Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Gidget tells the story of Francie Lawrence (Sandra Dee) during the summer of her first "man hunt." That's right, Francie and her friends are tired of normal thrills and are going to hunt the most dangerous game of all...MAN. Actually, Francie's friends have all gone totally boy crazy and want to impress some older boys. Francie is the same age as her friends, sixteen, but she has the body of a prepubescent boy; needless to say, she feels out of place among her friends and their curve-hugging, scandalously rib- (but certainly not navel-) exposing swimsuits. No, Francie just wants to have fun. When her friends fail to impress some local surfer boys --- probably because Francie doesn't know how to flirt, the dumb unslut --- Francie decides to take a swim, and ends up floundering in the water. One of the local surfers, Moondoggie (James Darren), comes to her rescue. He treats her like a dumb kid, so naturally she becomes immediately infatuated with him. How can she not, with a name like "Moondoggie?" From this point on, Francie starts becoming a surfer, because surfing is, like, the ultimate, you know? The surfers treat her like a mascot, dubbing her Gidget (girl + midget = Gidget), but she sticks with it. It could have been worse; if she had the man-hunting experience of her friends, she might have been dubbed Whordget. As the summer goes on, she earns a little respect and begins to impact the lives of the surfers, from Moondoggie to the local king beach bum, Big Kahuna (Cliff Robertson), with her innocence and optimism. But, and this is the big question, will Gidget win the love of Moondoggie, or will she have to go on a blind date with ***UGH*** her father's friend's son? Only one thing's for sure: this movie was not meant to age well.
Gidget was never meant to be a great film. It is an adaptation of a book and was just meant to appease teenagers in the summer of 1959, and it apparently did. Gidget had two theatrical sequels, a television series and several television movies, scattered over the next twenty-five years. What makes this movie so appealing? It's definitely wholesome, aside from the implied penis hunting by Gidget's friends in the beginning of the movie. The tone is along the lines of a Leave it to Beaver episode, but more hep. And, if the screenwriters had thought of it, this movie probably would have included "hep" in its dialogue.
On the positive side, Gidget makes a few attempts to address "real" issues, and at the very least accepts that these problems are not cut and dried. The appeal of the beach bum lifestyle is highlighted, but the solitary nature of such an existence is also pointed out. A child's decision to choose to follow their parent's footsteps or strike out on their own is also a major plot point, although not as well-developed as the beach bum thing. The movie also takes a few stabs at 1950s teen sexuality, but that stuff is only a feint for a more traditional (and wholesome) love story.
On the negative side, this film is horribly dated. The acting is on par with a high school drama production and Paul Wenkos' direction is an early hint toward his future as a television director. The dialogue is Porky Pig-level hammy and there is almost no aspect of this movie that survived the feminism of the late 60s without looking archaic. There are a lot of little moments that are so corny that they're funny, but that's not something I normally recommend a movie for. Gidget's success also lead to the beach party subgenre of 1960s film. That's not a good thing.
I won't lie and say that I enjoyed this movie, but I have to admit that it is harmless. It has a little bit more depth than its contemporary teen flicks, and it could, theoretically, be successfully remade. That might sound like a terrible idea, but if you punch up the dark sexual tension in the movie, update the dialogue and give the characters some real problems that they're escaping from, you have Point Break: The Teen Years on your hands. I would probably ditch the name "Moondoggie," too.