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GIDGET (director: Paul Wendkos; screenwriters: from the book by Frederick Kohner/Gabrielle Upton; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editor: William A. Lyon; music: Fred Karger/Stanley Styne; cast: Sandra Dee (Francie Lawrence/Gidget), Cliff Robertson (Kahoona), James Darren (Moondoggie), Arthur O’Connell (Russell Lawrence), Mary LaRoche (Dorothy Lawrence), Joby Baker (Stinky), Tom Laughlin (Lover Boy), Jo Morrow (Mary Lou); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lewis J. Rachmil; Columbia; 1959)
A sincere and perceptive coming-of-age teen film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A sincere and perceptive coming-of-age teen film, about a wholesome slightly built 16-year-old California gal named Francie Lawrence, nicknamed by her surfer pals Gidget (Sandra Dee)–a cross between a girl and a midget. The feisty tomboy Gidget spends the summer with a bunch of clean-cut but spicy college-aged surfers on Malibu Beach, whose leader is the older thirty-something Korean war vet who is lolling about as a full-time surfer bum known as Kahoona (Cliff Robertson).

At first Gidget is happy to just be hanging around with the guys as a mascot and learning how to surf, realizing that she’s unable to compete with the well-stacked bikini-clad local beach gals who go on “manhunts.” But, to her surprise, she falls in love with nice guy surf bum Moondoggie (James Darren) and uses her feminine wiles to nail the reluctant surfer boy, who seems to love only his surfboard. Moondoggie’s dad is a self-made success story in the business world and he aspires to the same success without help from his rich folks. Lucky for Gidget she has understanding but clueless parents (Arthur O’Connell & Mary LaRoche) who give her good parental 1950’s advice and listen to her plight, but they still disapprove of her choice of a boyfriend and change in lifestyle.

It’s based on the book by Frederick Kohner, who based it on his teenage daughter. It was adapted for the screen by Gabrielle Upton. The popular pic has become an American pop culture classic.Paul Wendkos (“The Burglar”/”Face of a Fugitive”/”Angel Baby”) does a nice job keeping it level-headed and capturing from the teen’s point of view the ups-and-downs of growing up. There were two film sequels (Gidget Goes to Rome1963 and Gidget Goes Hawaiian-1961, two television series-Gidget-1965-66) and The NewGidget1986, and several TV movies.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”