The reputation of the original "Gidget" (1959) has eroded over the years thanks to two weak sequels and a truly dreadful television series. So if you have never seen the original don't dismiss it based on the extremely shallow content of the Gidget stuff that came later. While not a good double-feature match for "Rebel Without a Cause", it is dark and serious enough to still have some relevance 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.
A young girl discovers surfing and love (in that order) during one transitive summer.
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November 2, 2019