Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Ready to Take a "Ride?"

Summer's upon us and to continue the celebration we're zeroing in on a movie outside the typical types we spotlight here (though all three of its male stars have been the subject of profiles here!) The movie in question is Ride the Wild Surf (1964) starring Fabian, Tab Hunter and Peter Brown as three buddies off on a jaunt to Hawaii to take in some of the world's greatest waves (and dally with a few curvaceous women.)

Surf was the brainchild of a husband- wife writing, producing and directing team. Art and Josephine Napoleon made arrangements with Columbia Pictures to go to Hawaii and shoot extensive surfing footage during a particular period in which huge swells were occurring thanks to an alteration in the jet stream. They captured a lot of impressive surfing from several skilled athletes, then returned home to Hollywood in order to fashion a script around the scenes they'd shot!

Though Beach Party (1963) had ushered in a huge wave of zany, wacky, colorful, shoreside shenan- igans with Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello and many others, this one set out to be slightly more dramatic, with far less emphasis on crazy antics and more on the athleticism and the difficulty of surfing big waves. Unlike the other scads of flicks, this one didn't feature any singing performances or pop songs apart from the credits.

The movie was to star teen idol singing sensation Fabian Forte (known simply as Fabian) along with popular beach music singers Jan & Dean (of “Surf City” and “Dead Man's Curve” fame.) The duo (Jan Barry and Dean Torrence) performed a title song and were primed to make their acting debut, though they had appeared here and there on television, usually just singing. Unfortunately, one of their good friends was a man named Barry Keenan who went off the deep end and masterminded the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra's son, Frank Jr. This unsavory incident (by association!) ultimately led to the singers being dumped from the movie by a skittish studio and replaced by Hunter and Brown. (For their own part, the Napoleons were fired three weeks in to shooting and replaced by Don Taylor!)

The script having called for a tall, fit brunette and a wiry, thin blond in order to match the surfing counter- parts already showing on the footage in the can, Hunter's blond locks were tinted brown while Brown's normally brown locks were bleached out to lemon yellow! Fortunately, Fabian's stunt double already matched up to his own hair color as he was always the intended star of the film.

The next problem, though, was that with Brown now sporting bleached hair, his love interest in the movie, Barbara Eden, was tinted a dark auburn. Fabian's love interest, Shelley Fabares, was then bleached out to platinum (her character described as half-Swedish!) Hunter's love interest, Susan Hart, was inky black, though she'd already gone that route earlier in her career on the advice of an agent. The whole enterprise really ought to have been sponsored by Clairol!

The movie opens up in an astound- ingly dry manner, with an unne- cessary and cumber- some voice- over provided by a staid announcer. This may be a nod to the opening sequence of Where the Boys Are (1960), but that movie had a mildly comic payoff whereas this one has not. The intrusive announcer pops up a time or two more, but most often is absent after this.

The trio of handsome men happen upon a beach in which scads of surfers are checking out the waves. (Check out the Annette look-alike in red!) The water is teeming with tan young men on their boards, some more skilled at it than others. They spot some familiar faces among the crowd, including beefy James Mitchum, who is currently king of the lot for staying at it longer than anyone else at the treacherous Waimea Bay. The shot below is not a composite. There are that many surfers in close proximity to one another!

The guys can barely wait to get out there them- selves and they decide to hop in the car and change into their swimsuits on site. (There is zero privacy for this and, in fact, a movie camera is atop a nearby vehicle! Sadly, this movie's own cameras do not follow the strip-down action inside the cramped car...)

Now shucked down to their trunks, the gents are ready to ride the wild surf, but as Fabian and Brown are headed to the water, Hunter is still on his knees waxing his board. He gets up to join them and is struck by a young lady (Susan Hart) on a horse nearby. She's shooting him a rather interested grin.

He waves at her and smiles, but just after his enthus- iastic greeting, she up and takes off in a gallop. This brief interlude in which the two spot each other from afar on a crowded beach is enough to cause Hunter to become obsessed with her, regardless of all the other chicks around.

The guys finally take their turn in the ocean (well, actually, their stunt doubles are shown surfing while close-ups involve Hunter, Brown and – as seen here – Fabian precariously balancing on wobbly Radio Flyer wagons as crewmen splash water on them from the front and sides!)

