girl in the eyes of the youth in the fifties, because she was pretty, sweet, innocent, and smart, yet she still had the sense of adventure, rebellion, and need for sex in which the kids of the fifties were becoming more and more interested.
While presenting a rather tame portrait of California's surf and beatnik counterculture, it fits solidly with the better coming-of-age/generational revolution stuff of the 1950's and 60's.
Sixteen year-old Francis Lawrence (Sandra Dee at her most innocent) is the film's title character; girl plus midget equals Gidget. Dee managed to avoid the other two features and the television series but not fatal type casting. She would become more associated with "Tammy" than any other character. Although soon to be a teen idol, looking at her films it is probably difficult for today's audiences to understand her appeal. She was a talented actress with an especially good performance in "The Young and the Innocent" but was never able to transcend the teen idol stigma.
Francis and her more mature and boy hungry friends (watch for "Batgirl's" Yvonne Craig) start their summer vacation trolling the beach for excitement. Francis doesn't really like boys but she can see that they will inevitably become a big factor in her life. Rescued by a boy named Moondoggie (James Darren who was never much of an actor but would also develop into quite a teen idol), Francis is introduced to the surf culture (watch for "Billy Jack's" Tom Laughlin). She is both attracted and repelled by the hedonist freedom and the inherent hypocrisy of the culture's preoccupation with money. In no sense is she the ditzy Gidget later portrayed on television by Sally Fields.
There is a pervasive sexual undertone to the film with the possible loss of Gidget's virginity a unifying theme. But she is essentially a child, and the three main male characters are each protective of her in their own way. Along with Moondoggie are her clueless father (Arthur O'Connell) and The Big Kahuna (Cliff Robertson).
Robertson is a combat veteran (Korea) who has basically dropped out and is living in a shack on the beach. Robertson does a good job in a challenging rol, as The Big Kahuna alternates between the seriousness he would soon bring to his portrayal of Jack Kennedy in "PT-109" and the manic qualities of a Dick Shawn character.
Ultimately some irony is introduced as "Moondoggie" turns out to be Jeffrey Mathews, the clean-cut boy Mr. Lawrence has been trying all summer to persuade his daughter to date. Their summer at the beach is just a transitional point on the road to a ranch house in Sherman Oaks.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
I liked this movie so much!
All fluffy and frothy in the first half, the film's plot and characters reek of bubble-gum shallowness, with dialogue to match. But the plot turns more dramatic in the second half, and characters show at least some degree of depth. Gidget comes across as smart, determined and, given her age, dubiously skilled at psychology, with words that make a big impression on The Big Kahuna (Cliff Robertson), surfers' de facto leader. Ultimately, the film conveys the theme that events and people ... change.
Visuals feature bright, splashy colors and a photogenic cast. Rear-screen projection and cast doubles, for the surfing scenes, look hokey now, but were the norm in those days. Music trends romantic and lively. Naturalistic sound of ocean waves enhances a relaxed, carefree tone.
Although perhaps needed for story balance, plot sequences that involve Gidget's parents seem stodgy, and detract from the main focus on the relationship between Gidget and her beach pals.
Sandra Dee, despite her squeaky voice, gives a performance that was better than I had expected. James Darren and Cliff Robertson add competent support.
If ever there was a film that captures the carefree, innocent life of kids in the 1950s, this is surely it. Undeniably nostalgic to older viewers, and prehistoric to younger viewers, "Gidget" will continue to fascinate, emblematic of an era that will never return.
Gidget is definitely a product of another time. Incidents that would automatically mean "sex" in a film made today are quite innocent and harmless in Gidget. A girl telling her mother that she wants to feel like a woman only means that she wants to fall in love and have a boyfriend. And watching with jaded 21st Century eyes, it's hard to imagine The Big Kahuna not being brought up on charges.
Now that I've watched it I have several things to say.
1. THe "Big Kahuna" character played by Cliff Robertson is a gentle look at the beat generation. Disaffected after his return from the Korean War, the BK has decided to be a "surf bum," i.e., a beat. I'm not sure that we can see this character from that perspective today, but a couple of things should be explained: the BK had been an officer (as are all military pilots, by definition, today) and he was ironically aware of the pretense of his persona.
2. Gidget ("Francie") was an emotionally and physically underdeveloped girl, as symbolized by the fact that all of her girl "friends" are much more buxom than she. You will not find another girl with Sandra Dee's cup size in the entire picture. Her friend "BL," wearing a pixie cut, has been proposed to be a lesbian. but she has an active boy friend and has been "pinned" by him. Far from being symbolic of homosexuality, BL's haircut suggests that she is pehaps a bit more sophisticated than most of Francie's friends.
3. The razing of the kahuna's beach shack is symbolic of the ephemeral quality of the "culture" typified by the surfers and their friends. the fact that "Moondoggie" is also the boy Gidget's father has been trying to get her to meet and date all summer is a bitter irony: these boys and girls will become what they are "supposed" to become by the world in which they live.
Of course, it all works out in the end. But this movie is a treasure. Now that it's available on DVD, so many people can enjoy it. It takes you back to a simpler time, but at the same moment you can identify with the characters. You may even want to learn how to surf! Best of all, it is a great tribute to Sandra Dee, in her most famous role. "Gidget" is one in a million!
The DVD: While I'm glad I found these great movies in a DVD collection, the formats are no different than the pan and scan VHS tapes that have been in circulation for so long. The original film, in particular, suffers. At least TCM airs it in widescreen, and then the color looks crisp, clear and glorious. Columbia has done the same injustice to countless vintage gems, such as "The Trouble With Angels" and its sequel, "Where Angels Go Trouble Follows". Viewers had to clamor for "Tess" to be released in widescreen format, a special edition, but much of the film's condition had not been cleaned up - lines across the screen, hissy sound. Columbia also has an annoying habit for not including extras, except for some theatrical trailers; a few classic films (Gilda, The Lady From Shanghai, etc) are lucky to have a featurette or a commentary.
