Thursday, April 11, 2013

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Ride the Wild Surf (1964)


Fabian as Jody Wallis
Shelley Fabares as BrieMatthews
Peter Brown as Chase Colton
Barbara Eden as Augie Poole
Tab Hunter as Steamer Lane
Susan Hart as Lily Kilua
James Mitchum as Eskimo
John Anthony Hayes as Frank Decker
Roger Davis as Charlie
Catherine McLeod as Mrs. Kilua

The Gospel According to Clyde

In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth. But the earth wasn’t much of a place because there wasn’t any water. As far as the eye could see there was nothing but dirt, sand, some crab grass, and maybe a few ears of corn up there around the North American Continent.

So then God made the oceans and the seas and saw that it was good. And he made some fihies.  But after a while, God grew tired of watching the fishies do nothing but swim around all day and all night.  And besides, it was hell trying to clean a fish tank that big.    So to add a little atmosphere,  he made the surf and the waves and saw that it was good.  And for a long time God was happy.

But soon, God became bored once again. You can only watch the waves hitting the shore for so long before you begin saying to yourself, “If you’ve seen one wave, you’ve seen them all.”

So in his infinite wisdom God made the surf board and placed it on the shores of Malibu and Waimea. But amen I say unto you, the surfboard was lonely on the shore with nothing to do. Not to mention that it did nothing but lay around all day.  So again, in all of his graciousness, God made the surfer man, who did praise unto God and did thus climb aboard the surfboard and rode the surf mightily from sea to shining sea and God saw that it was good.

On the last day, God rewarded man by bestowing upon him the bikini. But upon seeing that the bikini looked a bit silly on Surfer Man, who had no boobs,  God created woman and slid her inside of the bikini  instead of Surfer Man. And when God saw what he had done, he knew that it was very very very damn good. And so did the surfer man. And he did praise God mightily and even lit a candle.

We all have our guilty film pleasures. These are the movies that you may have watched at one time or another that have for the most part been trashed by the critics and/or public, or movies that should not be viewed with any relevance if you consider yourself a real film connoisseur. You know, a snob.  They are not films you would normally bring up in a public forum, or brag about in too many private conversations either.

It’s not the fact that you watched these cinematic exercises that make them a guilty pleasures. It’s the fact that you have probably wallowed in them several times over the years.

I have quite a few movies like this that I generally don’t own up to  as being favorites. But I have decided to cleanse my soul, not only by admitting that I have actually seen Ride The Wild Surf, but that I relish the time spent watching it and will probably watch it many times before it’s time to go to movie heaven where St. Peter will scornfully cast me aside for daring to advocate for you to partake in this epic tale of fun in the Hawaiian Sun. 

Now don’t get me wrong. Most Surfer  Movies that starred Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, and the dumbest group of over age 25 to 30 year olds pretending to be teenagers ever to hit the big screen are painful film experiences.  But things were a bit different in the sixties when these films, strictly a product of their time, caught a wave into the local neighborhood cinema. 

We had TV’s, but there were only about three channels one could view for entertainment.  There were no video games, no Iphones or Ipods, no DVD’s, no home computers, and no satellite dish or cable.  How did we ever survive?  Oh, it wasn’t all that bad.  If you think we had it rough let me tell you about this guy named Lincoln and his log cabin.

We had other options though.  You could put some 45’s on the record player and twist the night away.  You could even get the 60’s equivalent of an Ipod, a portable one speaker a.m. transistor radio bringing you the top forty hits through either your two inch speaker or an earphone.  No, that’s not a typo.  It was one single earpiece with very shitty sound.  You wanted stereo sound?  You had better have the big bucks and it went in your living room, not in your car.  The car generally had a better speaker but the a.m. sound still was shit. 

Other than that, you could head downtown to the theater and catch a movie.  If you were lucky enough to have wheels, you might even catch a double feature at the drive-in, or you might go there and not watch the movie at all. What?  You mean you still haven’t seen Grease?

Most young guys like myself went to films like Beach Party and Beach Blanket Bingo simply to ogle at the female flesh shoved inside some rather flimsy material. Except for Annette. 

Her bathing suit was always very chaste and so was she which probably made her seem hotter than she was.  Although by her last beach movie, I’m told she did finally dip herself into a real honest to goodness bikini.  I guess when Uncle Walt wasn’t looking. 

But Annette was the girl you were going to marry, so it was okay that she was as chaste as Doris Day in a movie with Rock Hudson.   You didn’t want her to be just another stray bimbo on the beach with a name like Sugar Cane.  She had nice cute little names like Dee-dee.   

As to why any teenage girls went to these movies, you may have to ask one of them because I don’t really know and have never asked although I have my suspicions.  Those swim trunks were always kind of tight. 

