Gidget rode the tide into movie theaters for its theatrical opening. Based on the surfing adventures of the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner, the popular movie and the first (and still one of the best) Hollywood surf movie starred Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson, and James Darren with support from Doug McClure, Joby Baker, Yvonne Craig, and Jo Morrow.
Gidget’s story of a teenage tomboy who doesn’t fit in with her female friends and who just wants to surf with the guys is extremely entertaining. It makes a sincere effort to capture the surfer culture of the time albeit toned down for movie audiences. The film has lots of exciting surfing footage, beautiful Malibu scenery, and a wonderful cast headed by the sweet Sandra Dee as the “girl-midget” nicknamed Gidget and the perfectly cast Cliff Robertson as the manly surf bum Kahoona. James Darren as the college-bound Moondoggie trying to ape the Kahoona but deeep down just a typical suburnan kid at heart is a fine contrast.
As hoped for from the first official Hollywood surf movie there is lots of surfing action, excellently photographed, featuring some of Malibu’s real life surfers such as Mickey Dora and Johnny Fain. However, a major drawback is the main stars’ lack of athletic ability. The only hindrance about Sandra Dee is that she looks like she can barely hold a surfboard let alone surf on one. The constant filming of her and James Darren in a tank on the studio lot or in front of the blue screen pretending to be riding the waves is a detriment to this movie especially to fans reared on Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush. Unfortunately, using the blue screen would become standard practice in most surf movies to follow during the sixties.
Despite the minor flaws, Gidget exudes a wonderful Southern California fun-in-the-sun feeling, and aided by the attractive cast, remains a memorable first look at the cult of surfing and the throngs who are attracted to it. Read more about it in my book Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969.
The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini opened starring Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley, Aron Kincaid, Nancy Sinatra, Quinn O’Hara, Harvey Lembeck, Bobbi Shaw, Piccola Pupa, Claudia Martin, and Susan Hart. Plus the regular cast of beach boys and girls including Ed Garner, Christopher Riordan, Salli Sachse, Mary Hughes, Patti Chandler, and Luree Holmes.
Financially the least successful of the Beach Party movies, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini put the nail in the coffin for the genre at AIP. After six movies, seven if counting Ski Party, the beach films was getting tired. AIP tried to pump life into it by shifting the locale to a creepy mansion and mixing aspects of the beach-party formula with the horror genre and populating it with fresh faces. Three heirs (Kirk, Walley, and Patsy Kelly) to a fortune gather at Hiram Stokely’s mansion for the reading of his will unaware that his crooked lawyer (Basil Rathbone) with the help of his near-sighted but knockout of a daughter (O’Hara) and a bunch of bungling circus performers (Shaw, Jesse White, Benny Rubin replacing the ill Buster Keaton, and a gorilla) plans to off them so he can steal the inheritance. His nevarious plot goes awry due to the interference of a beautiful ghost in an invisible bikini (Hart) who is sent down by Hiram (Boris Karloff) to make sure the money winds up in the rightful hands. There’s nary a beach or a surfboard in sight, which greatly hurts the movie. Instead all the action takes place at a spooky old estate with a fair number of scenes around an in-ground swimming pool with boys in bathing trunks and girls in bikinis twisting to the sounds of The Bobby Fuller Four and Nancy Sinatra. The less said about that Italian “singing sensation” Piccola Pupa the better.
Commenting on the shoot, are a number of its stars from my books Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies; Hollywood Surf & Beach Movies: and Drive-In Dream Girls.
Bobbi Shaw on Harvey Lembeck:
“Harvey was amazing and always a joy. You could tell he just loved what he did waking up in the morning and showing up on the set. We always had fun. After we finished making the beach party movies, Harvey started a comedy group and asked me to join. I didn’t, but he was always sweet and friendly. His wonderful son Michael directed Friends for many years and we are buddies.”
Quinn O’Hara on Basil Rathbone:
“When I first met him I was so afraid I’d say, ‘Rasil Bathbone’ that I actually did! He was a charming man. I heard that during his heyday in Hollywood he and his wife would throw the most magnificent parties. I was just so happy to play his daughter.”
