I always love to come up with ideas for Double Features. I like to pair double features with common actors, directors, genres, themes–something that ties the two films together.
TCM recently aired Shag (1989) as part of their “Women in Film” series. I’d heard of this film, but didn’t know anything about it. Being a native of the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t know that “Shag” was a dance style, native to South Carolina. After watching this film, I can say that Shag is like a polite form of dirty dancing. Lol.
After having read the synopsis of Shag, I determined that it sounded very similar to Where the Boys Are (1960), one of my favorite teen beach movies. Both films are a coming of age story for four young women traveling to the beach for vacation where they learn about love and sex. In this blog entry, I’m going to compare and contrast the two films and try to draw parallels between the two.
SETTING: 1960s American South. Where the Boys Are is contemporary 1960 America in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The southern setting isn’t as explicit as these are girls traveling south from a snowy, Northern climate. Shag takes place in 1963 in Myrtle Beach, SC. The southern culture is highly emphasized with the accents, focus on propriety, and other symbols of the South.
PLOT: The plots are similar. In both films, a group of young women are traveling to a more “fun” environment for spring break. The girls in ‘Boys’ are about a year or two older than the women in Shag. They are 19 and already in college. In Shag, the ladies are high school seniors, putting them at 17-18 years old. The ladies in ‘Boys’ are on vacation for two weeks, so they have more time to explore the beach…and the boys. There is more time for the girls in ‘Boys’ to establish a relationship with the opposite sex so that their infatuation and “love” kind of makes sense. In Shag, the ladies are on a long weekend trip and are already proclaiming their love for these boys whom they’ve just met. The girls pack a lot of action into the three days of their trip.
‘Boys’ is a little more serious, as there are no wild parties, love triangles, or dance contests. Their humorous scene at the nightclub is probably the equivalent to the wild party in Shag. Both films feature the idea of sex and whether it is okay to have sex outside of marriage. Characters in both films present opposing viewpoints on the subject. Characters in both films also have sex, but it is presented in very different environments with varying levels of consent.
However, in both films, their respective vacations prove to be pivotal experiences in their lives which will inevitably shape them for years to come.
Merritt (Dolores Hart) ‘Boys’ & Carson (Phoebe Cates) Shag
Merritt is nearly suspended from her college for scandalizing the professor in her “Courtship & Marriage” course by offering her support for sex before marriage or “backseat bingo” as she calls it. She talks a big game about sexual freedom and not necessarily following the expected life plan for women. However, as the movie continues, it becomes apparent that Merritt might be all talk.
Carson, on the other hand, isn’t prissy or uptight, per se, she’s more concerned about doing what’s right according to society’s expectations for young women in 1963. She’s engaged to be married (I know, a high schooler engaged, but hey it happened in “Boy Meets World”) to Harley (Tyrone Power Jr.). Harley is kind of dull or as Melaina says: “A square with corners” which doesn’t really make any sense, because the very essence of a square are corners, otherwise it’d be a circle, but we get the point. Harley is dull with a capital D. However, he’s the son of a tobacco executive, so he’s loaded. Marrying Harley would ensure that Carson would be financially stable.
Harley is comparable to Merritt’s beau, Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), as he is also rich and could provide Merritt with everything she’d ever need. Ryder seems to be a little more hip than Harley however.
Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) in ‘Boys’ & Melaina (Bridget Fonda) in Shag
Melanie is Merritt’s classmate at college and has been listening to Merritt preach about pre-marital sex. She is inexperienced, but willing (to put it mildly). Merritt is Melanie’s closest friend and confidant. Melanie gets into trouble when she lets her dream of hooking up with a “Yale-ie” cloud her better judgement. Believing that a boy from Yale is somehow a better catch and that she’d somehow end up with an amazing boyfriend (maybe even husband), she realizes too late that he’s only after what she seems to be after, but isn’t really.
Melaina (Bridget Fonda) is the stereotypical promiscuous (a la Ariel in “Footloose”) preacher’s daughter. She wants nothing more than to leave their dinky town of Spartanburg, SC and move to Hollywood. Melaina is a little more wordly and experienced than Melanie, but her brazen behavior gets her into a bad situation. Melaina ultimately has her sights set on Jimmy Valentine, a local wannabe Elvis celebrity, who has connections to Hollywood that Melaina could use. When she realizes that Jimmy’s agent is the one with the REAL connections, she kicks Jimmy to the curb.
Tuggle (Paula Prentiss) in ‘Boys’ and Luanne (Page Hannah) in Shag
Tuggle makes it very clear that she’s a proper girl who does not want to have sex outside of marriage. She says she’ll remain chaste even if she has to have the local blacksmith weld her a belt. She wants to fulfill her destined female role: being married and having children. She is easily able to resist the charms of TV (Jim Hutton) and keeps him at arm’s length.
Luanne is also very prim and proper, but not so prim and proper that she’s not above lying to her parents about her and her friend’s plans for the weekend. She convinces Melaina to ditch her bikini and pseudo-strip tease (i.e. “Modern Ballet” as Melaina calls it) routine for the beauty pageant and recite Scarlett O’Hara’s famous monologue from Gone With the Wind instead. Luanne is so worried about getting caught that she’s prepared a very lengthy web of lies to cover her tracks.
However, Luanne is not above getting herself a boyfriend, even if it’s her friend’s. Thus becoming part of two interlocking love triangles.
Angie (Connie Francis) in ‘Boys’ & Caroline aka “Pudge” (Annabeth Gish) in Shag
Angie is not fat by any means (and she’s not, look at her tiny waist), but she’s curvier than her friends. She’s not ugly by any means either, but she doesn’t instantly catch the boys’ attention. Angie says that she doesn’t even have to bother lying to her parents about anything, because they just assume that she’s fine and staying out of trouble. Angie ends up attracting a young musician (Frank Gorshin), who is nice, but dense.
“Pudge” is very pretty but was an overweight teen, hence the nickname. She’s recently lost the weight, but she’s still not as svelte as her friends. It doesn’t help that they persist in calling her “Pudge.” Even Luanne’s parents refer to her as “Pudge.” So obviously this is a nickname that Caroline’s had for quite some time. Anyway, despite her weight loss, Caroline is self-conscious about her size and finds it hard to believe that anyone would be interested in her romantically.
Caroline meets a local Myrtle Beach boy, Chip. He is very nice to her and even knows how to do the Shag dance, but he friendzones her–which is a huge blow to her self esteem. Caroline and Chip also participate in one of my favorite movie themes– The dance contest.
I love 1950s-1960s teen beach movies and Where the Boys Are definitely fits the bill. It has a great cast, great setting, humorous situations, poignant situations, and it doesn’t rely on cheesy cliches. Shag, while not a 1950s-1960s teen beach movie, per se, it takes place in the 60s, so it is a more modern look at that subgenre. There aren’t really many beach scenes, but there is an amusement park scene and a dancing at the drive-thru on rollerskates scene, so what more could you want? There are also two love triangles that interlock, which I also love. And, Shag features one of my favorite teen comedy tropes: The wild forbidden teenage party featuring total destruction of the house by strangers, jungle juice, and awkward situations.
I highly recommend both Where the Boys Are and Shag. Both are guaranteed to be a fun time and a nice respite from the weariness of the day to day drudgery of life.