“Gidget Goes to Rome” isn’t the best of the three Gidget feature films, but it may not be the worst?
Mike Connolly described the film as a “teenage takeoff on La Dolce Vita,” according to a Feb. 20, 1963, news brief.
In this film, we join Gidget and her friends for a third summer. Gidget (Cindy Carol) is about to go off to college and is planning a trip to Rome, Italy, with her friends — Lucy (Noreen Corcoran) and Libby (Trudi Ames). She’s trying to convince her boyfriend Moondoggie/Jeff (James Darren) and his buddies — Judge (Joby Baker) and Clay (Peter Brooks) — to come along. But before they can head abroad, Gidget’s parents need some convincing. They will only let Gidget go if she has a chaperon. Judge enlists his rich, eccentric Aunt Albertina (Jessie Royce Landis). Without her knowledge, Gidget’s father (Don Porter) writes to an old friend he met in Italy during World War II, Paolo Cellini (Cesare Danova).
When the group arrives in Italy, Gidget is ready to have a romantic trip with Jeff while they explore the Eternal City. But Jeff abandons her and falls for their tour guide, Daniela (Danielle De Metz). While Gidget is hurt, Paolo enters the picture to stealthily watch after Gidget; saying he wants to write a magazine article about a young American exploring Italy. She develops a crush and leaves her friends to explore the people of Rome with Paolo.
If you are looking for a beach film, “Gidget Goes to Rome” isn’t for you.
The film starts with an obligatory scene of Gidget on the beach carrying a surf board. That maybe lasts five minutes before launching into an Italian adventure.
Shot on location in Rome, the Technicolor scenery is gorgeous, colorful and travelogue-esque.
Film newcomer Cindy Carol was cast as Gidget.
Carol was selected for the lead role after a six-month, cross country search by producer Jerry Bresler, according to a Jan. 25, 1963, news brief “Valley Girl Given Role of ‘Gidget.'” She was picked for being a “typical teenager.”
Carol is admittedly syrupy sweet and squealy, but she has more of a Gidget personality than Deborah Walley had in “Gidget Goes Hawaiian.” In the 1959 film, Gidget is painted as a straight-A, intelligent, Tom boy who finally finds her place on the beach. Walley’s Gidget was written as man crazy and impulsive. But Carol brings back the intelligence of Gidget, as she spouts off facts about Italy and quotes authors.
Gidget even says to her friends, “We are not here for the sole purpose of looking at men,” which seems more along the lines of the 1959 Gidget who wasn’t interested in “man-hunts.”
Cindy Carol was cast because Walley was pregnant. For the role, Carol was signed to a seven year contract with Columbia, and the film’s credits say “introducing Cindy Carol,” however, this was one of her last film roles; with her career ending in 1965.
James Darren (who receives top billing) and Joby Baker are the only two actors who appeared in all three of the feature films. Jessie Royce Landis steals the show in “Gidget Goes to Rome” and has the wittiest lines. For example, when Landis first meets Gidget, she immediately says, “Oh God, you’ll be the sweet one.”
Another repeat cast member is Jeff Donnell as Gidget’s mom. Don Porter plays Gidget’s father for the first time, and reprises the role later on the TV show. Also, keep your eyes peeled for Eddie Foy, Jr., who has a walk-on role at the very beginning as a man wanting to use the phone book in Malibu.
While “Gidget Goes to Rome” ranks second for me in the three Gidget feature films. There are parts I love and parts I think are stupid.
I love the gorgeous, filmed-on-location scenery and the fashion – the goofy fashion show is a highlight of clothing designs by Fontana.
But much of the plot bugs me. The character of Moondoggie is an absolute jerk. He and Gidget go on this trip together … and then he dumps her for the tour guide?! (sorry, spoilers). Also, at times, Carol’s Gidget is a bit squealy. Also her run ins with the Italian police are ridiuclous.
Another silly aspect of this film is Gidget’s daydreams. If you remember in “Gidget Goes Hawaiian,” Gidget has daydreams about being a loose woman. In “Gidget Goes to Rome,” Gidget imagines that she is Cleopatra and another daydream as a Christian martyr in the gladiator ring as Daniela, Judge and Jeff watched.
The Sept. 12, 1963, New York Times Bosely Crowther review was brief and neither praised nor criticized “Gidget Goes to Rome.” Crowther noted, Carol played Gidget with “proper pout and correct ingenuousness.”
“As one of Gidget’s friends explains, it’s part of her ‘growing up.’ Gidget falls out of love in time … and all ends happily. Jeff sums up the entire experience in two immortal sentences: ‘I guess everybody falls in love in Rome in the summer time. It’s that old devil Italian moon.’”
Another film writer, Erskin Johnson, said the “Gidget” films had become “gadgets” to promote young actresses.
“Gidget Goes to Rome” sums the whole experience as “part of growing up.” While the feature film portion of the Gidget series ends with “Gidget Goes to Rome,” the television aspect began two years later and continued for 20 years.
To read our reviews of the other two films: