One year, one film: 1959

The film:
Gidget, dir. Paul Wendkos
Starring Sandra Dee and James Darren

Recommended | Highly Recommended | MUST-SEE

(Image via Sony Movie Channel)
(Image via Sony Movie Channel)
Gidget is, in my view, one of the quintessential must-views of the 1950s. It captures the beginning of a craze (a cultural obsession with the surf/beach-crazy lifestyle), and the social values of the time. It’s a time capsule of a film that, while imperfect to the critical modern eye, remains incredibly entertaining.

Sandra Dee is at her most lovable in the title role, and for those of you who are romance fans, the tale of Gidget and Moondoggie is “the absolute ultimate” in cuteness. The film has long been a favorite of mine, a sort of “comfort food” watch. I’ll always have a soft spot for this frothy beach flick.

But without similar sentimental connections to the film, did the critics of 1959 find it enjoyable?

Screenland and Modern Screen, I must first mention, ran an ad in their respective May 1959 issues offering a glowing recommendation for the film from none other than Dick Clark:

“It’s the first movie I’ve ever endorsed this way,” says Dick Clark… or Columbia’s PR team. (Clipped from Modern Screen, May 1959 issue,
Modern Screen went on to give the film a generally positive review, calling Gidget “a gay, happy movie about young love” in the May 1959 “New Movies by Florence Epstein” feature.

Screenland wrote, “Strictly for the younger set, this spree by the sea skips most of the usual tripe about misunderstood youth.” Now, on the second point, I agree — Gidget, the character, is no rebellious youth butting heads with her parents at every turn. It’s a sweet film about sweet kids who generally get along with their parents, though they’re suffering through the growing pains of becoming young adults. But “strictly for the younger set” — no way! Granted, I discovered the film as a teen, and perhaps that colors my perception of it. But I still enjoy watching it, a good ten years later, and will continue to enjoy it despite my ever-increasing age.

Howard Thompson of The New York Times found the flick to be a perfect late spring/early summer watch, while acknowledging that it isn’t exactly an intellectually stimulating picture. His review read: “Gidget is enough to make anybody leave one of the neighborhood theatres, where it opened yesterday, and light out for Long Island Sound. Pictorially, this mild little Columbia frolic, about a teen-age girl with boy trouble, seems an ideal way to usher in the beach season.”

Variety, likewise, seems to have liked Sandra Dee and the beautiful California scenery while wishing that the characters had more depth, and the direction was a tad more fluid.

Perhaps these publications don’t give the film marks quite as high as those doled out by TMP, but I stand by my assessment that Gidget is well worth viewing.