On Sunday, I turned to one of those channels that's great for when you need something in the background: TCM. They were showing Gidget, which I had heard of but never seen. The world's first surfing movie is a cool title, but it just didn't sound like an interesting film. Well, soon enough I was entranced. Turns out I even saw it the best way possible since TCM shows the CinemaScope version and Gidget is only available to buy in pan-and-scan form.
Francie Lawrence (Sandra Dee) is sixteen, about to turn seventeen, and it's the summer before her senior year in high school. All her friends decide to lose their virginity this summer. But Francie just isn't into dating. And when she goes manhunting on the beach she discovers the lure of surfing. Soon enough the guys have dubbed her Gidget (girl + midget) and she's learning to be one of them. At the same time, she finally discovers boys. Or, well, a boy. She's soon making a plan to get Moondoggie (James Darren) to notice her and take it to the next level.
On some levels, Gidget is quite progressive. Gidget never lets anyone convince her that she can't do as well as the boys. Her mom argues with her father that it's all right for her to grow older and explore her sexuality. When her mom tells her it's up to the boy to make a move, however, she realizes that she needs to make the first move. She gets pretty aggressive about what she wants. At the same time, the movie ends with Gidget happy that Moondoggie pins her sweater and gives her a hug. The Gidget at the beginning of the movie might've been happy with that, but it's a wholesome ending incongruent with her character growth.
There's a lot of interesting sociological things going on in Gidget, particularly the tension between the middle class and the bohemian surfers. It's a product of it's time, definitely. But it only ever dances on the verge of radical, always pulling back to be a fun teen movie. There's also some cringe worthy stuff. The stunt surfers are fine, but all close ups are horribly fake looking. Darren serenades Gidget twice, which is painfully cheesy.
If you haven't seen Gidget, I'd give it a chance. It's an iconic movie, of course, but less dated than I expected. Plus, Cliff Robertson is fantastic and rarely shirted as Kahuna. It's no wonder Gidget uses him to make Moondoggie jealous.