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Gidget Film Collection (ViaVision) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • Gidget Film Collection (ViaVision) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: ViaVision
    Released on: April 14th, 2023.
    Director: Paul Wendkos
    Cast: Sandra Dee, James Darren, Deborah Walley, Cindy Carol
    Year: 1959/1961/1963
    Purchase From Amazon

    Gidget Film Collection – Movie Review:

    ViaVision brings together all three of the theatrical Gidget movies and the made for TV follow up in their aptly titled Gidget Film Collection!

    Gidget review by Mark Tolch

    Ask legendary big wave surfer Greg Noll what he thinks about Gidget, and he won't have anything to say that's not laced with profanity. True, Noll and his buddies were enjoying their relatively anonymous lives as surf bums in California and Hawaii, a small group of dedicated friends in one of the most notorious lineups ever seen, when the success of The Beach Boys and Sandra Dee's Gidget sent everyone with a few bucks and a station wagon down to the coast to check out the newest teen sensation of surfing. Based on the books by Frederick Kohner, father of a teenaged female surfer, GIDGET was, in an eyebrow-raising ad campaign, geared towards adolescent males too young to "Fidget with Bridget".

    Sandra Dee was kind of a precursor to those 80's films where sex symbols had to act like teenagers who couldn't get a date to save their lives while the entire teenaged viewing population contemplated giving up a limb to spend five minutes alone with them; check out that cover art. Sandra Dee is a sweetheart. Of course, in the film, she's 16 year-old Francie Lawrence, a tomboy whose friend Patti pushes to head down to the beach to get with the available boys before she ends up an old maid at eighteen. Manhunting doesn't work out too successfully for Francie, whose physical presence can't match up to the buxom blitzkrieg that Patti and the other girls lay down in their two-piece fashions of the day. To add insult to injury, Francie doesn't know the tips and tricks to draw in the boys, and furthermore, couldn't care less. A third factor complicates matters further, in that the boys the girls are after; Moondoggie (James Darren), Stinky (Joby Baker), Lover Boy (Tom Laughlin...BILLY JACK!!!) and the others, led by The Big Kahuna (Cliff Robertson); are surfers who live for nothing but waves, although they will show appreciation for the fairer sex when the tide is out.

    It's not long before Francie's indifference takes over, leading her to go snorkelling over hanging with her friends, a move that the more experienced girls recoil from, refusing to allow themselves to look so ridiculous. Francie's apathy leads to disaster, however, when she's caught in the seaweed that dominates the coast, dragging her towards the ocean floor and away from precious air. Fortunately, Moondoggie cottons on to what's happening quickly and paddles out with his huge-ass wooden longboard to save the drowning girl, and since the tide is in, chooses to catch a wave with the semi-conscious teen laying prone on the deck of his board, catching the whitewater wash to the safety of the shore. Unbeknownst to Moondoggie, he's just exposed Francie to "shooting the curl", a surfing maneuver that the young girl has decided is the most exhilarating thing that she's ever encountered. Sure, she might be laughed at as "jailbait" by the other guys, but Moondoggie still feels the need to sing a song to the half girl, half midget....the "Gidget" let her know that she's the one for him...kind of. Unfortunately, despite Gidget's commitment to surfing and her willingness to shell out for a water-logged board from Stinky, Moondoggie has a lady friend named Joanne, and she bats outside of Gidget's weight class.

    Still, Gidget does what she can, hitting the break every day after learning to surf courtesy of a book and her friend rocking her bed-bound surfboard...which prepares her to catch waves about five minutes later....and gets in good with Kahuna, learning of his carefree lifestyle and compulsion to travel the world for the best waves. And as much as her parents express their consternation in their daughter's newfound affinity for boys with no stable financial future, Gidget practices her boob-growing exercises, gets better at brushing her hair out of her face while surfing against a rear-projection screen, and determines that she will attend the year-end Luau...even mapping out how she'll make Moondoggie jealous, a plan with disastrous repercussions. Will Moondoggie drop his girl for Gidget? Will her boobs get bigger? Will she finally shoot the curl on her own? Or will Kahuna make the younger girl his globe-trotting woman? In this bizarre artifact from a more wholesome era, strangely, nothing is certain.

    All Noll-isms aside, and ignoring how the success of GIDGET sent all of the Valley kids running for the ocean break, this film pioneered the funtime beach movies that would follow, films that made Frankie and Annette bigger stars than Sandra Dee. And there's really nothing offensive about Gidget, unless you're from the old school that probably took offense to the film back in the day. Girls! Looking for sex! ARRRRGGHHH! Truthfully, the most offensive thing about Gidget these days are the outdated ideals on display, like the fact that a girl is more or less required to sit and wait for a man to decide that she's worthy of his time, and the fact that poor Sandra Dee spends the majority of her time on screen getting pawed by her male co-stars, or laying prone on a surfboard while the boys get to bury their faces in her bottom end.

    Aside from that, we get fun, entertaining fluff...nobody is pushing the intellectual boundary here....full of awesome 50's/60's tropes...hep lingo, rear-screen action scenes, fashions of the times, all based around the simple equation of girl/boy wants girl/boy. The performances are fine here, the atmosphere is fun and bouncy, the soundtrack is fitting, and aside from some snickery subtext, GIDGET is flat-out fun. Is the direction anything that resonates? No. Are we marvelling over the action sequences? Not really. But GIDGET is....well...swell. And, obviously, considering the sequels and other follow-ups, enough people thought so. But at the end of the day, GIDGET is entertainment, and that should really be enough to recommend it.

