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 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.
May 16th is National Classic Movie Day. And what would be better to watch during these trying times than a classic film? This year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe’s annual blogathon is devoted to the 1960s. All participants have been asked to list their favorite films of this decade.
The 1960s are an interesting time for classic film as the Production Code and Studio System were all but gone. Sandra Dee, 50s/60s teen queen, was Universal Studios’ last contract star. Most of the classic film stars of the studio system were either retired, and unfortunately, many were deceased. Some of the younger stars of that era, e.g. Doris Day and Lauren Bacall, to name a couple, were still active, but even then their stars were waning. The 1960s brought a new crop of stars: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, to name a few. Some child stars, like Natalie Wood, had successfully transitioned out of juvenile roles and into ones for adults.
This year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe has asked bloggers to name their six favorite films of the 1960s.
Without further ado:
I’m sure everyone is familiar with this film. The violent shower scene where Janet Leigh meets her demise is iconic. Norman Bates’ name is synonymous with “mommy issues.” The fictional Bates Motel is infamous. I love Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. This is probably my second favorite Hitchcock film after Rear Window. I am not a big horror movie fan, but this film is more psychological than slasher and in true Hitchcock fashion, there are even some funny, albeit, macabre parts as well.
Janet Leigh stars as Marion Crane, a secretary for a local real estate company in Phoenix. On a Friday afternoon, she meets with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), for a quickie during lunch. Their rendezvous is complicated when Sam announces that he cannot marry Marion because of debts he incurred after divorcing his first wife. Marion, disappointed, returns to work. When she arrives, her employer is in the middle of settling a large real estate deal. The client ends up giving Marion’s boss $40,000 cash as a down payment. Marion, seeing an opportunity to solve Sam’s money woes, so that they can marry, feigns a headache. Her boss, not wanting such a large sum of cash in the office over the weekend, asks Marion to deposit the cash on her way home. Marion absconds with the money instead and drives to California where Sam lives.
While enroute, there’s a fantastic scene (with Bernard Hermann’s amazing score) where Marion is driving and she imagines her boss’ conversation after he discovers that she’s stolen the money. Marion trades in her vehicle after a weird encounter with a police officer who keeps questioning her when she acts odd and suspicious after he wakes her up from a roadside nap. During a heavy rainstorm, Marion comes across a motel off the beaten path– The Bates Motel. The proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), is a little odd, but seems harmless.
Unfortunately, Marion is never seen again.
The remainder of the film deals with her sister, Lila (Vera Miles), Sam, and Detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam), trying to find out what happened to Marion. It becomes clear to all involved that Norman has a weird relationship with his mother. Lila and Arbogast decide that Mrs. Bates might hold the key to the whole mystery.
***SPOILER*** These are my favorite scenes:
Marion’s infamous shower scene
Lila tapping on the shoulder of “Mrs. Bates” and having the chair spin around only to see a skeleton wearing a wig.
“Mrs. Bates” stabbing Arbogast and him falling down the stairs.
Norman Bates’ reveal as “Mrs. Bates” That scene is funny, if anything.
The last scene featuring a close-up of Norman Bates’ face with “Mrs. Bates” providing the internal monologue. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Cape Fear (1962)
I saw this film for the first time a couple years ago. Prior to that, my only experience with Cape Fear was the Simpsons parody with Sideshow Bob assuming the Robert Mitchum role. I saw Scorsese’s 1991 remake last year and while it was okay, I preferred the original. Scorsese’s version was too graphic and gross. I liked the subtlety of the original. Cape Fear, in my opinion, is very progressive for 1962. It might be one of the first sexual thrillers. This film is terrifying and Robert Mitchum deserves all the credit for imbuing the film with the creepy and uncomfortable atmosphere present through the entire film. In Scorsese’s 1991 remake, Robert DeNiro assumes Mitchum’s role, and in my opinion, Mitchum was much more effective. DeNiro was just creepy, gross, and a complete psychopath. Mitchum, on the other hand, was creepy, but also possessed that dreamy quality (which also makes him excel in romantic roles). He was believable as a man who could charm a potential victim into spending time with him–only for her to realize his true character when it was too late. DeNiro is just a creep from the start.
The original Cape Fear takes place in contemporary 1962 Georgia. Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), has just been released from prison. He has just completed an 8-year stint after being convicted of rape. What’s interesting in this film is that Max’s crime is never explicitly stated, but is implied. After leaving prison, Max travels to the hometown of Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), a lawyer who assisted in delivering the eyewitness testimony that sealed Max’s case and got him convicted and incarcerated. Max is determined to get revenge on Sam. He promptly discovers where he lives. The remainder of the film deals with Max stalking both Sam and his family. It gets even worse when Max sets his sights on Sam’s 14-year old daughter, Nancy.
There is a terrifying scene between Max and a woman he picks up at a bar, Diane Taylor (Barrie Chase). This scene is made even more disturbing in the 1991 Scorsese version.
The highlight (and scariest part) of the film is the famous houseboat scene–parodied perfectly on The Simpsons. Sam’s family heads to their houseboat in Cape Fear, North Carolina, in an effort to lure Max. The scene between Max and Sam’s wife, Peggy (Polly Bergen) on the houseboat is so disturbing– it just gives me the willies thinking about it.
This film is fantastic and highly worth watching. I recommend watching it in the dark to get the full effect. In fact, I may watch this movie tonight in honor of National Classic Film Day.
Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968)
Full disclosure: I love The Brady Bunch. I can watch it all day long and I never tire of it. However, other family sitcoms, e.g. Full House, I can only take an episode or two at a time. Both sitcoms have overly sappy moments, both can be saccharine at times, there are lessons to be learned in each episode… so what’s the difference between the two shows? I have no idea, except the The Brady Bunch is superior.
In 1968, when Sherwood Schwartz was looking for a new project, he came across a newspaper column offering the statistic that 30% of marriages involve children from a previous marriage. He created a pilot for a series involving Mike Brady, a widower with three children, falling in love with and marrying Carol Martin, a divorcee with three children. Due to objections from the network, Carol’s marital status was made more ambiguous. Schwartz presented his pilot to all the major networks. Each network liked the project, but requested multiple changes. Then, two films about mixed families premiered– With Six You Get Eggroll (Doris Day & Brian Keith), and Yours, Mine and Ours (Lucille Ball & Henry Fonda), the latter film turning a major profit. The success of ‘Yours,’ served as the impetus for one network, ABC, to take a chance and greenlight The Brady Bunch.
Yours, Mine and Ours is based on the true story of Frank Beardsley and Helen North, two widowers who, between the two of them, have enough children to play an entire baseball game–defense and offense. They meet and marry and then try to unite their families and manage their massive household. Lucille Ball’s production company, Desilu, purchased the rights to Helen Beardsley’s (nee North) autobiography, Who Gets the Drumstick? Ball enlisted her I Love Lucy writing dream team, Bob Carroll Jr., and Madelyn Pugh to write the screenplay. Ball, of course, would play the role of Helen North. She enlisted her friend (and former beau), Henry Fonda, to play her husband, Frank Beardsley.
Frank works in the Navy and has recently left his post on the USS Enterprise. He has taken on a new role (one that presumably keeps him at home) working as a project officer. One day, at the commissary, he meets Helen North, a nurse on the base. They have a friendly, cordial meeting. But nothing comes of it. Later, Frank and Helen reunite when Frank has to bring 12-year old daughter Louise in for an exam. Frank and Helen hit it off and decide to go out on a date. The trouble? Frank and Helen are both single parents to a large number of children. Frank has 10 children, Helen has 8.
While on the date (at a VERY crowded club), there’s a funny scene where Helen practices nonchalantly telling Frank about her 8 children. Since she’s practicing out-loud, the men around her think that she’s coming onto them. Later, there is another funny scene where her fake eyelashes (courtesy of her daughters) keep falling off and later her pinned up slip falls down (her girls also shortened her dress, making her slip too long).
Finally, the truth comes out when Frank and Helen make their respective broods known to one another. After some funny scenes with the children including a manic Lucille Ball crying/drunk scene, and a near break-up, Helen and Frank marry and then work on combining their respective households–but not without help from Frank’s buddy, Darrel (Van Johnson).