These movies and their stars deserve a much better reissuing and presentation on DVD than they have been given - film restoration is important in preserving film history. I am holding out hope that Sony will rerelease the Gidget films and some of the aforementioned in better quality conditions someday, but my hair might be grey by then. Here's a prayer that Sandra Dee's other great teen movie classic from 1959, "A Summer Place" (through Warner Brothers) due for a DVD release in a few days as of this writing, will be restored to widescreen, recapturing its theatrical glory that enchanted and captivated moviegoers way back when.
Gidget takes us all back to a simpler time and place where we can relive the memories of our youth or imagine how it might have been. I not only own the video but I also watch it on television whenever it airs. Having just finished watching again, I have to say that the idea that BL was a lesbian never entered my mind. They speak about how she has it made cause she wears her boyfriends pin. I always took that to mean that she was involved in a relationship with a guy who just happened to be away at college or working a lot. Just cause someone has short hair doesn't make them a lesbian in my mind and I think the person who made that comment was way off base and didn't really follow the conversations of the movie closely.
I love all of the Gidget movies, however to me Sandra Dee will always be the ultimate Gidget and I am sad that we have lost her recently.
SPOILERS follow, don't read the rest, OK!?
Mom and dad want to fix their daughter up with this nice young man, a musician, son of an upstanding family. But she wants no part of her parents' plan, instead hanging out with her girl friends. One day at the beach, some somewhat older boys, and one 30-something beach bum, ignore the girls, but 'Moondoggie' goes out and saves 'Gidget' when she becomes entangled in seaweed. She gets hooked on surfing, buys a used board, by mid-summer is surfing as 'one of the guys.' She has fallen for 'Moondoggie' (James Darren, 23) but he just looks at her as a kid. When he eventually comes around, they find out that they are each the same two people that their parents' had tried to fix them up with at the start of the movie. And, 'Kahuna', the 30-something beach bum, was on his way to a new job, as a pilot, deciding to make something of his life. Not Earth-shaking, just a sweet, innocent movie, and so much fun to see Sandra Dee in it.
With a daughter about to turn 21, I sure wish girls spent their teenage years interacting with boys the way Gidget did. Never worrying about drugs or alcohol, knowing not to let boys take advantage of her. Listening to the Four Preps instead of that damn rap music today.
Sandra Dee does a great job of playing a teenager (which shouldn't have been a stretch for her in 1959 unlike James Darren or the other surfers). She does a great job of acting like she's really on a real surfboard in those rear projection shots. I mean, I'm sure Gidget and Moondoggie could surf a few feet from each other all the while giving meaningful glances at each other. And while Arthur O'Connell does a good job as her father, I've never been able to picture him as anything other than a determined bachelor after his role in Picnic.
So if you have a couple of hours that you just want to veg out on the couch and give your brain a rest, you could do a lot worse than spend it with Gidget. RIP Sandra!
Mary Laroche and Arthur O'Connell play Gidget's parents as strictly from squares-ville. O'Connell especially fits the mold of a typically overreacting parent, circa 1959, chasing after Gidget one night when he discovers that Gidget might be alone with a man, gasp! Laroche is more reserved and proper as Gidget's mother who dispenses no shortage of homespun advice about being a teenage girl to Gidget. Gidget's girlfriends play a much smaller role in this film than in the sequels that followed. There is also less music and dancing in this original version than in the films that follow it.
As the summer draws to a close, Moondoggie and the big kahuna face some tough decisions regarding their futures, and Gidget inadvertently plays a role in influencing both of them. The film balances the fun and innocence of being 1950's teenagers with the larger message of being responsible and patient about one's future. Although Moondoggie initially rescues Gidget from getting caught in some kelp, the film does a good job of making Gidget a well-rounded person instead of just another helpless female waiting to be rescued by her male co-star throughout the picture. Doug McClure and Tom Laughlin have bit roles as fellow surfer bums. The film was followed by two theatrical sequels, a television series, a few more made for television movies, and still another brief series in the mid 1980's. **1/2 of 4 stars.
This film seems much more significant in hindsight; since, the Gidget character proved to be so enduring, and filmmakers discovered an audience for teenagers in swimsuits was ready for action. As a film, "Gidget" only fair, and its story is standard. The most interesting part was Mr. Robertson's character - do you want him to "grow up" and leave the beach, or should he become an old beach bum? You do get an answer, at the end of the movie. Also interesting is how Robertson relates to the younger characters. The music is slight. Mr. Darren does the title song nicely (later on); and, the soundtrack often sounds like the melody to "Tammy" is about to begin.
**** Gidget (4/10/59) Paul Wendkos ~ Sandra Dee, James Darren, Cliff Robertson, Arthur O'Connell
Anyway, I recommend this movie. Also starring James Darren and Cliff Robertson. That means that Cliff Robertson is the only actor who has worked with Sandra Dee and Tobey Maguire (in "Spiderman").
I'm a little surprised by some of the rougher edges. I was expecting Frankie and Annette but this has a few aspects that are more interesting. The fact that she starts out more as a tomboy is interesting. The fact that she's surfing is outright ahead of its time. The Big Kahuna's globetrotting beach bum lifestyle is interesting. The guys taking in the little girl as one of their own is interesting. This does usher in the new genre of beach party movies. It's tiki torches and long wood surf boards. It does get into an uncomfortable age difference. It would have been great if Kahuna is simply joking around from the start. It is still struggling with some old fashion romantic entanglements. This is a very good teen movie and starting a new genre deserves some praise.