As you can probably tell from yesterday’s “Summer in ‘cember” post, I really love the film Gidget. And I really love Sandra Dee in the title role. Sandra Dee is the “absolute ultimate” Gidget in my book.
With this fondness in mind, it’s no surprise that I was very reluctant to watch the two theatrical sequels to Gidget, because each stars a different actress as our beloved Francie Lawrence.
Deborah Walley grabs the character by the board (bad pun alert) in Gidget Goes Hawaiian, while Cindy Carol may finally get that piece of jewelry to adorn Gidget’s “ring-size” finger in Gidget Goes to Rome. Cast changes are a huge pet peeve of mine, because I’m prone to playing favorites (and readily disowning any version that doesn’t include those favorites).
It would be an understatement to say that my expectations were very, very low for both of these sequels. I finally caved and gave them a watch after buying the set that includes all three of the films (which is, as far as I could find, the only proper release of the Sandra Dee film on DVD). Even after purchasing the set, I watched the first film and let it sit on my shelf for a month before giving into my curiosity about the sequels. But I must say, I was pleasantly surprised with both.
Gidget Goes Hawaiianwas released in 1961. Paul Wendkos directs once again, and James Darren carries on his role as the apple of Gidget’s eye, Jeff “Moondoggie” Matthews. The film kicks off with Gidget in a pretty tough spot. Her parents want her to take a vacation with them to Hawaii, but her beloved boo-bear is home from college at the same time and she wants to see him as much as possible before he heads back to school.
Much to Gidget’s dismay, when she brings the problem up to Moondoggie, he encourages her to leave, promising that he’ll find a way to occupy himself while she’s gone. This, of course, angers Francie and she decides to leave for Hawaii. The trip starts out pretty miserable, but with the help of a new, maneating friend named Abby (Vicki Trickett) and an attractive, popular singer named Eddie (Michael Callan) vying for her attention, Hawaii might not be so bad after all. But where does that leave Gidget and Moondoggie?
My immediate reaction to the Gidget replacement was that Deborah Walley in no way compared to Sandra Dee. She had the voice down, but gave Gidget a completely different personality than Sandra had, and there wasn’t as much chemistry between Walley and Darren. To top that off, Gidget’s parents were replaced as well.
The characters all seemed so completely different than in the first film that it seemed like a different film altogether. My anguish continued when I saw that some scenes of the original film had been re-shot with Walley.
Eventually, the cast changes kind of works in the film’s favor, because after adjusting to the changes I was able to see it as a standalone rather than as part of a series. Once you separate it from the original (which is still a far better film), this Hawaiian installment is a pretty good watch.
The songs, especially the title song, are extremely catchy. It was an interesting move on part of the filmmakers to incorporate bigger dance numbers in this installment rather than simply incorporating the songs into the action as they did with the 1959 film. This, again, works to make the film stand out from its predecessor, because it has more of a true musical edge.
The story gets better as it moves along, with the trip becoming both more upbeat and increasingly complicated. The performances are all a bit stiff at first, but just like Gidget’s bad attitude at the beginning of the trip, they loosen up. By the end, very few of the actors come off as wooden as they had in the film’s earlier portions. The score: 3/5
The third installment in the series, Gidget Goes to Rome (once again directed by Paul Wendkos, 1963), takes the surf boards out of the equation and sends lovebirds Moondoggie (still portrayed James Darren) and Gidget (now portrayed by Cindy Carol) overseas on a group trip to romantic Italy.
Frances is now 17 and still frantically in love with her surfer dude. With great effort, she persuades her parents to let her take a trip to Rome with two of her friends, Moondoggie, two of his friends and a somewhat floozy and very eccentric chaperone.
Upon arrival in Rome, the group is excited to explore the city, but the excitement fades for the female half of the squad when their guide is revealed as a beautiful Italian girl named Daniela (Danielle De Metz). Daniela captivates the three men of the group, and Gidget gets jealous – so naturally, she turns to revenge, spending time with a hunky, older Italian man (Cesare Danova) in order to turn the tables on Moondoggie.
Ironically, though Gidget is supposed to be 17 here, she looks much younger than Walley did in the Hawaiian film. She doesn’t have that cute, squeaky Gidget voice, either.
Still, she is quite charismatic, and the casting change is more than tolerable for a few reasons. First, Carol doesn’t seem like she’s trying too hard to fit the “Gidget” mold. Second, Carol preserves the character’s sass and zest for life while also giving her a bit of a maturing and introspective edge. Finally, she’s a whole lot more “buyable” as a couple with Darren than Walley was. Their chemistry isn’t as high as Darren and Dee, but it’s an improvement from the second film.
We also see another parental replacement, this one much more favorable. Don Porter, who plays Russ Lawrence in the television series of Gidget starring Sally Field, appears as Gidget’s dad in this film. My fondness for the TV show makes him my favorite of the Gidget dads, and he’s a huge upgrade from the mildly creepy Hawaiian-installment dad.
Also a great addition is Jessie Royce Landis as Aunt Albertina, the flamboyant chaperone of the trip. The character itself – bag of puppies and all – is hilarious, and Landis fills the role perfectly. She’s only a small part of the group’s Roman adventure, but a very delightful part.
A few techniques that aided in the second film’s surprising goodness are carried over here. The best of these is the hilarious dream sequences that Gidget has.
The premise of Gidget Goes to Rome is also a bit similar to the second film (a battle of jealousies), but it plays out much differently here and delivers a few small surprises.
Though I found the ending very off-putting considering Moondoggie’s behavior throughout the rest of the film, I did find Gidget Goes to Rome very engrossing in its entirety. It features quite a few laughs and an underlying mood of drama/sulkiness that sets it apart from the second film, which seemed to capitalize on the fun, light beach film trend. It isn’t quite as high sheer excitement as the two films that it follows, but it is the best of the two sequels. The score: 4/5
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