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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Complete Gidget Collection (1959/1961/1963)

"This summer was the turning point in my life. For 16 years I'd gone blindly along enjoying myself, like a fool who never guessed what's in store for her. And then..."
- Gidget (Sandra Dee)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: August 01, 2004

Stars: Sandra Dee, James Darren, Deborah Walley, Cindy Carol
Other Stars: Cliff Robertson, Arthur O'Connell, Mary LaRoche, Jeff Donnell, Carl Reiner, Don Porter, Joby Baker, Tom Laughlin, Doug McClure, Michael Callan, Peggy Cass, Eddie Foy Jr., Vicki Trickett, Arnold Merritt, Jessie Royce Landis, Cesare Danova, Danielle De Metz, Peter Brooks
Director: Paul Wendkos

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 05h:00m:23s
Release Date: August 03, 2004
UPC: 043396048072
Genre: romantic comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Part girl, part midget—or least that's how her nickname is derived—Francie "Gidget" Lawrence was the creation of novelist Frederick Kohner, and the subject of a series of books starting in 1959, telling the story of a naïve 16-year-old California tomboy who goes from girl to young woman by falling for a surfer and subsequently learning about love. It is an entirely innocent premise, something that certainly wouldn't fly today, but the films spawned by Kohner's books came in the days before the Frankie and Annette beach flicks of the mid-1960s, and pretty much served as the foundation for that whole genre. The plots were all pretty much the same in the Gidget series—there's the requisite boy trouble, a huge misunderstanding or two, and maybe a song or two before romantic order is properly restored.

Columbia TriStar has collected Gidget, Gidget Goes Hawaiian and Gidget Goes to Rome for this collection, though dubbed somewhat inaccurately as The Complete Gidget Collection. If you want to get picky, there were also a couple of television series, one starring Sally Field, as well as a handful of TV movies, but this set features the first three entries spread across two discs (disc two is two-sided, one movie per side).

But that nitpick aside, my big beef is the decision by Columbia TriStar to release this set in absolutely terrible 1.33:1 full-frame transfers, a factor that is made even more disturbing considering that the original was filmed in CinemaScope. So, instead of widescreen splendor, it has been decided that it is acceptable in this era of proper aspect ratio-correctness to issue Gidget in a version so horribly framed that many sequences feature characters barely onscreen. As an added insult, the opening credits are presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, before barreling into full-frame ugliness. Gidget Goes Hawaiian and Gidget Goes To Rome don't fare as badly; in fact the full-frame reformatting issues are not nearly as prominent, at least by comparison.

It's a dirty shame about the lackluster transfer choice, because despite my love for all things dark and creepy, I have a real soft spot for the original Gidget. Sandra Dee had the title role in 1959, and if I may be brutally disrespectful to all who followed in her footsteps, will always be Gidget to me. Deborah Walley and Cindy Carol, who starred in the two sequels included here, were marginally competent in their own way, but could never come close to filling the capris of Dee. With a sugary "gee whiz" innocence, Dee is unequivocally perky, bubbly, and adorable, and when she is originally spurned by the gaggle of surfer dudes she eventually befriends, you have to wonder what the hell they were thinking to cast her aside.

All three films here were directed by Paul Wendkos, and while he actually put together an endearingly cute bit of beachy innocence with the original Gidget, the two followups are nothing more than gaping and hollow filler, made even more strange not just by different lead actresses, but by a different set of parents for each film. Only a baby-faced James Darren, as erstwhile boyfriend Jeff 'Moondoggie' Matthews, appears in all three as the same character; Joby Baker has a supporting role in all three, though as two different characters, and Jeff Donnell—yes, that's a she—appears in Gidget Goes Hawaiian and Gidget Goes to Rome as Mrs. Lawrence.

Gidget (1959)

The joy of Wendkos' first film in the series is all about the performance of Sandra Dee. It's here where her Francie earns her nickname, meets Moondoggie, and learns to surf, but it is Dee herself who just becomes Gidget. There is a big, dumb naïveté to the whole series, made at a time when it was completely acceptable, and Dee is relentlessly sweet, something that sort of fell by the wayside in subsequent films. Darren, at least here, plays Moondoggie with the kind of casual disinterest that seems vaguely believable, and I'll forgive questioning why he suddenly breaks out to sing the Gidget song to a swooning Dee.