Even at the age of thirteen and fourteen I knew these films were idiotic and was bored with anything that happened plot wise when the music quit and the jiggling stopped.  Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) the worst motorcycle gang leader in history, would then show up for some dysfunctional slapstick while the girls and guys took a break to replenish their suntan lotion supply.  I personally wanted to kick Zip and his whole motorcyle gang of nincimpoops off a cliff, preferably above the Grand Canyon.  I wanted to yell at the screen, “Just show us some more wiggily butts and bouncy boobs!. “  

Yeah, you know.  Teenage boy talk.  Except we didn’t really put it quite that nicely.  I just can’t bring myself to say ass and tits now that I’ve  grown up and am a responsible adult.

But nothing is etched in stone and there are in fact a couple of these surfing type movies that I actually enjoyed. Well, technically, you can’t really call the two that I like Beach Movies because neither actually fit the criteria even if they were directed at that particular audience. Of those two movies, the one that serves our purposes for this review is Ride the Wild Surf.

The reason Ride the Wild Surf was a cut above the norm is because instead of third grade level comedy capers, it decided it wanted to go in an opposite direction. The producers, directors, the writers, and powers above decided to take the genre and turn it upside down by featuring a bunch of people who could act (somewhat), several romances that didn’t rely on anyone being kidnapped by a klutzy motorcycle gang, and instead of third grade comedy you get fourth grade dramedy.  Hey, an improvement is an improvement so don’t be so judgmental.

Ride the Wild Surf also has a lot of something else. It has a whole bunch of surfing in it which is something that the Beach Party movies never had very much of.  In those films, the participants spent about 90 percent of their time on the beach. Which is why they probably haf titles like Beach Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini instead of Surferboard Parchesi or How to Wax a Wild Surfboard. 

In this film, sometimes you get the real kind of surfing, but about half the time you get the phony kind of surfing which takes place in front of a huge green screen with waves being projected onto the background.  The rule is, if it’s a close up of a member of our all star cast, they are on the studio back lot.  If you watched the video at the top, you really don’t need me to explain that to you.  If you didn’t watch, why not?  It wasn’t easy putting that thing together.  Have a little respect.  Just kidding.

Put on your thinking caps and try to keep up as I give you the plot synopsis. Three surfers, Jody (Fabian), Chase (Peter Brown), and Steamer (Tab Hunter), travel to Hawaii to surf the really big waves there that you can’t seem to find on the shores of California. Sort of the last big thrill before they move on with their sad and wretched lives. And of course, it doesn’t take long for our three heroes to get connected with their love interests.

Steamer meets his gal pal  when she shows up on a beach riding a horse. He finds out later that her name is Lily Kalua (Susan Hart) and that she lives on a farm with her mother (Catherine McLeod) who absolutely hates surfers. She hates them because her husband decided to get on his surfboard and catch a wave down to Borneo. When you meet Mrs. Kalua, you’ll understand why.

Speaking of the luau, during the party Chase watches as Augie Poole (Barbara Eden) does hand to hand combat with one of the guys. She loses that match but then goads Chase into a match after he calls her a girl nut. Since Augie is a black belt she quickly pins Chase and demands that Chase say Uncle. Chase, being the stuffed shirt that he is, says nothing and shows us what a sore loser he is. Later, Augie tracks him down and apologizes for having the audacity to lick him in a fair fight. Well, this was the sixties and women hadn’t even burned their first bra yet so please make allowances. What we find out though is that Augie is an adventurous fun loving gal, and Chase is just an old stick in the mud wanting to do nothing but spoil her fun.

As for Jody, his gal is Brie Matthews (Shelley Fabares whose other career consisted of playing Mary Stone on the Donna Reed Show, Francine Webster on One Day at a Time, and Christine Armstong on Coach). They get hooked up when Jody volunteers to take her to Augie who is with Chase since Augie and Brie are best friends. Jody’s big hangup is phonies. He hates phonies and since Jody thinks everyone is a phony to some extent, I guess he hates everybody.

Later, Brie tries to convince Jody that he shouldn’t have dropped out of college and that he could go back and make it if he really really tries. It is then that Jody decides to go for the King of the Surf title which will get his name on a Surfboard by Phil and some cash to obtain his PHD in the many uses of surfboard wax.

To do so, he must be the last surfer surfing at Waimea and outlast the previous year’s winner, Eskimo. (James Mitchum, one of the begotten sons of Robert) But before that can happen, Jody faces a couple of problems. He accidentally tries to take another surfer’s nose off with his surfboard and that surfer is now out for revenge. To add to his misery, poor old Jody suffers a wipe out, and instead of wanting to conquer the waves some thirty feet high, he becomes Mr. Chicken. Plus, he still has to deal with his “Everybody’s a phony” psychosis.  What can I say?  Life’s a beach I guess.

And that pretty much sums it up. In the middle of all of this high concept drama we get a lot of surfing as the guys surf this beach and that beach while they wait for the waves at Waimea to come up. At one point you might get confused thinking they are at the same beach on the same day but they are not. I figured this out by listening more closely to the narrator, and by noticing that Brie and Augie’s bathing suits kept changing colors as they sat in the sand ogling their surfer guys whom they have fallen madly in love with in just the short span of 24 hours or less.

