A new DVD 3-pack of all three “Gidget” movies comes out today, and they’re worth another look, especially the 1959 original with Sandra Dee and James Darren. Dee plays Francie, a sheltered and somewhat naive girl who thinks that it is still to make a fuss over boys. But she is very interested in this new all-male activity on the beach called surfing and the cusp-of-the-60’s pre-counter culture guys who are devoted to it. Their leader is played by Cliff Robertson as a pilot who is taking a break from real life to live on the beach (literally). They take her on as something of a mascot, calling her Gidget (girl plus midget), and everybody has some growing up to do. It’s probably not as sugary as you recall and it holds up pretty well. The story, by the way, was inspired by the daughter of the author, Frederick Kohner. You can see the real-life Gidget, still surfing, in the wonderful documentary, Step Into Liquid.
In the first sequel, “Gidget Goes Hawaiian,” Deborah Walley takes over for Dee and Darren returns. A romantic misunderstanding arises when a mean girl spreads a rumor that Gidget and her boyfriend have gone what in those days was called “all the way.” Everything is straightened out and Gidget’s good girl reputation is protected. Watch for a very cute dance number with Broadway hoofer Michael Callan, the original Riff in the stage production of “West Side Story.”
The third episode is the weakest, with Cindy Carol as Gidget and a silly jealousy story, but the wonderful Jessie Royce Landis is a treat as something of a drowsy chaperone. I still think of this movie whenever I hear the names Paolo and Francesca.
And don’t forget the Gidget television series, starring Sally Field, which included a guest-star appearance from her fellow future Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss.