Ill-conceived and ultimately inconsequential TV entry in the Gidget franchise. Sony Pictures' Choice Collection line of hard-to-find cult and library titles has released Gidget Gets Married, the 1972 made-for-TV special/pilot from ABC and Columbia Pictures' Screen Gems, based on characters created by Frederick Kohner, scripted and directed by old pros John McGreevey and E.W. Swackhamer, and starring an equally capable cast, including Michael Burns, Don Ameche, Joan Bennett, Macdonald Carey, Paul Lynde, Elinor Donahue, Corinne Camacho, Roger Perry, Gene Andrusco, and Monie Ellis as our "girl midget," Gidget. This Harry Ackerman-produced reboot of the once-popular teen girl franchise was no more successful than his 1969 TV movie/pilot, Gidget Grows Up, so it would be awhile before Gidge hit the waves again...which isn't exactly surprising when you see how far afield the concept had strayed here. Kudos, though, to Sony for correctly utilizing their M.O.D. line--releasing rare or forgotten ephemerae from network television's distant past (...unlike Warner's Archive Collection, which recently seems more focused on re-releasing old Paramount DVDs that are still readily, and more cheaply, available). No extras for this good-looking fullscreen transfer.
Los Angeles, California, 1972. Giggly first grade teacher Frances "Gidget" Lawrence (Monie Ellis) gets a surprise visitor at her "open school" playground: fiance Jeff "Moondoggie" Stevens (Michael Burns). Fresh off a Saigon chopper, newly discharged serviceman Jeff (perhaps suffering from PTSD) trades the V.C.'s punji stakes for the loving arms of long-time girlfriend, Gidget, proposing marriage despite reservations from her father, Russ (Macdonald Carey). After a brief, idyllic honeymoon in Malibu, the couple heads off to Woodlake, Florida, where Jeff will work as an engineer for the town's main employer, Worldwide Dynamics. Trouble, however, is waiting for the naive couple. Jeff has to spend far too many hours trying to impress his eccentric, imperious boss, Otis Ramsey (Don Ameche), while bored Gidget rebels against the stifling influence and control of Worldwide over her entire life, right down to the generic furniture that the company provides for their cookie-cutter tract housing. When Gidget sees how the company has even imposed restrictions on social interaction among the segregated strata of the town, it's finally time for her to fight back...even at the risk of her husband's new job.
Anytime I see an old made-for-TV movie and/or pilot like Gidget Gets Married in the screener pool, I'm all over it. Growing up in the 70s, during the "golden age" of MTV (the most familiar acronym for "made for TV" prior to its usurping by the cable music channel), each week seemed to offer a number of these "special events" that promised something extra in terms of entertainment value over and above one's regular series' viewing. Of course, most of these specials didn't turn out to be so special; for every classic like Duel or Savages or Pray for the Wildcats (can you tell I have The ABC Movie of the Week on the brain lately?), there were, well...a lot of MTVs like Gidget Gets Married: innocuous, instantly forgettable little outings that came and went with little hope of being remembered by a voracious TV-viewing audience. Why these specials and movies haven't subsequently had the same presence on home video compared to better-known series outings, is no doubt due to many factors (copyrights and legal clearances, first and foremost), so it's always interesting--just from a historical viewpoint alone--when a releasing arm like Sony puts out something relatively elusive like Gidget Gets Married.
That being said...there's not too terribly much to recommend in Gidget Gets Married for the vintage television fan, beyond those historical reference points. For more than a decade in the late 50s and the 1960s, the Gidget franchise was a notably steady (and no doubt profitable) source for print, motion picture, and television products. The character of Gidget, the 15-year-old girl who finds adventure and love on the surfing sands of Malibu, was first introduced by Hollywood screenwriter Frederick Kohner, in his best-selling 1957 book, Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas. As influential in its own way as The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean in establishing the worldwide pop culture image of California as a mythical, sun-kissed land of bikinis and surfers and teens having fun on the beach, Kohner's fictionalized accounts of his own daughter Kathy's journey as a spunky little girl who wanted to surf with the big boys, reached its biggest audience with the smash-hit 1959 movie adaptation from Columbia, Gidget, starring Sandra Dee (certainly regarded as her signature role). Several more books in the line were published during the decade (Cher Papa, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, The Affairs of Gidget, Gidget Goes to Rome, Gidget in Love, Gidget Goes Parisienne, and Gidget Goes to New York), along with the release of two big-screen sequels to the original Gidget: Gidget Goes Hawaiian and Gidget Goes to Rome.
