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May 27, 2010

The John Williams Blog-a-thon: Gidget Goes to Rome

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Paul Wendkos - 1963
Columbia Pictures Region 1 DVD

A guy's got to start somewhere. The film scorer commonly known as John Williams was billed as Johnny Williams during his first decade. Gidget Goes to Rome was one of the early composting credits on a solidly mid-budget studio production, though not the first association with the "Gidget" series. Still a relative newcomer, William provided orchestration for the first film, in 1959. Previous to this film, Williams had his first credit for scoring a little American International Pictures programmer titled Daddy-O. Whatever Williams had done on Gidget, he must have clicked with director Paul Wendkos, giving Williams the opportunity to compose the score for Because They're Young in 1960. While Gidget Goes to Rome does not have the kind of music one thinks of regarding John Williams, the film allowed the composer to have a little bit of fun.

Some critics have noted the variations on the musical theme for Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye. Williams might be said in retrospect to have prepped for that film, almost ten years later, with his variations on the "Gidget" title song. Most of the music is what would be expected for a Hollywood film to evoke Italy, or something faintly exotic, as when Gidget imagines herself to be teenage Cleopatra, with white sneakers. A brass band playing music for Romans to twist the night away sounds like the prototype for Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass. Maybe Williams direction was to primarily to provide continuity where George Duning, Columbia Pictures' house composer, left off, when Gidget went Hawaiian. In terms of film music, Gidget Goes to Rome demonstrates that even future Oscar winners sometimes have to toil inconspicuously, just to prove they can get the job done.

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As for the film itself, Gidget Goes to Rome is the last, and least of the three feature films. There are a few moments worth savoring, with Paul Wendkos giving sway to his inner Orson Welles when Gidget wanders by herself in a museum, surrounded by old statues. Cindy Carol is blandly cute, but less interesting than the adenoidal Deborah Walley, who in turn could never quite fill the beach sandals of the underrated and under appreciated Sandra Dee. An overview of the original novel and origins of Gidget suggests that there is far richer material than is indicated by the films. Nonetheless, the first film is key to introducing surf culture to the mainstream, while the second film is much smarter and funnier than might be assumed of a film titled Gidget Goes Hawaiian. I am assuming Universal's exclusive contract made Dee too expensive to continue the role with which she is best known. Unfortunately for Dee, Universal squandered the promise of an actress who showed considerable ability with Vincente Minnelli, Douglas Sirk, and especially Delmer Daves. Aside from Paul Wendkos, only James Darren as Gidget's love, "Moondoggie" remains the constant of the three films. Andrew Sarris is dismissive of the three "Gidget" films as examples of Paul Wendkos's filmography. I would suggest all three films have varying degrees of reward to those who are serious about looking beyond genre, any genre. The "Gidget" films might not exactly be art, termite or otherwise, but they are genial, unpretentious fun.

For more on John Williams and his music, visit Edward Copeland's site, done in conjunction with Ali Arikan.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 27, 2010 12:17 AM