My favorite scene is when Frank is doling out bedroom and bathroom assignments. Each bedroom is assigned a letter. The bathrooms are assigned a color. The children are assigned a number, based on their position within the group of children. There’s a funny quote when one of the younger children (11/18) walks down the hallway, repeating the mantra over and over: “I’m 11, red, A.” For the record, in my house, I’m 1, red, A. My husband is 2, red, A. My sister/boarder, is 3, red, B.
I’m not usually a big fan of children-centric movies/shows or actors (which probably makes my love of The Brady Bunch and Yours, Mine and Ours, even more bewildering)–but both The Brady Bunch and Yours, Mine and Ours are free of the annoying, precocious child with a catch phrase–so that’s probably why I like them. For the record: My favorite Brady kid is Marcia (close second: Greg), and my favorite Yours, Mine and Ours child is Phillip (perhaps the Jan Brady of the Beardsley household), close second: Veronica)
For the record, these are the children in their order of rank:
Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961)
I know that this is not the best movie in the world. It’s not even the best of the Gidget franchise. However, I love this movie. It’s so ridiculous in the best possible way. First of all, we’re supposed to believe that this is a continuation of 1959’s Gidget–just look past the fact that Deborah Walley (Gidget in Gidget Goes Hawaiian) looks absolutely nothing like Sandra Dee (the original Gidget in Gidget). The sequel even went as far as to film “flashbacks” of scenes from the first film, with Walley wearing some of Dee’s costumes! Gidget’s parents in the second film–Carl Reiner as Russ and Jeff Donnell as Dorothy, are completely different. Arthur O’Connell and Mary LaRoche assumed the roles in the Dee film. In the first film, only the surfer boys refer to Gidget by her nickname. Gidget’s parents refer to her by another nickname, “Francie,” based on her real name: Frances. In the second film, everyone calls Gidget by her nickname. The one constant in both films? And really the only constant that even matters? James Darren’s Jeff “Moondoggie” Matthews.
In Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Gidget and Jeff are still together. At the end of the first film, Gidget turns 17 and is entering her senior year of high school. Jeff is a college student, who is on summer break and planning to return to school in the fall. We can assume that Jeff is either a year or two older than Gidget. In Gidget Goes Hawaiian, the timeline is a little fuzzy. Presumably, this is a year or so after Gidget, based on the fact that Jeff is on summer vacation, returning to college again in the fall. At this point, Gidget is presumably at least 18, and perhaps Jeff is 20-21 (He’s still in college in 1963’s Gidget Goes to Rome. Super senior? Pursuing a MA?) He gives Gidget his pin at the beginning of the film, something that he did at the end of the Dee film. Is this a continuity error? I’m not sure. I choose to believe that perhaps Jeff got another pin and is giving it to Gidget. I really don’t know. Regardless, in Gidget’s world, Jeff has just proposed marriage, and they’re basically engaged now.
After an idyllic summer of surfing, bonfires on the beach and romantic dates, Gidget and Jeff reach their last two weeks of vacation together, before Jeff has to leave for school. Then Gidget’s dad drops a bombshell–he’s booked a two-week trip to Hawaii for the family. Most people would be ecstatic at this news, but not Gidget. She’s devastated, as two weeks is all she and Jeff have left together until he leaves for school. Her father is understandably both upset and bewildered at Gidget’s unhappiness. Gidget tries to get sympathy from Jeff, and he tells her that this trip is an opportunity of a lifetime (because it is) and that she’d be nuts not to go. Gidget, because she’s bonkers, takes Jeff’s encouragement as a sign that he’s indifferent to her leaving or not, gets mad, and breaks up with him. Meanwhile, Gidget’s parents have decided to turn their family trip into a romantic trip and cancel Gidget’s adjoining room. Gidget then announces that she’s coming on the trip after all, and her parents scramble to re-book her room. Her adjoining room is gone, but they’re able to book her a single room down the hall. Gidget and her family are on their way to Hawaii.
