Film reviews and more since 2009

Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961) review

Dir. Paul Wendkos

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★½

My completionist tendencies have trained me not to dive into sequels to a flash-in-the-pan success with anything more than my fingers crossed. After catching the original 1959 film Gidget on a total whim, I struck a mental agreement with myself that I’d watch the original three, theatrically released sequels and pay little mind to the subsequent installments. About 20 minutes into Gidget Goes Hawaiian, I was disarmed enough to ponder, if only for a few fleeting moments, potentially tunneling even deeper down the rabbit-hole than I initially planned.

I don’t think it will happen, ultimately, but it’s something of a testament to this unexpectedly sweet and lively sequel to the late-fifties sleeper-hit. Gidget offered surprisingly progressive depictions of its female lead at the dawn of America’s counterculture movement that would define the sixties. Gidget Goes Hawaiian is far less significant in an external sense, but far more nimble and effective on its feet in a comedic one.

Francie “Gidget” Lawrence (Deborah Walley, filling in for Sandra Dee) and her beau Jeff “Moondoggie” Matthews (James Darren) have just become an item — right on time for Gidget’s father (the great Carl Reiner) to spring a surprise trip to Hawaii on his daughter. This wouldn’t be the end of the world scenario Gidget makes it out to be if not for the fact that Moondoggie is only home from college for the summer. She insists she won’t go, runs to tell Moondoggie, and gets mortally offended when he encourages her to take the trip of a lifetime.

On the plane-ride to one of the most scenic states in the country, a miserable Gidget meets a few new faces, including Abby (Vicki Trickett), a highfalutin young socialite, whose parents mix well with Gidget’s. Also on the plane is famous dancer Eddie Horner (Michael Callan) who, like all boys, takes an immediate interest in the diminutive surfer gal. However, Gidget can’t even muster the energy to fake a good time, prompting her father to bring Moondoggie to Hawaii as a surprise. Of course, he just so happens to arrive on the beach when Gidget has taken to the shores (and Eddie’s embrace), rendering the two at-odds from there. Gidget shacks up with Eddie while Moondoggie decides to have some fun with Abby.

When a lead character is recast in a sequel (or better yet, recast in each installment), things can get wonky fast. It’s a testament to Deborah Walley that she retains all of Gidget’s best qualities that Sandra Dee made pop a few years prior. Not since the Shiloh franchise has a series moved so fluidly after a significant change to the cast.

Furthermore, Gidget has matured since the last time we saw her. She’s far more cognizant of her power, specifically on men, and she manages to convey it in a way that’s less bratty and more strikingly independent. Gidget also has a sublime rant about the misery of love in the third act. But it wouldn’t be nearly as juicy without a talented screenwriter.

Ruth Brooks Flippen (who wrote several episodes of The Brady Bunch, and later, the Gidget TV show) has a way with dialog that reveals itself throughout Gidget Goes Hawaiian. It’s that distinctively Old Hollywood way of writing where characters will sometimes speak for two or three uninterrupted sentences, as only figures in movies can. Flippen makes it work due to the speed and wit she employs. Early in the film, Gidget has a great retort directed at her parents: “After years of proving you can be trusted, leave room for one little doubt, and they’re in hysterics!” She has a point. And so do her parents, later in the film.

Another uproariously funny moment comes when Eddie elbows his way into meeting Abby. Rather than scoff and elbow him away, she concedes to his advances. “That’s what I like — a doll who faces the inevitable. May I join you?”

The broader narrative focus that incorporates more characters and plays with each of them like chess pieces on a board permits Gidget Goes Hawaiian to — at the very least — not feel like a retread of formula. The third act converges a slapstick style misunderstanding with all the fixings of a mystery; except we, the audience, know everything and are waiting for the characters to catch up. With the odds stacked against it, the first Gidget sequel impressively succeeds.

NOTE: As of this writing, Gidget Goes Hawaiian is now streaming on Tubi, free of charge.

My review of Gidget
My review of Gidget Goes to Rome

Starring: Deborah Walley, James Darren, Vicki Trickett, Michael Callan, Carl Reiner, Jeff Donnell, Eddie Foy Jr, and Peggy Cass. Directed by: Paul Wendkos.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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