A History of Summer Fun
A Woman Meant for Surf, Sun and Fun
Wild, Carefree Times in the Sun
I look back on some of the great and not so great movies centered around summer. It isn't all decades old stuff. Some of it is quite new and so it should be. It's not as if we don't get a summer every year to enjoy.
The highlights over the last few years have been the Doctor Who Christmas specials. One in particular was a Doctor Who take on the Christmas favorite, A Christmas Carol. It was of course jazzed up a bit with flying fish and time travel.
I remember a summer in the 1960s where I watched Shintaro the Samurai on television and collected the chewing gum cards Scanlens put out at the time. The actor who played Shintaro came out to Australia and did a live performance of ninja dispatching on stage.
There were episodes in the 1960s of The Saint starring roger Moore that featured surf and sun.
The Australian movie Drift came out in 2013 featuring surf and sun. Nothing better.
There was a reality show titled The Shire that came out in 2012 and did not do very well. It was set in the Saint George area of New South Wales and was meant to attract surfers.
The problem with The Shire was that the people the makers of the show wanted to attract were too into making their own fun without the use of television.
It was in the 1950s that the Western cinematographer discovered that the best way to put backsides on seats at the local cinema and drive-in was to appeal to the teenager. But how do you go about doing that?
There were a number of experiments including bringing back the old monster movies but with a teenager slant. There was I was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) starring Michael Landon who is probably best remembered for his role on Little House on the Prairie.
There was also I was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957) starring Whit Bissell and Phyllis Coates.
Surf movies took off in the 1960s. Many of them were made for teenager fun with a total lack of seriousness about them.
One of the stars of a number of the better examples was Annette Funicello who started her career as a 'Mouseketeer' in the Mickey Mouse Club.
Legend has it she was forbidden to wear a bikini while working for Disney. Once she was out of her contract, however, she seemed to wear bikinis most of the time she was in from of the camera. This was a change many a male viewer appreciated.
Others, such as Elvis Presley, were making their bread with their music before getting roped into the film business.
This viewer grew up on '60s surf flicks as Saturday afternoon features on television. They were much appreciated on rainy days. This was in the '70s. In summer they reminded one of the good times on the beach and heralded in the good times yet to come.
In the 1960s there was also the music of The Shadows and the British submarine television show Stingray.
Much later came the American television show Baywatch which was nicknamed Babe watch. There were also the occasional great beach scene in the television show The Hulk, and Knight Rider.
The Young Go Wild
The Films of Summer
Gidget (1959), starring Sandra Dee and James Darren, is the story of a 17 year old girl who falls in love with a surfer and wants to take up surfing so she can be with him and his gang of surfers over the summer.
Gidget is based on Frederick Kohner's 1957 novel Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas. The title of the book sums up nicely the character of Gidget.
Gidget Goes Hawaiin (1961), starring Deborah Walley and James Darren, is a delightful sequel to the 1959 film.
Unfortunately, Sandra Dee was not available to play Gidget.
Deborah Walley took well to the character. There are silly moments in this movie made up for by the beauty to be found on the beaches of America's 50th state - Hawaii!
Gidget Goes to Rome (1963), starring Cindy Carol and James Darren, is the best of the Gidget films.There are delightful moments of misinterpretation resulting in Gidget not being able to stay out of trouble for long. She even has to be bailed out of jail.
Cindy Carol plays a more accident prone Gidget with the bounce back young women tend to have. This isn't really a surf film but it does deal with surfers and thus deserves inclusion.
There are two more Gidget movies worthy of note that don't have a strong connection to the surf: Gidget Grows Up (1969) and Gidget Gets Married (1972).
Gidget's Summer Reunion (1985), starring Caryn Richman and Dean Butler is a somewhat forgettable tele movie. Hawaii is featured with some nice surfing scenes.
Beach Party (1963), starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, was one weird and somewhat wonderful ride for teeny-boppers. An anthropologist by the name of Professor Robert Orville Sutwell (Robert Cummings) is studying the mating habits of the Southern California teenager and, in the process, he gets caught up in his own research.
His assistant, Marianne (Dorothy Malone), helps him to see other possibilities in the romance department. A highlight of the film is the appearances of Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his motorcycle gang. They provide action, drama but, most of all, slap-stick comedy.
Bikini Beach (1964), starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, is a truly mixed bag in which anything can happen. The surfers are back and there's a millionaire (Keenan Wynn) hanging around and happily stirring up trouble.
Pajama Party (1964), starring Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello, is another charming beach romp. It's low point is a song, 'Where did I go Wrong?' song by Dorothy Lamour. As much as I admire Lamour in most of her pictures, this performance doesn't suit her. A highlight is the appearance of long time comedian (he's from the silent period) Buster Keaton.