Susan Hart on playing the ghost in the invisible bikini while wearing a blonde wig:
“One day they sprayed the wig and turned on the big lights for a scene. The make-up girl came over to powder me and she turned her head away as she did it. Then the guy who measures the distance for the lights came near me and let out a, ‘whoa!’ I thought, ‘My gosh, what is the matter?’ The director [Don Weis] started to come over and he wouldn’t get close to me. I started to get upset. Finally, somebody came over and asked me, ‘What’s the matter?’ I answered, ‘I don’t know but something is wrong because everybody who comes over to me looks at me funny, turns around and walks away. Please what is it? Do I smell or something?’ Turns out that the damn sheep oil got so hot that I started stinking like a sheep. I couldn’t smell it because not only did I have it on all that time but they had those big fans blowing as well.”
Ed Garner on Aron Kincaid:
“Aron Kincaid is a fabulous guy. He was the most dedicated, serious guy I ever worked with who wanted to become a movie star. He actually lived, breathed, and ate show business. I was amazed. He couldn’t believe that I couldn’t give a hoot about it.”
Aron Kincaid on Quinn O’Hara:
“I adored Quinn O’Hara. I had known her for a few years prior to this. She was a wonderful girl and an actual beauty queen—Miss Scotland. She had been at Universal when I was there. I had always said that once they put her in color everything would change. She looked great in black and white but nothing like she did in person.”
Double Trouble one of the worst Elvis Presley movies opened with one of his least inspiring leading ladies, Annette Day making her film debut. The movie tried to cash in on swinging mod London and the popularity of spy movies of the time. Despite being set in Europe, this being another quickie production, the entire movie was shot on MGM’s massive soundstages.
In the movie, Presley is worldwide singing sensation Guy Lambert who meets mysterious teenage heiress Jill Conway (Day) while performing in a London discothèque surrounded by hip swaying go-go girls. Underage Jill becomes infatuated with the singer much to the chagrin of her uncle and guardian Gerald Waverly (John Williams) who sends her away to Belgium to keep the pair apart but to also stop Guy from discovering that he was trying to steal his niece’s inheritance. While searching for her, Guy gets involved with spies, jewel thieves, and foreign intrigue. Inexplicably Guy chooses the teenage twit over sophisticated playgirl Claire Dunham (Yvonne Romain) by fade-out, which ends with the pair’s wedding a rarity for an Elvis movie.
This was Christopher Riordan’s sixth movie with the King and commenting on Annette Day in my book Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies, he said, “You could tell this little girl who looked like some librarian was nervous and didn’t know what she was doing or where she was going. I remember the director was having a lot of trouble with Day. Elvis was very sweet and patient. He’d whisper in her ear, ‘We’re going to turn here and then look for your mark.’ Despite his kindness, I felt here was no chemistry between them. I kept thinking to myself, ‘Why do they keep doing this to Elvis—saddling him with weak leading ladies.’ Elvis was very sensual and had a lot of chemistry going for him. There were several actresses that he played opposite where I thought he did very well such as Marlyn Mason in The Trouble with Girls. They are wonderful together and just sizzled.”
Double Trouble had an interesting premise but was sunk by a confusing script and the inexperienced Annette Day. When an Elvis film is not populated with a strong young supporting cast as here, he needs a strong leading lady. Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas is a perfect example. Her talent and chemistry with Elvis elevated that movie despite the missing cadre of friends surrounding them and a very weak story. Double Trouble needed an “Ann-Margret” as well. You would have thought with all the talented young British actresses around at the time including Hayley Mills, Suzy Kendall, and Judy Geeson they could have found someone who at least knew their way around a soundstage. Obviously, they were doing the movie on the cheap and hoped the newcomer would deliver. Alas, Day did not.
It Happened at the World’s Fair opened starring Elvis Presley, Joan O’Brien, Gary Lockwood, and Yvonne Craig. This is a glossy musical comedy shot on location at the Seattle World’s Fair. Presley played Mike Edwards a pilot-for-hire who, after jilting a luscious small town girl (Craig) whose father chases him off with a shotgun, heads to the Fair with his gambling-loving partner Danny Edwards (Lockwood) to get work so they can earn enough money to reclaim their airplane that has been repossessed. There Mike becomes involved with a precocious seven-year-old Chinese girl Sue-Lin (Vicky Tiu) left in the boys’ care by her farmer father and a pretty nurse named Diane Warren (O’Brien) who he’d rather spend time with though she plays hard to get.
