When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand

On a British site, I read that the mid-sixties surf film RIDE THE WILD SURF had a Gay following. That was news to me, so I gave it a look.

This film has a <em>Gay</em> following???

This film has a Gay following???

The film is more naturalistic (if you can call a movie that is 50% rear-projection ‘realistic’) than the cartoony Frankie-and-Annette beach party films cranked out at American-International. It tries to be in the vein of WHERE THE BOYS ARE as various girls and boys pair off and plan for their futures, but the whole shebang is executed with so little engagement and consideration for the project that it shows a meretricious agenda of cashing in on the Frankie-and-Annette movies instead of developing the surf movie genre.

Tab Hunter was 34 when he was cast in this film.

Evidence of the film’s take-the-money-and-run attitude:  when the producers secured the services of actor Tab Hunter, that should have necessitated a re-write. It was a good catch to sign him to the project — as a star he was only slightly on the wane — but he looked a lot older than the other guys so you just don’t buy the idea that they’re all equal, young buddies. Tab’s character should have been rewritten as the Top Dawg of the bunch; having an alpha dude would have given the story development more density and direction, instead of making a movie about three and innocent young guys learning about life and love.



Actor-turned-director Don Taylor helmed the project. (He was the groom to Elizabeth Taylor’s bride in Vincente Minnelli’s 1950 classic comedy FATHER OF THE BRIDE.) Established actors rarely make good film directors; with a few exceptions like Olivier or Laughton, seldom has an actor-turned-director been able to create psychology by the use of visual space nor generate a worldview via light and shadow. The one noticeable feat Taylor does accomplish is nourishing a good performance from the rookie in the cast: former teen songplugger Fabian.

RIDE THE WILD SURF was built and disseminated the way quick-and-dirty films hit the screens back then:  creating a buzz with a tie-in (in this case the eponymous Jan and Dean song that climbed the Top 40), followed by wide distribution, counting the first weekend grosses, then letting the film quickly disappear. The business theory was that it didn’t matter if you made a quality film that others would recommend and build a demand for your product, instead you just created a buzz, opened in a lot of theatres, and quit after the first week or two.  Unfortunately that model has been adopted by prestige films released in the last quarter-century.  It doesn’t matter if the film is good or bad, because the main money is made in the first three weeks before word of mouth gets out.

The main thing to ponder in RIDE THE WILD SURF is (no joke) the HAIR COLOR! Makeup artist Ben Lane chose to alter the hair color of most of the principals in the film: raven-haired cowboy star Peter Brown is a bottle-blonde; Barbara Eden has long auburn locks; dark-haired veteran of THE DONNA REED SHOW Shelley Fabres is a Scandinavian blonde. What’s with that??

It had been a strange and busy year at Columbia for Ben Lane. Earlier he had worked on the film version of Gore Vidal’s THE BEST MAN, which had the most hi-gloss grease kneaded into men’s hair I’ve ever seen. But even earlier that year, Lane had worked on William Castle’s STRAIT-JACKET, making Joan Crawford look like a tart thirty years younger than she was. Could getting up in the morning and working on Crawford have made something inside him snap??

Did this makeup job make Ben Lane screw up actors' looks for the rest of the year??

Did the challenge of this makeup job make Ben Lane screw up actors' looks for the rest of the year??

As the plantation-owning mama of one of the surfer chicks, the divine Frank Borzage-discovery Catherine McLeod gets to deliver some thankless lines.

As for the Gay angle?  Well, the shots don’t linger on the beefcake long enough for a voyeuristic pleasure, and the male bonding is pretty minimal.  The script blows, the surfing is phony, and the boy-girl scenes lack chemistry. I think anyone over the age of twelve would be pretty disappointed with all aspects of this film.

As with almost all of Sony’s DVD releases of the Columbia library, the extras are virtually non-existent.

Doug / PoMo Joan

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