Carlo Cofield (Tony Curtis) is a New Yorker visiting southern California’s beautiful beaches. Tragedy strikes on his first day in California, when his car tumbles down a hill and catches fire.
Laura (Claudia Cardinale), who caused the fire, invites Carlo back to her place so he can get her insurance information. Having no place else to go, he accepts her offer to spend the night on her couch. When a man comes a-knocking on Laura’s door in the middle of the night, Carlo tries to leave, gets caught and then falls asleep on the beach. When he wakes up, he’s surrounded by surfers, motorcyclists and other hip, young beach-dwellers, including a skydiving daredevil named Malibu (Sharon Tate) who saves him from drowning.
Sand and sunshine (and eventually, rain and mudslides) fill the 97-minute running time of Don’t Make Waves as Carlo experiences all of the sights, sounds and stylish folks who make up SoCal in the late ’60s. British director Alexander Mackendrick (The Ladykillers) lends his talents to the film, which is based on the novel “Muscle Beach” by Ira Wallach.
Don’t Make Waves opens with a very fun song, and I’d have been disappointed if it hadn’t, considering its bright photography and 1967 release date. There were so many great title songs for films in the ’60s. This one, as a bonus, happens to be performed by a long-time favorite group of mine, The Byrds!
The typicality of the film kind of ends with the opening song. Though the popular “beach film” genre is capitalized upon here, the “teen beach bunny” subculture is not, and genres are all mixed up. Part beach film, part stylish ’60s flick, part raunchy comedy, part romantic drama, part adventure… there’s a little bit of everything going on here, even a dash of slapstick. It’s an odd mix and it makes the film seem in many moments like it’s completely lacking focus, but at the very least, mid-century enthusiasts will enjoy the enormous, bright visual sugar rush that is Don’t Make Waves.
The cast of the film is pretty great, saving it from some of its script’s weaknesses (though they’re still apparent). One of the reasons I actually decided to watch this film was because Sharon Tate is in it. She was such a talent, and as I learned when I researched a tribute post for her in this blog’s first year, she impressed both audiences and her co-stars with her work for Don’t Make Waves. Still, she worried the role would cause her to be typecast, and I can see why. It’s a fairly shallow role, relying largely on Tate’s beauty rather than character development or depth.
Don’t Make Waves is pure late-’60s entertainment, worth watching for the colors, actors and beach settings despite its confused script. It isn’t a film that will appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed watching it for the most part. The score: 3/5