Fabian, Brown and Hunter are invited to a luau with all the other visiting surfers. While Fabian is toweling off after his shower and Brown is ready and waiting to go, Hunter bursts in with the news that he's discovered who his mystery girl is. She lives on a ranch nearby and is closely guarded by an over-protective mother, one who doesn't hesitate to shoot at boys who come sniffing around for her daughter. Hunter has no intention of allowing this to dissuade him, however.

On their way to the luau, they come upon a ring of revelers who are watching a young lady (Barbara Eden) work martial arts moves on unsuspecting males. She flips one guy upside-down, though he soon repays the favor, sending her careening to the grass herself. Brown, taken aback by this display, calls her a “girl kook,” which gets her dander up.

Eden, with this auburn hair, her consid- erable false eyelashes and a healthy dollop of over- expressive emoting puts me in the mind of Karen “There's no one left to fly the plane!” Black from Airport 1975 (1974) during this sequence! Anyway, she baits Brown into giving her a tumble, but he's the one who ends up with his face in the grass and her foot at his neck! Dejected, dirty and humiliated, he departs before ever even making it to the party.

Feeling badly about what she's done, Eden fixes up some plates of food and some drinks and takes them (atop a guitar!) to the house where Brown is staying. She convinces him to give her another chance and the two begin to bond over their intimate little meal together.

Back at the party, the guys are sizing each other up, trying to see who can be the biggest blowhard. Several of them are firing a harpoon at a target, aiming for a pineapple hung above, but with a cartoon man depicted underneath. The self-congratulatory lads take turns outdoing one another until Mitchum suggests that Fabian fire a spear into the pineapple while he is standing below it! (Is it me or does the chin of this cartoon man look like a stubbled ball sack? LOL!)

Fabian does the deed, but in the process manages to offend another young lady (Shelley Fabares) who is present. She doesn't see the humor or sport in what they've been doing and decides to go off and find her friend Eden. Fabian explains that Eden has gone over to his house to make amends with Brown and he offers to escort her there. (Presumably helping them see though the brush are her headlights, which are on high-beam if you get my drift!) Once she sees how happy Eden and Brown are together, she opts not to disturb them and instead agrees to take a walk with Fabian where this couple now becomes forged. (If only life were this easy...)
Out in the wild surf, the guys are still at each other trying to each be The Big Kahuna. Whole conversations take place with wet actors sitting atop something or other while ocean footage is projected behind them! (Admittedly, there are also occasional shots of dialogue that take place in actual water.) Anthony Hayes and Roger Davis are the smarmiest of the opposing surfers and have instant resentment towards Fabian in particular.

Meanwhile, Fabares and Eden watch their men paddling around with their behinds on display (something that we, the viewer, get an even closer look at than they do!)

One especially rough wave breaks the fin on Fabian's board and though Davis notices it, he doesn't clue Fabian in. Thus, the next time Hayes and Fabian square off on a wave, Fabian loses control and causes Hayes to wipeout violently. Hayes is livid at having his nose broken and swears revenge on the unknowing Fabian. There's probably more blood in this moment than every appeared in all of the Frankie & Annette beach movies put together!

Later, Hunter descends on Hart's ranch looking for her. Stalk much? He is in the midst of getting to know one of her horses (Hunter was, in real life, obsessed with horses) when he hears the threatening tones emanating from Hart's domineering mother Catherine McLeod. Hart quickly covers for the startled Hunter by saying that he's from the local garage, come to fix their broken down truck.

Mom buys this and Hunter, who really can fix broken auto- mobiles, gets to work on the truck! Hart brings him a cool drink and explains that her mother is the way she is because she was married to an islander, Hart's father, who loved surfing so much that one day he simply left them both in order to explore the waves of the world.

Now our third couple is in place, having neatly fallen together over one glance on the beach and this tete a tete over lemonade. They decide that they will eventually tell Hart's mother the truth, but not yet...

Brown and Eden are preparing for an upcoming New Year's Eve bash and head to a fireworks store (called “Mr Chin Has Everythin'”) where Eden has ordered a ginormous rocket that she intends to set off on the big night, with Brown's and her initials singeing the night sky. Although the actor is amiable and amusing, one can only imagine the faces of some of today's PC audiences watching him and his put-upon relative speak “Pigeon English” and convene with their corny scenario.

