Saturday, May 20, 2023

From the Clyde’s Movie Palace Archives: 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      

We all have our guilty film pleasures. You may have watched these movies at one time or another that the critics have, for the most part, trashed, or films that you should not view with any relevance if you consider yourself a real film connoisseur. You know, a snob. They are not films you would typically bring up in a public forum or brag about in too many private conversations.
It’s not that you watched these cinematic exercises that make them a guilty pleasure; it’s 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 overage 25 to 30 year old's 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 TVs, but only about three channels one could view for entertainment. There were no iPhones, DVDs, PCs, or PS5s. How did we ever survive? 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 your two-inch speaker or an earphone. No, that's not a typo. It was one single earpiece with a 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.

You could also 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 go there and not watch the film at all. What? Do you mean you still haven't seen Grease?

Most young guys like myself went to films like Beach Party and Beach Blanket Bingo 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, she finally dipped herself into an actual honest-to-goodness bikini. I guess when Uncle Walt wasn't looking.

But Annette was the girl you would 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, and 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 know and have never asked, although I have my suspicions. Those swim trunks were always tight.

Even at 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 show up for some dysfunctional slapstick while the girls and guys took a break to replenish their suntan lotion supply. I wanted to kick Zip and his motorcycle gang of nincompoops off a cliff, preferably above the Grand Canyon. I wanted to yell at the screen, “Just show us some wiggly butts and bouncy boobs!. “ 

Yeah, you know. Teenage boy talk. Except we didn’t put it quite that nicely. I 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 enjoyed. Technically, you can’t call the two I like Beach Movies because neither 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.

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

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

In this film, sometimes you get the actual kind of surfing, but about half the time, you get the phony type of surfing which takes place in front of a vast green screen with waves 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 don’t need me to explain that. If you didn’t watch it, why not? It wasn’t easy putting that thing together. Have a little respect. Just kidding.

Please 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 huge 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 rides a horse on a beach because where else will you straddle a pony? He finds out later that her name is Lily Kilua (Susan Hart) and that she lives on a farm with her mother (Catherine McLeod), who 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, 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 wrestling match after he calls her a girl nut. Since Augie is a black belt, she quickly pins Chase and demands that Chase say, Uncle. Being a stuffed shirt, Chase says nothing and shows us what a sore loser and male chauvinist he is. Later, Augie tracks him down and apologizes for having the audacity to kick his ass in a fair fight. This was the sixties, and women hadn’t even burned their first bra yet, so please make allowances. We find out 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 paired up when Jody volunteers to take her to Augie, who is with Chase. Jody’s big hang-up is phonies, and 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 could return and make it if he tried. After that bit of friendly persuasion, 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 Ph.D. 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 wipeout, 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 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. You might get confused at one point, 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 noticing that Brie and Augie’s bathing suits kept changing colors as they sat in the sand, ogling their surfer guys with whom they had fallen madly in love in 24 hours or less.

As for actual surfing, it is done by stunt doubles, but what makes these scenes a considerable cut above what you generally see in these types of films is that a real effort was made to show us some pretty good surfing. And they ensured every real-life surfer wore the identical bathing suits as the stars. And just so they didn’t get messed up on which swimming trunks were worn by who and on what day, actors and stunt doubles wear identical 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 one pair of trunks. 

But either way, you'll like the surfing scenes, and if not, you can admire the beefcake if you are a genuinely 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 she was never allowed to expose during five seasons of I Dream of Jeannie but would uncover her belly button in all its glory fifteen years later.

A two-piece flowered bathing suit trumps a harem outfit on any old day of the week. And there's something about Shelley Fabares's very, very bleached blonde hair that always has me debating whether she should have gone with that color for the rest of her career. Who knows, if she had, she could have been the next Marilyn. No, I'm 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 daytime soap opera, the actors involved do a pretty good job working with very little.

Many of these young performers went on to further their careers in some fashion. Fabian had some excellent 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 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  based on Jeannie Riley's hit song. Still, 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 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, made many films after this one, but none that made an impact. He kept company with Mickey Rooney and Hugh O'Brian in a movie called Ambush Bay.

Susan Hart takes home the honors if there is a weakest link in this ensemble. She 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 where a case of arthritis seems to have descended into her hips. She went on to appear in Dr. Goldfoot & The Bikini Machine, which only proves one thing: Quit while you're behind.

Except she didn't. Ms. Hart was more intelligent than all of us. She married the producer and president of American International Pictures and teen filmmaker 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 are not too many TV shows before 2005 that he didn't make at least one guest appearance.

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 an excellent addition to your DVD library as a historical reference. Maybe your kid can even take it to school for show and tell.

Maybe the reason I like the film and watch it is because 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 its glory instead of what happens thanks to shmuck face Chase. And no, I won’t 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 unknowns. I was informed of it on YouTube more than once. 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, I would have no choice but to give it my B-. Until next time, Be Here, Aloha.


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