While on the plane, Gidget and her parents become acquainted with another family on board–Monty (Eddie Foy, Jr.) and Mitzi (Peggy Cass) Stewart and their daughter Abby (Vicki Trickett). Abby and Gidget are the same age. While seated on the plane together, Gidget and Abby get to talking. Gidget bares her soul to Abby about Jeff and how lost she is without him. The whole group is staying at the same Hawaiian hotel together. While at the hotel, Gidget and Abby meet Eddie Horner (Michael Callan), a dancer who is appearing at the hotel. The girls, Eddie and his friends all spend time together during the trip.
Gidget is miserable during the beginning of the trip. She just sits and mopes in the hotel, refusing to take in the sights of Hawaii. Her parents are understandably concerned. Gidget’s dad arranges to have Jeff fly to Hawaii as a surprise for Gidget. Between Gidget’s moping and Jeff’s arrival in Hawaii, she comes out of her shell and quickly wins over Eddie and the guys. Abby is jealous of Gidget’s popularity and appeal to the boys and quickly resents her.
I really like this film because it’s fun and has amusing moments. I do feel bad for Deborah Walley–only because I feel the costume team did her a real disservice. Gidget is presumably at least 18, but is dressed like she’s 12. Walley is not chubby by any means, but her tight, short waisted, twee dresses greatly undermine her figure. She looks best in her swimwear and when Gidget imagines that she’s a streetwalker. I also don’t know what’s up with the half up, half down hairstyle she sports–it’s not appealing. But I’ve seen it on other women during the early 60s, so I’ll assume that it was the style.
Where the Boys Are (1960)
If there’s one thing I love, it’s teen beach movies. I love all of them: Gidget, Beach Party, everything. One of the best films of this genre is Where the Boys Are. This film has more in common with the coming of age story in Gidget (1959) and less with the wackniess of the Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies. Much like Gidget, this film is progressive in its discussion of not only teenage sexuality, but the sexuality of young, unmarried, women. Where the Boys Are tells the story of four young college women (Freshmen) who travel to Fort Lauderdale, FL for a two week spring vacation.
Merritt Andrews (Dolores Hart) is a young woman who talks a good game when it comes to young women being free to date, makeout and have sex (aka “backseat bingo”) with whomever she wants. This progressive attitude of course scandalizes the professor of the “Courtship and Marriage” class. It is obvious that the four main characters in the film attend an all-female university. Merritt’s outspoken views have her kept under close watch by the school’s dean. At the conclusion of the school day, Merritt and her friends Melanie Tolman (Yvette Mimimeux), Tuggle Carpenter (Paula Prentiss), and Angie NoLastName (Connie Francis) set off for Fort Lauderdale.
While on the road, the girls come across TV Thompson (Jim Hutton) who is looking to hitch a ride to Florida. After being impressed by his height and shoe size, Tuggle (who stands 5’10.5 and desperately seeks a taller man) invites him into the car. They arrive in Florida and check into their apartment. As the events of the film unfold, it becomes apparent that each girl has a different viewpoint when it comes to sex.
MERRITT: Outspoken advocate of pre-marital sex. Talks a good game, but might not be as experienced and confident as she lets on. She meets Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), a senior at Brown University. He’s wealthy and his intelligence is on-par with Merritt’s. It becomes clear that he probably actually has the experience that Merritt talks about and it seems that he may have been led on by her at first.
TUGGLE: Strives to become a wife and mother “the chaste way,” she says. Tuggle believes that her height and build has her destined to become the mother to multiple children. She is more traditional and doesn’t particularly share Merritt’s opinion about sex. She wants to meet a man, marry and then have sex after marriage. TV ends up becoming her beau throughout the film and at first seems to be upset about her wanting to be a “good girl.” However, TV seems like a good guy.
MELANIE: She’s insecure about her lack of experience and takes Merritt’s outspoken views to heart. Her main goal while in Florida is to meet a “Yale-ie” and lose her virginity. Unfortunately for Melanie, she might be dealt the worst hand in this film. She meets a couple Yale-ies in the film.
ANGIE: Angie is your classic tomboy. She’s a pretty girl, but isn’t tall like Tuggle, or blonde like Melanie and Merritt. She’s short and brunette and a little curvier than the other girls. Angie is the captain of her school’s field hockey team. Nobody worries what Angie is doing on vacation or while at school. It is implied that everyone just assumes that Angie won’t have to worry about pressure to have premarital sex. The one asset Angie does have is that she has a killer voice. Her voice attracts the attention of Basil (Frank Gorshin) a didactic jazz musician.
This film has some very funny scenes such as at the club when the gang watches Lola Fandango (Barbara Nichols) perform an Esther Williams-esque underwater number; and when Angie and Merritt attempt to save money by ordering hot water (and dipping in their own contraband tea bag) at a restaurant. I also love the scenes showing the mob at the beach and in their hotel room (the girls end up sharing their 2-bed room with 7 other girls). There are also some very serious scenes as well as some sweet ones.
This is an excellent film for anyone who loves coming of age stories, teen beach movies, or movies with killer title theme songs.
Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Last but not least, one of my other favorite films of the 1960s is the cult classic, Valley of the Dolls. This film is so ridiculous in all the best ways possible. Prior to watching this film, I was unaware that “dolls” was a term for pills. I always thought that the “dolls” in the title referred to the women in the film. Oh how I was wrong.
This movie is amazing. Everyone in this film has a million problems. The most sane person is probably Susan Hayward’s Helen Lawson, and even she’s a piece of work. Based on Jacqueline Susann’s 1966 novel of the same name, this film tells the story of Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) a recent college graduate who takes a job as a secretary at a theatrical agency. Their number one client is Helen Lawson–an aging, and cutthroat Broadway star. Helen is appearing in a new show, which is featuring a young ingenue, Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke). Neely is very talented and Helen fears that Neely will overshadow her performance. In an effort to get Neely to quit the show, Helen orders for all of Neely’s best scenes, including her big musical number, cut. The ruse works and Neely is out. Anne is immediately disheartened with show-biz after witnessing Helen’s cruel behavior toward Neely, but is convinced by her employer to not quit and stay with the company.
Anne and Neely befriend another young woman, Jennifer North (Sharon Tate). Jennifer is gorgeous, but her talent is limited. Neely’s agent at the theatrical agency (which employs Anne) lands her an appearance on a telethon, which leads to a nightclub gig, and so-on. The audience is treated to an amazing 1960s montage of Neely’s rise to success. Neely is offered a Hollywood contract and off she goes. Unfortunately, the pressure of the business and instant success gets the best of Neely and soon she’s a glorious, alcoholic, doll-addicted disaster. In all honesty, Neely’s complete collapse and self-destruction is the highlight of the film. I know it’s campy, over-the-top, and absolutely absurd, but I love it. Neely O’Hara was my hero in this film. One particular highlight is when a drunk, drugged out of her gourd Neely goes to a bar. She plays her own song on the jukebox and plays the “don’t you know who I am?” card. Nobody knows who she is because she’s a shell of her former self.
Unfortunately, the other two ladies, Anne and Jennifer, don’t fare much better, though Anne’s plight lasts all of 5 minutes. I wish she’d self-destructed a little bit more.
The absolute best part of the entire film is the showdown between Neely and Helen. It is amazing and one of my all-time favorite movie scenes. I absolutely love this movie from start to finish. It is worthy of its status as one of the all-time best campy, cult films. Lee Grant has an appearance as the sister to Jennifer’s beau. Dionne Warwick sings the very melancholy theme song.
Now I want to watch this movie. Valley of the Dolls / Cape Fear double feature? Is that weird?
I love a good fluff film. And you can’t get much fluffier than 1950s-1960s teen beach movies. These films are never going to rank on the top of any “Greatest Movie of All Time” list (except for mine probably), but they’re a fun insight into a nicer, gentler time. A time when teenagers weren’t grinding each other in clubs or at school dances, or doing stupid “challenges” like eating detergent (I’m sorry that’s NOT a challenge, that’s just dumb) but rather are doing “The swim” and goofy dances at beach luaus. These are films where the biggest worry is whether the surf is good, or whether someone has a date to a luau. There’s usually a romantic element. These films have so much charm (and usually a little eye candy), I love them. The music, the silliness, the dancing, everything that I want in a film. Not everything needs to be Citizen Kane.
Gidget and Moondoggie embrace on the beach in 1959’s “Gidget.”