Cliff Robertson, who plays the mysterious Big Kahuna, the tough guy leader of the ragtag group of surfers that Gidget attaches herself to, gives a fine turn as a character troubled by his own personal problems. As a bonus, watch for Tom "Billy Jack" Laughlin and Doug McClure as a pair of Moondoggie's surfer pals.

Easily the best of the bunch, and a film that really needs a proper widescreen release.

Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961)

It's a year later, and now Gidget is played by a somewhat more grownup and redheaded Deborah Walley. Walley plays the role with a little more lusty zest, and is the polar opposite of Dee's pucker-lipped innocence. Her dad is no longer Arthur O'Connell, and has suddenly become Carl Reiner, and mom Mary LaRoche has morphed into Jeff Donnell, who would also play the role in Gidget Goes to Rome.

Those differences aside, Darren reprises his role as Moondoggie and follows the Lawrence family to Hawaii in order to patch up his perpetually shaky relationship with the Gidge. Michael Mysterious Island Callan plays Eddie Horner, a fast-talking dancer who sets his sights on Walley's Gidget, much to the understandable jealousy of Moondoggie. Instead of surfing, this time the sport is primarily water-skiing, and there's plenty of time for Darren to croon a couple of tunes and for Callan to perform an extended dance number, no less.

Wacky misunderstandings abound (including one alluding to wife-swapping) before love conquers all, at least until the next sequel.

Gidget Goes to Rome (1963)

Tack on another year, and another Gidget. This time its Cindy Carol in the lead, with Don Porter taking over dad duties. Carol is less womanly than Walley, and more acceptable as a slightly older Dee, though she is comparatively dull and inherently less exciting. There's less of a story here, it's more of a travelogue, and this entry finds Gidge and the gang heading to the Old World to take in the sights and fall in love. Moondoggie falls hard for sexy tour guide Danielle (Danielle De Metz), which only prompts Gidget to get gooey-eyed over Paolo Cellini (Cesare Danova), a guy old enough to be her father. Which is probably because he's her dad's friend, and her dad's asked him to keep an eye on his little girl. Darren sings yet again, as if you weren't expecting it.

Here's a confession: I have no shame—I love Sandra Dee and Gidget. The first Gidget film is innocent, enjoyable, and cute, but this tacky release has left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I'm grading this one STRICTLY on the enjoyment of the original Gidget, not on the cruddy presentation by Columbia TriStar or the two weak sequels.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: What a colossal disappointment. OK, maybe "colossal" is an overstatement, but what's the idea of issuing a film shot in glorious CinemaScope in a godawful 1.33:1 full-frame transfer? I don't get it.

Gidget is almost unwatchable, with most scenes relegated to having characters speak to other characters who, thanks to the shoddy transfer, now appear offscreen. That blunder aside, the first film looks occasionally vibrant, offset by moments of specking and strange momentary colorization oddities. A proper transfer might have made some of the flaws less apparent, because at least we could have seen the characters, rather than just hear them. The other two titles have their share of minor defects, balanced by some decent color reproduction, though the first half of Gidget Goes to Rome is marred by some distractingly bad source print problems.

Shame on you, Columbia TriStar.

Image Transfer Grade: D


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio for all three titles is delivered in Dolby Digital mono, and while not particularly noteworthy, is a pleasing but nondescript presentation. No age-related hiss problems were evident, and dialogue was always clear and cleanly mixed. If only the video presentation had been half as good as the audio is ordinary.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring 13 Going On 30, Something's Gotta Give, Mona Lisa Smile, 50 First Dates, Dogtown and Z—Boys, Bye Bye Birdie, Respiro, Bread and Tulips
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
3-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Odd that something purporting to be the "complete" Gidget collection doesn't have any info about the original novel by Frederick Kohner or even a mention about the later television incarnation; there's nothing here but trailers (with 13 Going On 30 appearing twice for some reason).

Each film is cut into 12 chapters, and there are no subtitle options available.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

In a perfect world, Columbia TriStar's The Complete Gidget Collection would have been worth a purchase just for the charming original, with the two followups serving as a curious gravy.

That is, if the set had been released in their original aspect ratio, as opposed to the viciously sloppy reformatting of Gidget's CinemaScope beach and surfing fun into this horribly lopsided mess.

I want my Sandra Dee/Gidget properly CinemaScoped!


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