    Gidget Goes Hawaiian:

    In this second film, Gidget (now played by Deborah Walley) learns that her father is taking her to Hawaii for a couple of weeks. On the way there, she meets a girl named Abby Stewart (Vicki Trickett) and her parents and quickly makes friends but still misses her pal Moondoggie (James Darren) and, for this reason, is a bit sad. Poor Gidget. Her father notices this and decides to fly Moondoggie out to Hawaii to be with his daughter. Later that night, Gidget and Abby hang out with a dancer named Eddie Horner (Michael Callan) but when Gidget seems to be more popular with Eddie and the other boys, it drives a wedge between her and Abby.

    The next morning, Gidget gets up to go surfing and gets a kiss from Eddie just as Moondoggie shows up. They get into an argument and soon Moondoggie is flirting with Abby, leading Gidget to flirt more with Eddie. Drama! Eventually, Abby basically starts telling everyone around that Gidget is a slut, which gets back to Gidget's parents which only leads to more problems between the two sets of parents.

    Eventually, Abby does the right thing and tells Moondoggie that Gidget is pure and chaste, and they make up and then decide to try and set things right with the adults too - but it won't be easy, and there will be more surfing!

    Directed by Paul Wendkos in 1961, Gidget Goes Hawaiian is a decent enough sequel even if it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The Hawaiian scenery looks nice and the ‘surfing’ scenes are amusing enough to hold your attention. The whole thing is rife with overdone teen melodrama and corny humor but the movie has its own sense of quirky harm. Deborah Walley isn’t as good as the titular lead as Sandra Dee was – those were pretty big shoes to fill in a lot of ways – but she’s a pretty decent substitute for the original.

    The film isn’t deep but it’s briskly paced and perfectly entertaining disposable nostalgia. This film obviously didn’t have the impact of the original but as far as goofy sequels go, it’s a-ok.

    Gidget Goes To Rome:

    The third and final original theatrical film, once again directed by Paul Wendkos and released by Columbia Pictures in 1963, Gidget Goes To Rome sees our titular heroine (now played by Cindy Carol) college age. When summer hits, she heads off to Rome for a little rest and relaxation. Moondoggie (still played by James Darren), always faithful to Gidget, is along for the ride as are a handful of fairly inconsequential friends who are soon forgotten.

    Aunt Albertina (Jessie Royce) is the one in charge of Gidget and her crew, with Gidget’s dad more than a little concerned about his only daughter being off in Europe without her parents by her side. He gets in touch with an Italian friend named Paolo Cellini (Cesare Danova) and asks that he help him out by snooping around and making sure that Gidget doesn’t land herself in any of that hot water she’s so prone to landing in.

    All is well and good, at first… and then Gidget starts to crush on Paolo pretty hard, despite the obvious age difference!

    Like the other films in this collection, Gidget Goes To Rome is as entertaining as it is very much a product of its time. The humor is hokey and the plot is pretty predictable but despite the fact that Carol is the third Gidget in as many films, she’s pretty decent in the role. Just as good, if maybe not a little better, than Walley was in the second film. At this point, James Darren just sort of ‘is’ Moondoggie but he’s fine in the role while Cesare Danova is amusing as the older, married man that Gidget falls for.

    Nicely shot with an enjoyably peppy, if slightly pedestrian, score, Gidget Goes To Rome moves nicely and offers up enough goofy comedy, strangely outdated scenarios and quirky characters to make for a fine way to kill an hour and a half of your time. It isn’t a classic by any stretch, but once you put it on, you’ll find yourself at least wanting to know how it all ends!

    Gidget Film Collection – Blu-ray Review:

    The first two movies share a 50GB disc, the third film shares a 50GB disc with the made for TV movie. All four features are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition in their original aspect ratios and they look quite nice even if they don’t appear to have been taken from new scans. Colors look nice, detail is pretty solid if a step or two below reference quality and the elements used were clearly in nice shape, as there isn’t much in the way of print damage to note at all.

    Audio for the feature is handled by an English language 24-bit LPCM 2.0 Mono track, with optional subtitles offered in English only. Clarity is fine and the tracks are properly balanced throughout. There aren’t any issues with any hiss or distortion to note.

    The main extra in the set is the inclusion of the TV movie Gidget Gets Married from 1972. Directed by E.W. Swackhamer, this one sees Moondoggie (now played by Michael Burns) finishing his stint in the military and working at a pretty cushy job as an engineer. Now that he's in a position to make a go of things, he and Gidget (now played by Monie Ellis), who is now a first grade teacher beloved by her diminutive students, tie the knot. Soon, they settle down in Woodlake, Florida where his company, Worldwide Dynamics, has relocated him.

    Things are good at first but it isn't long before Gidget starts to realize that Jeff's new job is freakishly demanding of him and this starts to affect their life together. Gidget, being Gidget, decides to do something about it, which leads to tension not only between Moondoggie and his employers, but also between husband and wife.

    Gidget Gets Married is enjoyable as a relic of the seventies made for TV movie era, but it’s really, really hokey. From the terrible theme song and corny music to the lack of detail in the school scenes (if Gidget really were a teacher, she’d be fired pretty quickly) to the forced gags and melodrama, it all plays out exactly as you’d expect it to. Still, the colors and the fashions and the furnishings have a screwy seventies charm and that counts for something. Overall, this is a big step down from any of the original theatrical movies, but as a curio and a bit of an obscurity, fans of the franchise should at least find it marginally interesting.

    Aside from that, there are also theatrical trailers for the first two movies as well as menus.

    Gidget Film Collection – The Final Word:

    The ViaVision Gidget Film Collection offers up all three original theatrical movies from the series in nice shape and a made for TV follow up as its main bonus feature. The films definitely show their age, sometimes in good ways and sometimes in less than good ways, but they’re always entertaining and the first one really is a bit of a classic in its own wacky way.

    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Gidget Collection Blu-ray screen caps!

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