Double Feature: Gidget/Psycho Beach Party

Presenting my new Double Feature feature! I’ve had this idea for a little while but when I watched Gidget followed by Psycho Beach Party the other night I decided it was time to finally start it. Basically, it’ll just be a series of double features that I like to watch together, or think go well together one after the other.

Note: I tried adding captions for each screencap to identify each film but wordpress decided to not play nice. If you really want them, let me know and I’ll try again. I had a lot of trouble with formatting this post.

Gidget directed by Paul Wendkos, 1959

Psycho Beach Party directed by Robert Lee King, 2000

Anyone who has seen both Gidget and Psycho Beach Party will know exactly why they go so well together (one wouldn’t exist without the other, for one) but for those of you who haven’t seen either I’ll break it down for you…

Isn’t Gidget the absolute ultimate?! Gosh, gee, wow. Yes, this film is cornball, yes, the ’50s teen lingo is overdone at times but I love it. I love movies like this because they’re kitschy but also because I just love them. If you’re not familiar with the plot of Gidget it centres on Francie Lawrence, played by Sandra Dee, later nicknamed Gidget by her surfer pals. It’s summer and Francie’s friends are only interested in boys and dating but Francie thinks dating is ‘icky’. Her friends take a reluctant Francie on her very first manhunt but, after being unsuccessful, leave her alone to go for a swim. When she nearly drowns, and is saved by surfer Moondoggie, Francie decides surfing is the thing for her and sets her mind on becoming the best female surfer!

“Surfing is out of this world. You can’t imagine the thrill of shooting the curl. It positively surpasses every living emotion I’ve ever had.” (Francie, Gidget)

And then she falls in love and doesn’t think dating is so icky after all. Her sights are now set on getting Moondoggie and, after mishaps and misadventures, they end up together (that’s not really a spoiler – it’s what always happens in these films!) Despite some problematic elements in this film, it’s still pretty neat to see a plot centred on a girl taking up a male-dominated hobby. I haven’t seen either of the other Gidget films and have heard very mixed things about them but I’m still keen on seeing them.

Combining the major plot points of Gidget and Marnie, and adding the flavour of the ’60s Beach Party films and later horror flicks we have Psycho Beach Party written by Charles Busch and directed by Robert Lee King. If you don’t like slightly offbeat, tongue-in-cheek humour then you won’t like this film…or, in fact, many of the films I love.

“I just hope that one day decent people no longer find this sort of sick humour a source of comedy.” (Captain Monica Stark, Psycho Beach Party)

Much like Gidget, Florence played by Lauren Ambrose is determined to surf despite being told she can’t because she’s a girl. Starcat, played by Nicholas Brendon, a psych major says Kanaka, who agreed to teach Chicklet to surf, is just indulging her ‘penis envy’.

“Kid, listen to it in high-fidelity, stereophonic sound: surfing’s a man’s domain. No minnows in the shark tank.” (Starcat, Psycho Beach Party)

Unlike Gidget, Chicklet has a darker side – she has blackouts (the audience knows she has dissociative identity disorder; Ambrose plays each personality equally as well as the perky Florence) that coincide with horrific murders, and Chicklet believes that she is the perpetrator of these crimes.
Subplots include the constipated Provolone whose digestion is affected by his unwillingness to acknowledge the romantic spark between himself and fellow surfer Yo-Yo (an intentionally homoerotic wrestle between the two,  purposefully spoofs the…playful wrestles between the surfers in Gidget.)
There is also the romance between Marvel Ann (played by a pre-big break Amy Adams) and Starcat, of which Chicklet is quite jealous. Marvel Ann is almost an amalgamation of Gidget’s friends who are already more experienced with boys, though Marvel Ann and Chicklet aren’t actually friends. And the B-Grade star, Bettina Barnes played by Australian Kimberley Davies, who is incognito until the studio meet her demands and stop making her film trashy flick after trashy flick.
“No one understands Bettina. Her screen persona is a brilliant comment on the socio-political structure of stardom.” (Berdine, Psycho Beach Party)
As well as mirroring the plot of Gidget (right down to the luau/orgy at the end) Busch has taken inspiration from the character’s names: Gidget becomes Chicklet, Moondoggie becomes Starcat, Cahuna is Kanaka, Betty Louise is Berdine and so on.
The film certainly isn’t as ‘wholesome’ as Gidget, though, and I like that it subverts some of the…ideals, I guess, presented in films like Gidget and others of the era. (Like the scene where Gidget tells Moondoggie they could ‘start by holding hands’, which is similar to a scene where Chicklet asks Starcat what he does with Marvel Ann and runs off screaming when he goes into detail.)
With a clever script by Charles Busch (he wrote the stage play, too, which I’ve never seen a production of) that knows its source material well, Psycho Beach Party is an essential to lovers of anything kitsch, campy or trashy such as I. And, though it owes part of its plot to Hitchcock’s Marnie as well the overall tone makes it a better partner to Gidget in a double feature, in my opinion.