Blue Hawaii (1961), starring Elvis Presley and Joan Blackman, was one of the better films Presley managed to get himself involved in.
One of the worst would have to be Harum Scarum (1965) which still stinks worse than five day old fish left out in the sun.
In Blue Hawaii the 50th state of the USA is shown in all its beauty from both a surfer and a tourist point of view. The songs are not particularly memorably but the pretty girls tend to make up for this.
Doctor Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), starring Vincent Price, Frankie Avalon and Susan Hart, is a marvelous send up of both the beach films of the time and the James Bond movies. Take one extremely mad scientist (Vincent Price), add a gang of sexy female robots out to seduce certain influential males, throw in two bumbling investigators and you have some far out film. It definitely didn't hurt having the title song performed by The Supremes.
Drift (2013), starring Sam Worthington and Xavier Samuel, is an Australian film set in the early '70s. It deals with the growth of the surf industry.
The surf boards become shorter and the demand for them increases as more and more people get into surfing.
Point Break (1991), starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, is a great action film involving a gang of bank robbers and the FBI agents tracking them down.
The chase ends at Bells Beach in Victoria, Australia at a time when a record storm is producing lethal waves. The final moments of this movie are spectacular.
Blue Lagoon (1980), starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, is a movie about innocence and discovery. Two youngsters find themselves shipwrecked in an ideal setting. As they grow up they fall in love with one another. The scenes are filmed in a number of fantastic locales including on a private Fijian island.
Grease (1978), starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, is really a high school movie set in the 1950s. It is included here because of the opening sequence in which two young people have a summer romance before the start of a new school term.
The song Summer Nights said a lot for the generation who first watched this movie and has continued to say a lot about the joys to be had in summer to subsequent generations. This film was not only popular in the USA but also in Britain and Australia.
Surf Nazis Must Die (1987), starring Gail Neely and Barry Brenner, is a spoof of gang rivalry and warfare on US beaches.
It is a rather silly piece of work worth a good laugh here and there. The best thing about it is the poster designed for it which shows a Nazi surfer about to attack a bikini clad woman with a machine gun. The leader of the Neo-Nazis (Brenner) has to be called Adolf.
Young Einstein (1988), starring Yahoo Serious and Odile Le Clezio, this is an Australian comedy some Americans found hard to follow because of some of the in-jokes to do with Australia.
Long had Tasmania been referred to as the apple Isle of our country hence, if this alternate reality Einstein is to grow up in such a locale, there is the apparent need to feature plenty of apples in his growing up.
There is a sequence in the film in which young Einstein travels from Tasmania to Sydney in NSW that is hilarious if you are a New South Welshman. You see he journeys over a great mountain range and through one hell of a desert to get to where he wants to go. Not a big deal to someone living in the USA. To a local, however, it is damned obvious that he must have got lost more than once in order to have done so much travelling.
Here we have the wonderful if not brilliant feel good song by Icehouse, Great Southern Land.
One of the highlights of the film for me is when he looks at a tree, checks out the waves on an Australian beach and comes up with the revolutionary idea of creating a surfboard. Of course this is pure nonsense but still fun.
Yahoo Serious' birth name is Greg Gomez Pead. The Yahoos can be found as a tribe of wild men in the early British novel Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726). Now taking a wild man and his behavior seriously...well, you get the idea.
The film was strongly based on the notion that the real Albert Einstein was a genius with a keen sense of humor. Perhaps it should be noted that there were wobble-headed Einsteins in the 2nd Night at the Museum film.
16. Police Academy (1984), starring Steve Guttenberg and Kim Cattrall, started a franchise of films that so far is up to number seven. In most of these films the beach tends to feature sooner or later and, if not the beach, then some other body of water.
In the original Police Academy there's a wild beach scene reminiscent of those crazy '60s flicks. In another from this franchise there's an amusing spoof of Jaws where the gun happy Tackleberry (David Graf) convinces a shark to go elsewhere or be blown to pieces.
17. They're A Weird Mob (1966), starring Walter Chiari and Clare Dunne, is an excellent comedy about an Italian who winds up in Sydney, Australia and must find some way of getting along with the locals. In the end he not only gets along with them fine but even comes to like them.
There's a wonderful beach scene in which a lifeguard tries to get this Italian to stay between the flags where it is safe. He doesn't get it and so, after being in the dangerous part of the surf too long, he requires rescuing. After he is rescued he then understands that the lifeguard wasn't trying to be nasty to him in the first place but keep him from harm.
18. Psycho Beach Party (2000), starring Lauren Ambrose, is a clever spoof on not only the earlier Gidget movies but also the cheap slasher films of the '80s.
It is set at Malibu Beach in the 1960s. There are a series of mysterious deaths that appear to be related to a particular beach girl.
19. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), starring Mike Myers and Elizabeth Hurley, is the first and the best of the Austin Powers films. It is a send up of the '60s Bond films as well as other aspects of the swinging '60s. A super spy from the '60s is unfrozen and thus brought back to life to battle his old nemesis, Doctor Evil, who had recently been unfrozen. The fembots in this movie are reminiscent of the bikini machines of the earlier Doctor Goldfoot.
20. Local Hero (1983), starring Peter Riegert and Burt Lancaster, is a British film with some heart. An unspoilt town on the west coast of Scotland is due to be spoilt by an American oil company. The representative of the company sent to the town, however, falls in love with it.
A way is found to save the town from the worse the oil company could do. Marina (Jenny Seagrove) is the attractive researcher who seems to be more at home in the water than on dry land. Curiously, she happens to have webbed toes.
From Gidgets to Surfing Crusaders to Babe Watching to a possible Bikini Ban
The Television Shows of Summer
There was Gidget starring Sally Field. It span off the success of the novels and of the movies that had preceded it.
Like its predecessors, the television series highlighted California style surfing, sun-baking and summer in general. There was also a surfing sequence in one episode of The Flying Nun's first season which also starred Sally Field. It was a borrowing from Gidget.
In the live action '60s Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, there was a curious episode of Batman and Robin surfing while in wet pursuit of The Joker.
Strangely enough, there was an episode of the television program Gilligan's Island (1964-1967) in which a surfer rides a giant wave to the place where the shipwrecked passengers and crew of the S. S. Minnow happen to be. He even manages to ride a wave back to civilization. This does not, however, get Gilligan and company off their Island.
An episode of the Australian children's classic Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (1966-1970) featured surfing, swimming and life saving techniques at Bondi Beach, Sydney.
In Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980) surfing was part of the introduction to each episode and surfing also occurred elsewhere in some of the episodes. A remake of Hawaii Five-O first came out in 2010.
In Australia in the 1970s there was The Aunty Jack Show. This took the piss out of just about everything including bikers, surfers and hippies.
Ocean Girl (1994-1997), starring Marzena Godecki, was an Australian children's sf show that dealt with the plight of our oceans and sea life. It did well in Australia, the UK, the USA and Germany. As the show unfolds an Egyptian connection with Neri, the Ocean Girl, comes into being.
Baywatch (1989-1990), starring David Hasselhoff and Jeremy Jackson, has often been nick-named Babe Watch because of the attractive female cast members. (Meanwhile there have also been female viewers who have called the show Babe Watch because of handsome male cast members. Go figure.)
Viewers in Australia couldn't really take these television lifeguards too seriously and neither, no doubt, could the real Californian lifeguards of the day who watched the show. Even so, it was nice to have something on tele dedicated to the real heroes of the beach. Over the years competitions that have led to lasting friendships have developed between American lifeguards and their Australian counterparts.
Seachange (1998-2000), starring Sigrid Thornton, was a mix of comedy and drama set in a small seaside town. It was filmed at some pretty locations in Victoria, Australia.
Nowadays there's Bondi Rescue (2006-) - an Australian reality show dedicated to presenting real Australian lifeguards in action. (Despite being a reality show, there's more good than bad in this one.) There's also Home and Away (1988-) which is an Australian soap set in a coastal town in NSW and has received some overseas acclaim.
Unfortunately it hasn't all been sunshine and good surf of late for Australians who have grown up with, and have always loved, the beach culture that has been around since at least the 1960s. There has been a movement to ban the bikini and introduce a strict dress code for women. This code belongs in the Middle Ages and not in the 21st Century.
This code has been resisted at Cronulla and at other beach suburbs on the south coast of New South Wales. So-called documentary series, such as Dumb, Drunk and Racist, and Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl, however, use lies and half truths to try to validate the introduction of such a strict dress code.
The people who grew up in Australia in the 1960s, '70s, '80s and '90s, however, won't give up the freedom of their beaches without a fight.
In my play Fake News, staged in September, 2014 at the little theatre in Cronulla, south of Sydney during the spring festival, I have a character cry out in defiance of a no bikini rule. What's more, I have those who would bring about such a change called bullies which is in fact what they are.
More by this Author
Hell on Wheels, My Favorite Martian, Sugarfoot, Rawhide, Clint Eastwood, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Ghost Rider, Gunsmoke, John Wayne, Maverick, Roger Moore, Zorro, Deadwood, The Lone Ranger, Mexico.
Characters that don't quite fit into society as we know it happen to be the stuff of good television. They are the fish out of water we sometimes admire and sometimes have our fingers crossed for.
Standing tall and one person making a difference has long been part of the American identity. In propaganda terms it has been useful. Can one person really make a difference? John Wayne and Vietnam.
No comments yet.