Television also jumped on the Gidget bandwagon; the 1965 Screen Gems sitcom, Gidget, starring newcomer Sally Field, may have only lasted a season (when it finally found its audience in reruns that summer, it had already unfortunately been canceled), but it was a perennial favorite in syndication (and still a delight). Screen Gems, believing the concept still had potential after the sitcom was canceled, brought it back in the 1969 telemovie, Gidget Grows Up, a pilot for a proposed new series featuring chipper Karen Valentine as Gidge. Gidge was dusted off yet again in 1972 (perhaps due to Screen Gems' long-running monster hit Bewitched finally petering out) for another proposed pilot, Gidget Gets Married, but the concept, despite the producers' tepid efforts to update it, didn't fit in with the faux-hippie era of "relevancy" that had then been all the rage on network television for a few years (even Hanna-Barbera tried an animated pilot later that same year, to no avail, on their The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie program, with Gidget Makes the Wrong Connection). As of 2013 (unless I missed one), the last incarnation of the franchise was the mildly popular syndicated The New Gidget, based on the successful 1985 telemovie, Gidget's Summer Reunion, that ran during the more nostalgia-friendly Reagan years, 1986-1988 (with Caryn Richman making a cute, sexy grown-up Gidget). Never say never when it comes to reincarnated, retreaded franchises in the current remake-obsessed motion picture and television industries, but for now...that last cable hurrah 25 years ago seems to be the end of the Gidget universe.
Which brings us back to Gidget Gets Married. If you're in a tolerant mood, you can enjoy Gidget Gets Married strictly on a nostalgic level, appreciating the distinctively calm, unhurried visual rhythms and sounds of early 70s television. With elementary teacher Gidget's "open school" nonsense, where the "doors, windows, and minds are open," (go-go booted Gidget's stringent curriculum includes the kids feeding the rabbits and "reading a little bit"), the John Donne marriage vows followed by high-speed silent movie spoofs, the freeze-frame commercial breaks, that gawd-awful Carpenters sound-alike theme ("Good morning, Love. Make yourself at home. Come on in, the time is right," it burbles), played over Gidge's and Moondoggie's love montages that look exactly like those Feminine Deodorant Spray commercials--all of that crap will instantly transport you back, mostly amusingly, to 1972 network television.
You can also good-naturedly laugh at the cramped attempts of screenwriter John McGreevey's (seemingly endless episodic TV and telemovies like Ruby and Oswald, Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys, and the classic Murder in Texas) to drag surfer Gidget into the hippie era, grafting her ridiculously tame counterculture rebellion onto a hoary "young marrieds discover reality after the honeymoon" plot (Gidget's idea of revolutionary insurrection? Painting psychedelic graffiti on her garage door and playing loud noise out of her station wagon parked below a city council meeting, before cheerfully asking to get arrested). Some parts of Gidget Gets Married will seem a bit fuzzy if you haven't seen the previous Karen Valentine pilot, Gidget Grows Up (Paul Lynde's whole labored shtick is carried over from that movie), while other elements will seem all too familiar, such as the pasteboard sets (lit, inexplicably, by big-screen pro Joseph Biroc) and the California backdrops--mountain ranges included--subbing for Florida. Some of the performances hit a curious note, as well, with Michael Burns (Blueboy!) looking vaguely pissed off at everything, while never-fail Paul Lynde disastrously (and uncharacteristically) drops the ball with his painfully unfunny child actor-turned-Greenwich Village landlord character (I hate writing it because I adore the guy...but jesus is he bad here). Old pro Don Ameche walks off with the few laughs you'll find here, while good actors Joan Bennett, Macdonald Carey, Elinor Donahue, and Roger Perry float in and out for a scene or two, fulfilling what must have been minor, outstanding contractual obligations to the studio. As for our new Gidge, Monie Ellis (someone should have rethought that stage name...), she's certainly cute enough physically (if perhaps a tad occluded, dentally), looking good in her bikini and jeans...but rated against other cinematic Gidgets, she unfortunately registers near the bottom (due more, perhaps, to the material she has to work with, rather than any serious deficiency at getting across "sweet" and "perky").
All of that fumbling and calculation I can deal with, including the hinted-at subplots that go nowhere (why is gorgeous Corinne Camacho so unhappy; will strangely solicitous next-door-neighbors Elinor Donahue and Roger Perry eventually break out the big mixing bowl and turn their little "get together" into a proper "key" party?...), as well as the unexpectedly slushy pace of usually peppy Egbert Warnderink Swackhamer's direction. What I can't ignore is Gidget Gets Married's rejection of the basic Gidget formula. To put it simply...where's the beach? The characters in Gidget Gets Married have nothing to do with the Gidget franchise because the makers of the movie have jettisoned all the series' identifiable markers. One can argue if Gidget and Moondoogie should ever have gotten married, while I realize the focus of Gidget Gets Married is on the character growing up and moving on from her adolescent lifestyle. However, with the exception of a brief, wordless montage on the beach during their honeymoon, Gidget and Moondoogie don't get within 500 miles of a surfboard here. Why have the couple move to Florida, and not have them on the beach? If Gidget is so discontented with her life as a bored, neglected housewife...shouldn't she have rediscovered her inner self, her "voice," at the eternal source of her first awakening: the ocean and the beach? Gidget without the sun and the surf to give her youthful confidence, is sadly, just another girl, with the lead couple in Gidget Gets Married coming off as anonymous stock characters who might just as well have been Merd and Ferd from Bugtussle (the syndicated The New Gidget may have "aged" Gidget into marriage and kids, but it never forgot to put her and Moondoggie at the beach at least once an episode). And with the "Gidge" missing from Gidget Gets Married, all you really have here is an extended segment from Love, American Style, with the laugh track turned off.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.