“The first day of filming was a madhouse. When I arrived at the World’s Fair, I saw Elvis whom I had never met before over the heads of all these people. You talk about crowds! It was unbelievable. People everywhere! After we finished the first morning’s sequences they had an electric car for Elvis and me to use. They had to set up barricades and use hundreds of policemen to hold back the crowds just to get us out of there. We then went for lunch to some building that had this huge empty exhibition hall. They dropped us off, locked the door, and posted more policemen outside.”
Though Elvis did serenade Joan throughout the film, she found these scenes to be “tedious and hard because he had all the action and I felt awkward. It was very difficult for me—I don’t know about other actresses—to be aware of the camera, pay attention to him, and try to look all dreamy-eyed and in love. I felt like I had egg on my face most of the time.”
Frankie and Johnny opened starring Elvis Presley, Donna Douglas, Sue Ane Langdon (who previously worked with Elvis in Roustabout), Anthony Eisley, and Nancy Kovack. A bit different than the typical Elvis film, Frankie and Johnny was based loosely on the classic folk song. Set on a Mississippi gambling-showboat circa 1865, it featured Elvis as Johnny a singer and gambler who loves Frankie (Douglas) but she refuses to marry him until he gives up gambling. Together they perform on a showboat owned by Clint Braden (Eisley). Johnny tries to give up gambling but a fortune teller reveals that a beautiful redhead will soon enter his life and change his luck. Things get complicated when the redhead turns out to be Nellie Bly (Kovack) the former lover of Braden. Frankie becomes jealous of Nellie who is only using Johnny to get Braden to marry her and Braden becomes jealous of Johnny. Amidst this complicated quadrangle, Langdon livens up the proceedings as Mitzie, Frankie’s ditzy lovelorn showgirl friend.
“I truly enjoyed my part of Mitzi in Frankie and Johnny,” says Langdon. “I had a great time with that role. I didn’t notice any change with Elvis. He seemed pretty much the same—still a very nice guy. Donna Douglas was of interest to him at that time and he was spending a lot of time with her. I just hung out with the guys on the set like I did on Roustabout. Whenever you were with Elvis for the most part you were with his entourage. Those guys were always around but they were all very nice. I really had a great time working with Elvis but I don’t think he was that comfortable appearing in movies. He was much more relaxed as a singer on stage…”
Harper opened. This hard-boiled detective yarn starred Paul Newman as a gumshoe hired by the icy paralyzed Lauren Bacall to investigate the disappearance of her hated wealthy husband and the father of her stepdaughter Pamela Tiffin. There are a lot of red herrings in this mystery played by the likes of Arthur Hill, Robert Webber, Julie Harris, Robert Wagner, Strother Martin, and Shelley Winters. As the sex-starved heiress Miranda, Tiffin almost steals the film with her seductive dance in a bikini atop a diving board. As the hated daughter and stepmother Elaine, Tiffin and Bacall have a number of great catty moments, which were superbly acted. After hearing that Miranda has been rejected by private pilot(Wagner), Elaine maliciously quips to Miranda, “I should think you’d be accustomed to not being loved by now.” Miranda responds, “I love your wrinkles. I revel in them.” When an unmoved Elaine learns that her husband has been murdered, she calls out to Miranda in a singsong voice, “Miranda! Mommy has something to tell you!”
Pamela described Paul Newman as being “attractive, professional, and a car lover.” She added, “I was veryimpressed with Lauren Bacall but she was very tense and stand-offish. Since Paul Newman likes to rehearse, we gathered around a long table and ran lines for a week, if not more. Everyone was there except Lauren Bacall because she wanted to be the big movie star. I couldn’t be angry at her or feel slighted because I thought she was fascinating!”
Wild Racersopened starring Fabian and Mimsy Farmer. He is arrogant race car driver Joe Joe Quillico who calls himself “Joe Joe Quillico, King of the Hillico. They call me Joe Joe, because I have the mojo.” After being banned from NASCAR racing in the U.S. due to an accident he caused, he has moved abroad to compete in Formula One and sports car prototype racing on the European Grand Prix circuit. She is a tourist who hooks up with him and follows from race to race.