As for real surfing, obviously it is done by stunt doubles but what makes these scenes a huge cut above what you generally see in these types of films is that there was a real effort made to show us some pretty good surfing. And, they even made sure each and every real life surfer was wearing the exact same bathing suits as the stars did. And just so they didn’t get messed up on which suit was worn by who and on what day, both stars and stunt doubles wear the same bathing suits throughout the film. Of course, it could be that since the only thing these guys do is surf, and that holding a job might be a strange concept for them, they could only afford the one pair of trunks.

But either way you go you will like the surfing scenes and if not you can admire the beefcake if you are a truly red blooded American gal (or any gal from anywhere), or even if you’re just another guy if that’s your preference. 

If you are a guy (Or even a gal if that’s your bag.  We are all inclusive here.) you can stare at Barbara Eden’s navel that she was never allowed to expose during five seasons of I Dream of Jeannie but would uncover her belly button in all it’s glory all fifteen years later. Anyway, in my opinion a two piece flowered bathing suit trumps harem outfit any old day of the week. And there’s something about Shelley Fabares’s very very bleached blonde hair that always has me debating as to whether she should have gone with that color for the rest of her career or not. Who knows, if she had she could possibly have been the next Marilyn....nah, just kidding.

And where else do you get authentic surfer local color such as a big fat guy named Phil chewing on a cigar while he waxes surfboards and gives out truly authentic surfing commentary and advise?  Heck, this movie is worth tuning into just to see Surfboards by Phil in action.

I think the thing about Ride the Wild Surf is that when you put it up against crap like Bikini Beach, Muscle Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo, or even How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, it comes off looking like a much better film than it probably is.

Although the various romantic entanglements are no more compelling than a day time soap opera, the actors involved manage to do a pretty good job working with very little.

Many of these young thespians went on to further their career in some fashion or another. Fabian had some nice guest star roles in films like North to Alaska, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, The Longest Day and Five Weeks in a Balloon, a film in which Barbara Eden was also along for the ride.

Fabares also made a couple of films with Elvis, and played Brian Piccolo's wife Joy in the much acclaimed TV movie Brian’s Song. Eden did the film version of Harper Vally PTA which was based on Jeannie Riley’s hit song, but her most memorable film role for me was playing the sexually suppressed but hotter than a firecracker Angela Benedict in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao.  This after having made an impression as  “playing hard to get” but very hot nurse Laura Rogers in The New Interns.   After playing Jeannie though, it was pretty much a wrap for Eden’s theatrical film career but she did do a beehive full of TV weepers. 

Tab Hunter has had some decent film roles over the years including a pretty good one as a baseball player in Damn Yankees and made a comeback in the John Waters film Polyester

James Mitchum, who inherited his father’s looks but apparently not much else, did make many films after this one, but none that really made an impact.  He kept company with Mickey Rooney and Hugh O’Brian in a film called Ambush Bay that I just ordered from Amazon out of curiosity.  Yes, that actually happens sometimes when I’m writing one of these reviews.  But Town Without Pity, a movie I have seen several times, comes along with it so that gave me a nudge.

If there is a weakest link in this ensemble, Susan Hart takes home the honors. She pretty much seems to sleepwalk through the movie with two expressions: glum and glummer. And we will not forgive her for taking up so much screen time doing that crappy dance at the luau in which a case of arthritis seems to have descended into her hips.  She went on to appear in the Dr. Goldfoot & The Bikini Machine, which only proves one thing:  Quit while you’re behind. 

Except she didn’t.  Ms. Hart was smarter than all of us.  She married the producer and president of American International Pictures and teen film maker connoisseur, James H. Nicholson, thus coming out better than just about anybody else involved in this film. 

Peter Brown would later star in the hit TV series, Laredo.  But he didn’t stop there.  There’s not too many TV shows before 2005 that he didn’t make at least one guest appearance.  In 2006, he did a western called Hell to Pay, and that’s the last of his credits on the IMDB so your guess is as good as mine as to what he’s been doing since.

Now I know that despite what I say here, you’re not about to rush out and rent or buy this film although you may find it a nice addition to your DVD library as a historical reference.  Maybe your kid can even take it to school for show and tell.

Or you may just want to slip it into your Netflix queue out of curiosity since it does give you a chance to see a lot of future TV stars, and film co-stars as they were at the beginning of their careers. Then again, maybe the reason I like the film and watch it is because that I have this fantasy that in one of my viewings, Augie’s big rocket will somehow magically fly after all, and we’ll get to see it in all it’s glory instead of what really happens thanks to shmuck face Chase. And no, I’m not going to tell you what I’m talking about.

So all in all, not a terrible way to go. You might even find yourself humming along to the catchy end title theme song by Jan & Dean  What, you haven’t watched the top video yet?  Note, that’s not Jan and Dean’s original recording.  I had to use a later version with just Dean and some unknown.  This I was informed of on YouTube so take it with a grain of salt.  I’m just shocked the thing is still there although the usual pock of dipshits did make a copyright claim and added a commercial.   But if I were to grade Ride the Wild Surf film on Clyde’s sixties surfing movie curve, then I would have no choice but to give it my grade of B-.  Until next time, Be Here, Aloha.

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