Berdine: They look like beatniks, should I unpack my bongos?
Marvel Ann: I intend to unpack mine.

If we take Susan Sontag’s differentiations of naïve and deliberate camp, where kitsch falls into the first as it’s ‘unaware that it is tasteless’ then Gidget is definitely kitsch. But Psycho Beach Party is most definitely camp in its self-awareness and spoof qualities.* And, as mentioned already, as a devotee of kitsch, camp and trash, I can’t help but adore this film as much as I do.

You can see some more of my Psycho Beach Party screencaps here if you are interested. I’ve missed a couple of points I was going to make but felt the post was getting a little wordy as it is.

*OK, so I’m paraphrasing Wiki paraphrasing Sontag but it’s the essential point…

Top 5 Thursday | Hitchcock Films

Apologies for the list being late and also for the brief write-ups. I’m too drained to write very much at the moment.

Like many others I am fascinated and captivated by the films of Sir Alfred Hitchcock…the first I ever saw was North by Northwest and I suppose the next one was Psycho when I was 13, which thoroughly disturbed me at that age (and still does now). It wasn’t until I was older that I began to fully immerse myself in his work and I’ve now seen about 33 of his feature films. I love his world full of romance and suspense and today, I bring you my top 5 Hitchcock films. It was a difficult task as I’ve enjoyed most of the films I’ve seen so far but I managed to pick 5 for the time being.

1. North by Northwest, 1959

This is a bit like Stanley Donen’s Charade for me (which I wrote about here) – it doesn’t matter how many times I watch it I still enjoy it and find it suspenseful, which doesn’t usually happen with this kind of film when it’s watched over and over. Though this is part of Hitchcock’s appeal for me as I find this to be the case with many (if not all) of his films. I suppose he isn’t called ‘The Master of Suspense’ for nothing, then. I have a lot of sentimental attachment to this film as I grew up watching it but it’s truly a great film with or without sentimental attachment. I love stories in which an ordinary person is put into an extraordinary situation, especially when they’re framed for something they didn’t do, and must go through all of these (often ridiculous) incidents before they can clear their name. It’s unbelievable, in some ways, but isn’t that what cinema is for? More than the suspense, though, it’s the humour of this film that I adore. Cary Grant has, as always, perfect comic timing and I’ve lost count of the amount of fabulously quotable lines that are from this film.

Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself “slightly” killed.

And then, of course, there’s the romance and sexiness – the combination of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint is nearly too much to handle at some points! Ha. Oh, this movie also has two of the greatest voices to ever make it in Hollywood: Cary Grant and James Mason.

2. Spellbound, 1945

Ingrid Bergman + Gregory Peck (swoon!) + a dream sequence designed by Dali (!!!) + psycho-analysis = Spellbound = amazing. Obviously when you’re talking about Hitchcock and dream sequences Vertigo comes to mind but I like this one, too, because it was designed by Dali.

What can I say about Spellbound? I find the incorporation of psychoanalysis (so much psychoanalysis in film noir and Hitchcock, really) intriguing, though I will admit to not necessarily knowing a whole lot about it. The use of visual triggers that disturb Gregory Peck’s character is really effective, too, and foreshadow the similar devices (though different triggers) used in Marnie nearly twenty years later. And I like films where women take the role of the detective, as it were, though it is almost always (at around this time, anyway) to clear a man’s name when he is in prison, either a physical one or a mental one such as Gregory Peck’s character in Spellbound.  Plus I’ve always admired Hitchcock’s use of camera angles, perspectives, etc., like at the end of this film with the gun! (If you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean but I suppose I oughtn’t give anything away?)

3. Rear Window, 1954

The pacing of this film is perfect – the progression of voyeurism from innocent (well, as innocent as spying on one’s neighbours can be) pastime to obsession to something more sinister is filmed so well and acted wonderfully by James Stewart. It took me a long time to appreciate Grace Kelly – in fact, she usually still leaves me a bit cold – but I can’t imagine anyone else acting alongside Stewart in this film, now. The use of photographic equipment is interesting to me as well – I’m sure there is a lot to be said (and probably has been said) about using a telephoto lens to spy on his neighbours (framing them as he would a photograph? etc) but my brain cannot handle that, right now. But the contained set(s), the distancing of action by the viewer seeing only what Stewart’s character does, etc., is brilliant. And another one where the suspense doesn’t seem to dissipate on repeat viewing.

4. The Lady Vanishes, 1938

Ah, Hithcock and trains…one of the recurring motifs in his films and this is, I think, the longest use of a train (as most of the film takes place on one) of all Hitchcock’s work. This is one of Hitchcock’s earlier films, made in the UK, and it is very British (whatever that may mean) and somehow more benign than the others I’ve listed, I think. There is still suspense, mystery and even conspiracy yet it seems slightly more jolly? It’s a very charming film and Michael Redgrave is quite dashing with his moustache and bow-tie. And the leading lady, Margaret Lockwood is not a blonde! Gasp. I think it’s the only film on this list not to feature one of ‘Hitchcock’s blondes’ (though I suppose Ingrid Bergman is debatable in that respect?)

5. Notorious, 1946

I haven’t watched this film as many times as the others on this list, so I don’t remember it quite as well, but I feel like it is deserving of its place in my top 5 nonetheless. The (in)famous kiss scene between Bergman and Grant is steamy to say the least – to get around the censors/Hays Code that stated ‘Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.’, Hitchcock broke up the kissing scene so it seems that they are kissing for longer than they actually are. Very clever. And the story is just so great, isn’t it? Spies and semi-forbidden romances and what-not. And that’s not to say anything of Ingrid Bergman’s gorgeous wardrobe.

This list will probably change again, soon, when I watch a different Hitchcock film for the umpteenth time – maybe I’ll want to add in Strangers on a Train or Stage Fright or maybe even Rope because I love all of them nearly as much as I love the films I’ve chosen for this list. What about whoever might be reading – what are your favourite Hitchcock films? (Assuming, of course, you have favourites.)

The War of the Worlds, 1953

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I feel that I should preface this post with the fact that this was my first ever foray into The War of the Worlds – I’ve not read the book (though I’ve recently read the plot outline on Wikipedia to compare it to this adaptation) nor have I seen/heard any of the many other adaptations…but now I’m intrigued! And I’d like more. First, though, my thoughts on the 1953 version…it might be nice to note that this was the first onscreen adaptation of The War of the Worlds and was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

{NOTE: this review will probably contain spoilers. I figure both the film and story itself are old enough that they may not come as a shock but thought I’d mention it anyway.}

Released in 1953 the film transplants the action of the story from England to southern California. The opening sequence (I didn’t upload any screencaps) shows art by space artist Chesley Bonestell whilst Sir Cedric Hardwicke tells us why martians find that earth is the only planet in our solar system worth their invasion. We are then taken to earth where a meteor crash causes a stir in a small town…

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I was struck right away by the gorgeous colours of my beloved Technicolor and by the stylish cinematography and I wasn’t disappointed by either as the film progressed.
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Gene Barry (swoon!) plays Dr Clayton Forrester a bespectacled (though only for long distance, he assures as he takes his glasses off to get a good look at Ann Robinson) and deliciously stubbled scientist on a fishing trip with some colleagues when the meteor crash occurs. He meets Sylvia Van Buren, played by Ann Robinson, at the site of impact and the two hit it off rather well (Sylvia seems to be quite the fan of Dr Forrester’s work.)

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The scene where three men are keeping watch over the meteor and slowly realise that there is something inside is very well done – I found there was the right amount of tension and loved how their uncertainty and fear morphed into faux-confidence as they approached the Martian meteor waving a white flag before being incinerated by the heat-ray of the Martian war machine.
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The Martians somehow blow out the power of the town (clearly I wasn’t paying attention to every detail…oops) which leads to the discovery of the death of the aforementioned three men and the realisation that the creatures in the meteor are not at all friendly.
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I absolutely loved the use of coloured lighting in this film. From the more subtle use in the top two stills to the saturation of the still of Ann Robinson screaming. As well as being visually beautiful it highlights the unease and er other-worldliness of the events.