This was the only film Mimsy Farmer did for AIP that was not a hit with the drive-in crowd. Though featuring great racing sequences comparable to Grand Prix and Le Mans, the film directed by Daniel Haller may have been too artsy for the typically teenage and drive-in audience. The quick edits and off-camera conversations over nicely shot racing footage may have been bit much for them. However, this stylized approach is what makes the movie way above average. It is also buoyed by the interesting mix of French pop songs by Pierre Vassiliu with a bouncy music score by Mike Curb, and from the fine performances from the two leads. Fabian, who with his boyish looks, makes Joe Joe likable despite his self-centered attitude and Mimsy Farmer, with her short hair worn in a small pony tail, is adorably sweet and innocent as the girl who almost tames him.
…Come Fly with Me opened. Pamela, Tiffin, Dolores Hart, and Lois Nettleton portray stewardesses who fly the New York to Paris and Vienna routes. Hart is a gold digger who thinks she has landed a rich handsome baron in Karl Boehm but he is broke and using her unwittingly to smuggle diamonds. As the innocent virgin, Pamela competes for playboy co-pilot Hugh O’Brian with his married lover Dawn Addams. While the jaded though wiser Nettleton lands widowed tycoon Karl Malden without realizing he is loaded.
“I remember Hugh O’Brian was always busy being a playboy,” said Pamela Tiffin. “He played a playboy in the movie and lived it fully in real life! Dolores Hart and I had some nice conversations. She is a warm, decent, and vulnerable woman. Dolores had some unhappy experiences in love matters. And if I’m not mistaken, she was ending one up at the time. She told me the story and was still very upset about it. She said she was going to enter a convent. And at that time I couldn’t understand it. I said, ‘Oh, but you don’t want to, Dolores!’ Now I understand it. So there she is.”
The AIP racecar drama Thunder Alley opened. Fabian is a stock car racer suspended from racing after he causes the death of another driver. He goes to work for promoter Jan Murray’s “thrill circus” and falls for his daughter Annette Funicello. If you can’t get Frankie Avalon, Fabian is a nice subsitute. Diane McBain is once again the bad girl as Fabian’s thrill-seeking former girlfriend who uses rival racecar driver Warren Berlinger to get back at her ex. Though directed by Richard Rush (The Stunt Man), Thunder Alley is a standard programmer but perfect for the sixties drive-in crowd. Choreography was actor/dancer Christopher Riordan and former beach party gals Salli Sachse, Mary Hughes, and Luree Holmes decorate the background.
“I don’t remember much about this film. Most of my off screen time was spent watching them film In the Heat of the Night with Sidney Poitier next door…But I did enjoy working with Fabian. He’s very nice.”
The hit spy movie In Like Flint opened, the sequel to the popular Our Man Flint (1966) that introduced James Coburn as suave secret agent Derek Flint to the masses. Here he must thwart a secret society of women who are plotting to take over the world. Led by Lisa (Jean Hale) and the three top female fashion leaders, they operate from a lavish spa in the Virgin Islands called Fabulous Faces. Their plan is to take over a space station that controls nuclear weapons. To reach their goal, they disguise two of their women as golf caddies and kidnap the president of the U.S. and replace him with an imposter (who eventually turns on them). To get the rest of the female population to support them, their clientele get “brain and hair washing at the same time.” Flint’s three lovely assistants (Diane Bond, Mary Michael and Jacki Ray) however are able to resist to the chagrin of the nefarious ladies.
Jean Hale recalled working with Coburn and remarked in Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema, “James is adorable and easy, yet challenging to work with. He is a very sweet, gentle man. When I went on tour to promote the film, the big question was always, ‘What was it like to kiss James Coburn?’ I’d respond, ‘it was lovely but all in a day’s work.’”
Diane Bond only had kind words to say about James Coburn but not so much about Jean Hale in Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies, “We passed a lot of time together and he was a splendid, jovial person, always joking. He was very down-to-Earth and you could even tell that from his body language…Jean Hale was really unsexy and I thought someone better could have been the lead.” Meow!