“Gidget Goes Hawaiian” (1961) is the worst of the Gidget series. Even the 1969 made-for-TV film, “Gidget Grows Up” starring Karen Valentine, is better.
The success of the 1959 “Gidget” film was followed by two feature films, three made-for-TV movies and two television shows.
As previously mentioned, I adore the film “Gidget” (1959) that spawned a beach culture craze. However, the film that followed two years later is abysmal.
In the film, Moondoggie/Jeff Matthews (James Darren) returns from college. He and Gidget spend a carefree summer together, and Moondoggie gives Gidget his fraternity pin. All is bliss until Gidget’s parents (Jeff Donnell, Carl Reiner) surprise her with a trip to Hawaii. Rather than being overjoyed, Gidget is outraged, because she will have to leave Moondoggie, who only has two weeks of summer vacation left. In a tizzy, she runs to tell him the bad news. Rather than being angry with her, Moondoggie is happy that she has the opportunity to go on this trip. Naturally Gidget assumes that this means he doesn’t love her, so she flies off the handle, gives him back his fraternity pin and decides she wants to go to Hawaii.
On the flight to Hawaii, Gidget meets Abby Stewart (Vicki Trickett) who is spoiled and boy crazy. Also on their flight is popular TV dancer Eddie Horner (Michael Callan), who Abby immediately sets her sights on, but Eddie is more interested in Gidget. Once in Hawaii, Gidget mopes around and misses Moondoggie. To cheer her up, Dad invites Moondoggie to Hawaii so the two can patch up their relationship. But when Moondoggie arrives, he finds Gidget with Eddie. Filled with anger, Moondoggie sets out to have a good time with Abby and the two work to make the other jealous. Abby is also jealous of all the male attention Gidget is receiving and starts a rumor that she is a loose woman and sleeps around.
The whole purpose of the original story of “Gidget” is the fact that she is a petite girl who surfed. There are two surfing scenes in the movie, but surfing is not the focus here. While the 1959 film is a splash of Malibu color, the cinematographer and director did not take advantage of the lush Hawaiian scenery while shooting on location.
The issue with “Gidget Goes Hawiian” boils down to this is the casting of Gidget.
Deborah Walley simply is no Gidget. She is whiney, shrill, squealy and honestly isn’t cute. Of the actresses that played Gidget (Sandra Dee, Cindy Carol, Sally Field, Karen Valentine, Monie Ellis, Kathy Gori, Caryn Richman), Walley is probably the worst.
Walley has a jazzy moment on the dance floor with Michael Callan—the original Riff in the Broadway version of “West Side Story—and later does a solo hula, which comes across as awkward. She later has a bizarre dream sequence where she imagines herself as a streetwalker and fan dancer.
“Frankly, we’ll take Miss Dee’s direct sweetness to Miss Walley’s squealing, calliope innocence any day,” Howard Thompson wrote in his Aug. 10, 1961, New York Times review.
Even the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner, agreed Sandra Dee was the best fit for the character. Gidget went from a cute, tomboy to being just like her boy crazy friends in this film.
Columbia wanted Sandra Dee to reprise her role, but she was under contract at Universal Pictures who would not release her for the film.
Walley apparently didn’t want to be cast in the film, because she considered herself a serious actor who was acting in New York. More than 150 other actresses were considered, according to “Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave” by Thomas Lisanti.
James Darren reprised his role as Moondoggie and is the best reason to watch the film. Jeff Donnell and Carl Reiner are fine as Gidget’s parents, though it is odd to see THE Carl Reiner in a “Gidget” film. The cast is rounded off by Peggy Cass and Eddie Foy, Jr.—another odd casting choice—as Abby’s parents.
This film does something which most sequels are guilty of, which is assuming the audience is stupid. “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” begins with Moondoggie giving Gidget his pin…but Gidget already agreed to wear his pin at the end of the 1959 film.
“James Darren is the steady lad who lands Gidget (as before, if we recall),” the New York Times also notes that we already knew they were going steady.
However, this film doesn’t ignore the fact that the 1959 film exists. As Gidget recounts her romance with Moondoggie to Abby, there are three painful reenactments of the 1959 version with Deborah Walley acting as Sandra Dee’s character, down to her wearing the same red, white and blue striped bathing suit.
The film also assumes the audience is stupid with Joby Baker’s role of Judge Hamilton, a college student Gidget meets on the plane to Hawaii and one of the many males flanking. In the 1959 film, Baker played one of the surf bums Stinky who sells Gidget her surf board.
Gidget’s moping about Moondoogie is pretty ridiculous as she says things such as, “I can’t swim in Hawaii, it’s the same ocean Jeff and I used to swim in.”
The film gets even more painful to watch once Moondoggie arrives in Hawaii and he and Gidget work to make each other jealous. Gidget hangs all over the guys and also does crazy stunts—such as a dangerous water ski jump—to give a thrill seeking vibe and show Moondogie she no longer cares for him, though this is false. These types of plots are frustrating to me anyways. I’m watching the film for their romance; not their petty arguement.
Though Sandra Dee is a spunkier fit for “Gidget,” I’m not even sure if she could have saved this film with its ridiculous script.
“Gidget Goes Hawaiian” is just one of many films proving that the original will generally be better than the sequel.