In honor of the Classic Movie Blog Association’s latest spring blogathon “Fun in The Sun,” I wanted to highlight two movies that might be outside the normal purview of what we cover on the blog.
However, if it’s not apparent already, I do have at least a minor interest in the subgenre of beach party-type movies that proliferated with Gidget and then Frankie and Anette during the 1960s. Here, without further ado, are two films that fit into the tail-end of this craze.
My blog was initially founded on the idea of looking deeper at the best movies, but somedays you just need to lighten up and watch Elvis in Clambake. I’m no authority on the Elvis musicals, but Viva Las Vegas always feels like the standard by which to measure all future entries.
By my own admission, Clambake follows the same pattern and so you’re not watching to get blown away by the plot. This is purely a sun-soaked excuse to watch Elvis sing some tunes and woo the prettiest girl in the picture.
Scott Hayward was born into the family of a rich oil tycoon. Being Elvis, he’s also devilishly handsome and hopped up on fast wheels. However, he’s a young man who doesn’t want to be a victim of his money and possessions. If he meets a girl and falls in love, there shouldn’t be any strings attached. Like that would happen.
Still, he meets Tom Wilson (Hutchins) during a pit stop at a gas station on the way to Miami Beach. They strike up an immediate liking and look at each other’s life with a certain amount of relish. So they quickly agree to switch places and continue their journeys.
Elvis becomes the anonymous water ski instructor and Hutchins puts on his most pronounced Texas accent to carry off the overblown bravado of an oil kid. Arguably, the only other person to top him is James Gregory going for the fences as Presley’s dear old dad, who shows up later to check in on his boy.
For now, Bill Bixby is the most obvious antagonist as a wealthy moneybags who represents everything Elvis rails against. He can be found regaling all the pretty girls with his exploits and then picking the loveliest one to ride at his side. He’s accustomed to this kind of entitlement.
The movie itself is compromised of all the outlandish camp color schemes one would expect because it’s this kind of backdrop making these studio films what they were. There’s not one shred of nuance. There isn’t meant to be.
Clambake also feels like a last bastion of the teen films earlier in the decade even as Elvis’s own celebrity was in this complicated state with the cultural storm whipped up by The Beatles and Britishmania. Regardless, his charisma is undeniable whether he’s on the playground messing around with kiddos or dancing with pretty girls shimmying around at the clambake in their bikinis. I don’t actually remember too many of the tunes, it’s more so the experience that leaves a mild impression.
In a former life, Hayward was also an engineer who created “goop,” the colloquial term for a hardener that earns its own pop song replete with dancing girls and a refurbished boat hull. Beyond getting the pretty brunette Dianne Carter (Shelly Fabares), his other goal is to win the local Orange Bowl Regatta.
Like all the perennial Elvis movies, there’s a climactic race, this time on speedboats, and he gets the girl. What else? Shelly Fabares starred in three films with The King and their chemistry is affectionate even if the vehicles themselves are mostly paint-by-numbers and inane.
There’s a time and place for everything under the sun and given your disposition, Clambake definitely seems to fit the bill of “Fun in The Sun.” It’s easy enough to enjoy watching them drive off into the sunset. And it’s not so much about the foregone destination but the goofy, totally outlandish journey to get us there.
Don’t Make Waves
Don’t Make Waves stands at a strange crossroads as a starring vehicle for Tony Curtis, whose box office was mostly waning. You had the international appeal of Claudia Cardinale, and then the emerging allure of Sharon Tate.
Curtis was also reunited with director Alexander Mackendrick a decade after the prominent acclaim of Sweet Smell of Success. This is a much more puerile brand of satire extrapolated from the novel Muscle Beach by Ira Wallach.
Vic Mizzy, who famously penned the incomparable theme to Green Acres, composed the music, while the titular theme song was sung by none other than Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman of the Byrds! It’s unmistakable even as they aren’t normally associated with the surf music scene.
The screwball antics of the movie are instigated with Curtis and Cardinale. She’s a fiery painter leaving a Malibu panorama behind and unwittingly sending his car freefalling down the coast. When it careens into the road below and causes a collision with her and an oncoming bus, she has the nerve to blame his incompetence. He’s left running around in his tidy whities, clothes on fire, with a car totally demolished in a matter of minutes. It’s a decent, if slightly exaggerated, way to begin a movie.
His Carlo Cofield, though destitute, takes an immediate interest in the local beach scene, and it’s true the ocean feels alive with activity, from bodybuilders, surfing dogs, and pretty girls. Despite all the bad juju, she’s brought into his life, Laura Califanti feels slightly responsible for him. Through her male friend (Robert Webber), Curtis somehow gets a gig as a swimming pool salesman, and although there are things that happen and these vague romantic hijinks, there’s not much of a motor to the picture.
Alexander Mackendrick had a fine pedigree with comedies in the U.K., but he can’t do too much with Don’t Make Waves because there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to the plot. Nor does its attempt at satire feel especially original or inspired.
But like a picture such as Harper or Bob Carol Ted and Alice, it’s another film looking to do its own pastiche of the counterculture. The funny thing is, it feels quite twee and out of touch if not exactly in the best taste. It tries its best to be salacious and cheeky.
Curtis gets manhandled and tossed around in his wince-inducing introduction to Sharon Tate’s bronze beauty Malibu. But it gets worse. He’s totally smitten spending extra time watching her acrobatic exploits doing flips on the nearby trampoline with the point of view shots lingering over her tanned figure.
Still, some of the holdovers from earlier generations are a pleasure. Although it was based on a novel, I feel like we could have entertained a movie with just Cardinale and Curtis if the writers had figured a way to flesh out this story around them. We also get a cameo from Mr. and Mrs. Jim Bachus. Future couple Mort Sahl and China Lee turn up and there’s even Edward Bergen in a bizarre supporting spot.
The finale does nicely to top the chaos of the opening as a notorious California mudslide swallows up Cofield’s new home on a hillside. It’s another totally outrageous setpiece that actually does the movie a few favors. At the very least, it’s memorable. Cardinale literally has to scramble for her life suspended over the abyss below.
There are a lot of curious elements in this movie joined together, and it makes for a few minutes of diversion even if it doesn’t always work too well. If any of the talents piques your interest, it might be worth some mild consideration.
It seems like Elvis was almost always having fun in the sun (Blue Hawaii, Fun in Acapulco, Viva Las Vegas). I’ve seen some of them, but not Clambake. Good choice, though, for the theme of this blogathon. Sad to say, I don’t know Don’t Make Waves either, but will look it up when, as you suggest, I need a lighthearted diversion.
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Reading your post makes me feel like a kid again. I was just a tad too young to see these films on my own, but I sure remember reading about them in the move fan magazines. They might not be classics, but they sure seem like they are fun – just like a day at the beach.
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