Gidget (1959).I covered this film earlier when I participated in the “Reel Infatuation” blogathon last summer. I covered the object of Gidget’s affection–Moondoggie. To give a short recap, Gidget is the coming of age story of 17-year old Frances “Gidget” Lawrence, portrayed by 50s-60s teen queen, Sandra Dee. Gidget is at an age where her friends are boy-crazy and want to find boyfriends. The beginning of the film finds Gidget being coerced into going to the beach to go “man-hunting.” Gidget is self-conscious (she isn’t as well developed as her friends) and doesn’t feel that urge to partner off with a boy. At the beach, she befriends a group of surfers and quickly discovers how much she loves surfing. The surfers, all boys, quickly take Gidget under their wing.
While surfing with the boys, Gidget meets super-hot college student Moondoggie, played by teen idol James Darren. At first, Moondoggie is indifferent to Gidget and gives her the cold shoulder. Moondoggie it seems is determined to strike out on his own and get out from under his father’s thumb (and wallet), and decides that he wants to shirk the responsibility of college and take up the occupation of beach bum. Under the tutelage of older friend Kahuna aka Burt Vail, played by Cliff Robertson, Moondoggie is determined to live life on his own terms. To him, Gidget seems like some kid who is perpetually in the way.
James Darren (Moondoggie) and Sandra Dee (Gidget) in “Gidget” (1959).
However, it soon becomes apparent that Moondoggie is putting up a big facade. He doesn’t really want to be a beach bum (neither does Kahuna either, it turns out). He also displays a protectiveness toward Gidget (as evidenced by him intervening in Gidget’s “surf lesson” with the handsy surfer “Loverboy”). Later, he finds himself enamored of her and they have their first kiss at the luau. At the end of the film, “the Gidg” and “Moondoggie” are going steady, he’s given her his pin! As Gidget would say, “this [film] is the ultimate!”
Where the Boys Are (1960). This film, while it takes place at the beach and features teenagers, has a different vibe and feel than the typical teen beach movies of the era. While it has some silly scenes and characters, the film overall has a more serious tone. Where the Boys Are is the coming of age story for four teenage girls, Merritt (Dolores Hart), Tuttle (Paula Prentiss), Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) and Angie (Connie Francis).
The four girls decide to escape their snowy college campus in the midwest (don’t blame them there) and head to spring break in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. While in Florida, each girl meets a man who indirectly teaches them something about themselves. Merritt puts up a facade as being sexually progressive, an attitude which she expresses in her relationships class (much to the chagrin of the prudish teacher). Melanie, inspired by her best friend’s attitude towards sex decides to jump headfirst into dating boys when she gets to Florida. Tuggle is more traditional and wants marriage and children, in that order. She’s looking for a man who not only shares her values, but is also taller than her. She’s 5’10.5″ tall. Angie is the “plain one” of the group (every teen movie seems to have one) and she’d just be happy to have someone be interested in her. She is the most down to earth member of the group.
The ladies in “Where the Boys Are” (1960) from left to right: Dolores Hart (Merritt), Connie Francis (Angie), Yvette Mimieux (Melanie) and Paula Prentiss (Tuggle)
Merritt ends up meeting Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), an older, rich college student who is experienced. He tries to ply her with alcohol and tries to get her to spend the night, but she refuses. Ryder soon discovers that Merritt talks a good game, but she’s really a virgin who isn’t ready for sex. Tuggle meets tall “TV” Thompson (Jim Hutton). He is goofy, but Tuggle finds that she likes him. He doesn’t drop her instantly when she tells him that she won’t have sex before marriage. However, he seems to have a roving eye which casts doubt on him being a suitable, long term partner. Angie meets the goofy musician, Basil (Frank Gorshin), who she loves. She’s able to show off her singing abilities in his “dialectic jazz” band. Finally, Melanie has the worst wake-up call when she meets some Ivy leaguers, namely Franklin and Dill. She genuinely feels something for Franklin but is taken advantage of by Dill after Franklin gives him the scoop that Melanie will be an easy score.
This film has a great theme song (sung by Connie Francis) and features a great cast. I love the more realistic storylines and the vibe of the film. Melanie’s storyline is a bummer, but I think it was needed to balance out the other characters’ storylines. Unfortunately, Melanie’s situation is all too relatable. Each girl features a different facet of relationships and I felt that all were portrayed very realistically.
Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961). I’m not going to lie, this film isn’t nearly as good as Gidget (1959). In this film, Gidget is portrayed by Deborah Walley. Sandra Dee unfortunately was under contract to Universal and they wouldn’t release her to reprise her role in this Columbia film. Gidget’s parents are recast as well. Carl Reiner and Jeff Donnell portray Gidget’s parents Russell and Dorothy Lawrence. James Darren, thankfully, reprises his role as Jeffrey “Moondoggie” Matthews.
I’ll admit that when I first saw this film, I didn’t like it. Deborah Walley got on my nerves. However, I rewatched it, and now it has kind of grown on me. While Walley’s Gidget is different than Dee’s, I find her entertaining and it’s a fun take on the Gidget character. I did like Reiner and Donnell’s portrayal of Gidget’s parents more than Arthur O’Connell and Mary LaRoche’s in the original film. My criticism with this film is that I wish the costume designers had done service to Walley’s figure. While Dee was very petite (not necessarily short though, she seems to be of average height), her costumes were flattering and chic. Walley, while a little more curvy than Dee, but not fat by any means, was outfitted in some very twee looking costumes. Assuming that the Gidget character is supposed to be at least 18, she’s dressed like she’s 12. Unfortunately, these costumes gave Walley a short, squatty appearance.
James Darren (Moondoggie) and Deborah Walley (Gidget) dancing in “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” (1961).
Gidget Goes Hawaiian is meant to be a sequel to the original Gidget. We’ll forget about the fact that every character is portrayed by a different actor except for Moondoggie. The film even goes as far as to present “flashbacks” from the original film with Walley outfitted in Dee’s costumes and re-creating scenes from the original film. One error I found however, is that Moondoggie gives Gidget his pin at the beginning of the film. He gave his pin to Gidget at the end of the first film. In the second film however, Gidget treats him giving her his pin as an engagement ring, or an “engaged to be engaged” type symbol.
In this film, Moondoggie is home from college for summer vacation. Continuing with the timeline established in the first film, we can assume that Moondoggie has probably just completed his sophomore (maybe junior) year of college and Gidget has graduated high school. He and Gidget are inseparable. Their love for one another is continuing to grow, we see a montage of them at the beach, on a date, and dancing closely. There is a funny scene toward the end of the film where Gidget basically hints at sex, or at least asking Moondoggie if he’s experienced, to which he refuses to supply an answer. I will presume that Moondoggie has some experience with the ladies prior to Gidget, and why wouldn’t he? He’s a fox!
Russell surprises his wife and daughter with a two week trip to Hawaii. Dorothy is overjoyed (of course) and Gidget is less so. Moondoggie will be home from school for only two more weeks. Gidget refuses to go because she doesn’t want to lose their last two weeks together. At first Russell is upset, but then he and Dorothy make peace with the idea of a two week romantic Hawaiian vacation sans Gidget. Gidget tells Moondoggie of this injustice of having to go to Hawaii and he tells her to go, saying that it’s a great opportunity (because duh! it is). Gidget ridiculously assumes that Moondoggie doesn’t love her anymore.
The remainder of this film involves the Lawrence’s trip to Hawaii, friends that Gidget meets along the way, including a new boy, and a misunderstanding between Gidget and her parents. It’s ridiculous, dumb at times and doesn’t make any sense. But I really enjoy this film. I think it deserves its own post.
For Those Who Think Young (1964). This film (based on a 1960s Pepsi ad campaign slogan) also features James “Moondoggie” Darren. In this film, he plays Gardner “Ding” Pruitt III, a rich college boy who is constantly on the prowl for a new flavor of the week. He keeps a fancy rolodex of his dates with comments about each. His car has two (!) phones in it. Bob Denver plays his sidekick, “Kelp.” Another thing to love about these surfer movies, the absurd nicknames! Anyway, Ding has his sights set on Sandy Palmer, played by Pamela Tiffin. Sandy is the niece of Woody Woodbury, a comic who works at the dive bar, the Silver Palms. The Silver Palms is located next to the college campus and is well known as an establishment that serves alcohol to minors. This club also features a burlesque dancer named Topaz McQueen (Tina Louise).
Pamela Tiffin (Sandy) and James Darren (Ding) in the 1964 COLOR film, “For Those Who Think Young.”
One day, Woody and his comic partner, Sid Hoyt (Paul Lynde) find themselves out of work. It seems that their act at the Silver Palms is not that great. Woody, performing the last show, decides to just perform a stand-up routine instead of the usual song. His stand-up act is a massive success and soon the Silver Palms is rebranded into “Surf’s Up,” a brand-new college hangout that actually cards the patrons and brands them with a black-light stamp that says “No booze for youse” if you’re under 21.
Of course, the neighboring university thinks that nothing but debauchery happens at this club and want it shut down. The main ringleader behind this movement is Burford Cronin (Robert Middleton) who just happens to be Ding’s grandfather. The university even goes as far as to send their Professor of Sociology (Ellen Burstyn, billed in this film as “Ellen McRae”) to observe. She gets drunk on two spiked “fruit juices” but ends up giving her seal of approval to the establishment anyway.
Aside from Surf’s Up, the main conflict in this film is the relationship between Ding and Sandy. Ding actually finds himself genuinely liking Sandy and Sandy feels the same for him. However, Ding’s grandfather, Burford, thinks that Sandy is too “low class” for his family. It seems that his daughter, Ding’s mother, married a man whom Burford thought brought some “bad blood” into the family. To further anger him, Ding announces that he and Sandy intend to marry when they graduate college. Of course, Grandpa Cronin is upset, but like how these movies always turn out, his viewpoint does a 180 in 5 minutes and he’s welcoming Sandy into his family and embracing Surf’s Up, the club he wanted to close down 10 minutes ago.
Nancy Sinatra (Frank’s daughter) and Claudia Martin (Dean’s daughter) provide additional support in this film. There is a bizarre musical number in this film that features Bob Denver’s chin.
Beach Party (1963). I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one of the Frankie and Annette “Beach Party” films. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen all of them, but I do own the box set. I’m going to go with the first film in the series. What I love about these films is that they have the most random co-stars. Aside from Frankie and Annette, these films often have old Hollywood stars like Robert Cummings, Dorothy Malone, Keenan Wynn, Boris Karloff, Buster Keaton, Mickey Rooney or people like Paul Lynde, Don Rickles, and Stevie Wonder, everyone whom you wouldn’t expect to pop-up in a teen beach movie. These movies usually have a common theme, the main one being that Annette is mad at Frankie and Frankie being too clueless to know what he did. In Frankie’s defense, sometimes Annette is being ridiculous.
In Beach Party, Robert Cummings stars as an anthropologist who, along with his secretary Dorothy Malone, is studying the sex habits of teenagers. He comes across a clan of surfer kids, led by Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Frankie and Annette aren’t “Frankie and Annette” in this movie, they’re “Frankie and Dolores.” In most of the films, Frankie is “Frankie.” Annette usually plays “Dee Dee,” but in Beach Party, she’s Dolores. In the Beach Party series, Frankie always seems to be frustrated by Annette’s tendency towards being a cold fish. This film is no different. Frankie invites Annette aka Dolores, to a beach house for some alone time. Annette, not trusting herself (or Frankie) with Frankie, has invited everyone to the beach house to chaperone. Because this is a “Beach Party” movie, Frankie is mad at Annette and she’s mad at him.
Annette Funicello (Dolores) and Frankie Avalon (Frankie) in “Beach Party” (1963).
In true Frankie and Annette fashion, they spend a bulk of the film jealous of one another. Annette decides to flirt with Cummings, who is too dense to see what’s going on. His secretary, Malone, who is in love with him (and closer to his own age), sees exactly what is happening. Frankie hooks up with some floozy that he meets in an effort to retaliate against Annette. There’s also a motorcycle gang, led by Eric Von Zipper who terrorizes the gang.
I enjoy these movies because, while they’re pretty dumb at times, the teenagers are cool. They sing fun songs, wear cool bathing suits and hang out in some pretty neat looking clubs.