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Look, ma, no strings! Well…almost.

The strings on the war machines were quite obvious, as were the scale model sets toward the end of the film but I always feel that that lends to the charm of a film like this, rather than subtracting from it. You’ll have to click through to see the strings properly but they are visible. Other than that, I felt the effects were rather good (they won an Oscar) and liked that there was a conscious effort to avoid the ‘stereotypical’ UFO look. The war machines used by the Martians (which were designed by Al Nozaki) float slowly sending their heat-rays in every direction leaving mayhem, destruction and death in their wake – the wikipedia article on the film describes them as looking like Manta Rays and I think this is an apt description.

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More gorgeous coloured lighting. It reminds me an awful lot of the work of a photographer whose name I currently can’t recall.

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The bar of light across their eyes reminded me of the famous lighting of Bela Lugosi as Dracula. It also seems to highlight the way Ann Robinson’s character constantly deferred to Gene Barry’s as is so typical of most films of this era and other eras, too (the woman deferring to the man’s lead, that is). It’s still a lovely visual effect.

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There is an awful lot of overacting in this film (one IMDB review accused Gene Barry of this alone but I feel Ann Robinson and others were ‘guilty’ of it, too) but just as the visible strings lend to the enjoyment of the film for me, so does the overacting and melodrama. It is also clear that these actors are entirely committed to the film and I feel that when an actor resents being in this type of movie is when overacting, etc., goes from endearing and fitting with the film to being a detraction from its greatness. And that just isn’t the case here. I was a little bothered by the stereotypical hysterical woman vs logical slightly more calm man as it’s almost always the woman who loses her cool whilst the man will just push through it. Of course, I would probably be a complete nervous wreck myself but I don’t feel like that’s the point here. Despite this, she does get through it and I think the events are shown to play on everyone’s nerves. I feel like this area of discussion requires a re-watch on my part.

I do love that Ann Robinson has been in a couple of other things as (Dr) Sylvia Van Duren and that both she and Gene Barry were in the 2005 adaptation (which I’ve not seen) credited as ‘grandmother’ and ‘grandfather’.

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The scientists used a camera part of the Martian’s war machine to see how the Martians could see. I read that George Pal wanted the final third of the film to be shot in 3D to enhance the effects of the Martian’s attack but the plan was scrapped (the visuals in these two shots reminded me of that fact).

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One of the many things I loved about this film (& other similar films) is the descent into panic as the realisation that the Martian war-machines can’t be destroyed by anything humans have to fight them (not even an atomic bomb) – this is shown particularly well in a scene where people are clawing and fighting each other for positions in any vehicle leaving the city that they can find and leave Gene Barry for all but dead as they eject him from his truck. There is little (well, no) camaraderie in this scene and even his shouts telling them that the truck has supplies the scientists need to try to find a way to defeat the invaders go unheard. Funnily enough, when I was screencapping that particular scene this song popped up on my iTunes…rather ironic, I suppose?

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My favourite scene, though, was possibly when Gene Barry, realising that all hope of defeat was lost, frantically searches the city for Ann Robinson knowing she would be in a church somewhere – their reunion, after they’ve pushed their way through the crowds of people, actually brought a tear to my eye. There was something very real and poignant about the way they clung to each other that I feel is not often seen in a film like this.

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However, all hope was not lost as the Martians eventually perished due to their immune systems not being able to handle the bacteria in earth’s atmosphere that humans have built up immunity to over the millennia. I did like that both the initial invasion and eventual demise of the aliens was out of human control (which seems to be true to the original story) as it’s quite different from other sci-fi films I’ve seen from this era and I think it sets it apart (with others such as The Day The Earth Stood Still) from other films that are truly trashy (in the most wonderful way) B-movies and probably why this film and others on a similar level are remembered more than others. I do have a lot of other thoughts about alien invasion films, especially from the cold war era, but I will leave them for another day.

The religious subtext (described as not-too-subtle) added into the film did irk me a little (the Martians begin to die after attacking a church and the bacteria is implied to be an act of god by the narrator) as I personally felt it was unnecessary but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the film and the architecture of the churches did make for some fairly nice scenery so I suppose it was just a minor issue for me.

Has anyone else seen it? What did you think? If you haven’t, have I made you want to see this film?

Oh, and I found this review on the NY Times website that was written when the film was first released – I always love to read movie reviews contemporary to the film in question as a different perspective.