Meanwhile, Fabian and Fabares take a stroll to a large and beautiful waterfall, where surfers sometimes climb atop a rocky precipice and dive to a narrow area below, one in which there are not dangerous, craggy rocks. While they admire the scenery (and each other), a sudden cloudburst sends them scurrying for cover. They seem to be out in the middle of nowhere without a car!

They take shelter in an empty vacation shack, one with a leaky roof, and Fabian manages to find Fabares a revealing sarong to lounge around in while he merely takes his shirt off to let it dry (when, ironically, it's his pants that are the wettest!) When she appears in the doorway, having stripped down to nothing but a bolt of colorful cloth, he likes what he sees. They share some meaningful conversation until he finally feels the need to draw her next to him and plant a huge kiss on her lips. This results in a slap and in Fabares threatening to leave (even though it's still a torrential downpour outside.)

On the surfing circuit, injured Hayes watches with jealousy and disgust as the other guys try their hand at the waves. He's far from concerned when Fabian suffers a particularly treacherous wipeout and has to be carried from the ocean by some pals.

The incident in question starts to shake Fabian's confidence a bit. He intends to come out on top at the big Wiamea surf-off so that he can take advantage of some of the endorsement deals that come with the honor.

New Year's Eve arrives and Eden is ready to shoot off her rocket, which Brown and Hunter have to help carry, it's so huge! Brown is highly nervous about the size of it and with how much gunpowder is inside in order to get it to take off.

While Eden runs off to change into a special safety suit (!) in order to protect her while lighting the rocket, half- Hawaiian Hart takes a moment to entertain everyone, especially Hunter, with an ass-shaking native dance. He's at first embarrassed, then entranced by her performance. Since she's never been allowed to date anyone, I guess she learned this in the mirror of her bedroom on the ranch in the hopes of someday springing it on someone.

Fabian is sulky, to Fabares' dismay. Not only was he unable to get anywhere with her in the shack, but now the threat of Wiamea is looming and he's beginning to feel the pressure (and some not inconsiderable cold feet.) Still, he feels he must proceed.

Next it's time for the rocket, but Brown has removed more than half of the gun- powder from it so it winds up barely taking off and fizzling out! Though he did it to protect Eden from danger, she is livid about it and lays into him for always being so safe and dull.

With that, he fortifies himself with some booze and a grass-skirted get-up and decides he is going to take the highly-dangerous dive off the cliff near the waterfall! He leads everyone along, climbs the craggy mountainside and prepares for his fate as a frantic Eden looks on. All the others run away when they hear that the big waves have come in and, in front of only Eden, Brown has to decide whether or not to make the dive.

By now, Hunter has his own problems to deal with. In a flurry of enthus- iasm about their incredible love for one another, he and Hart have decided to tell her mother all about it, feeling sure that she'll understand since he's been working on their ranch for a week.

This does not go well AT ALL, with the grim-faced McCleod giving him what for as a no-good beach bum. Hunter protests that he is more than just a surfer and even has his car paid for. He can produce the receipt right there from his vacation-wear! Now that's prepared!! (It must be said that McCleod sports the most inhumanly awful makeup job, with pale powder and a visible difference in color around her hairline!)

Not to be outdone in the romantic turmoil depart- ment, Fabian and Fabares have it out over his attitude. He is in knots over the next morning's surf competition. She tells him that he only wants to do things that are easy and can't stick it out when things are rough. (Lord knows she isn't easy, either! One kiss and she's slapping him off.)

The next morning finds our boys in the sand waxing their big boards again. The Australian one (Murray Rose) in the dark blue briefs is in serious danger of having a ball slip during this sequence. (And you know that pervy Poseidon is never going to miss spotting something like that...)

We get one last look at our hand- some, shirtless trio before they head out into the crashing waves to try their luck. With regards to beefcake, I recall in an old imdb.com review I once did referring to seasoned Hunter as Porterhouse, lean Brown as sirloin strip and Fabian, with remnants of baby fat, as ribeye! LOL There's something for everyone.

The waves this time are SERIOUS. There's some neat surfing footage mixed in with the usual rear-projection shots.

The whole thing is given play- by-play from a TV announcer and a couple of the surfers who bowed out early. Again, with the array of body types on display, there is something for everyone to enjoy (except fur-lovers... Fabian shaved all of his chest hair off for the movie and no one else except maybe Hayes is sporting much at all either.)

With the surf pounding and everything from sore ribs to a cracked board doing in several of the men, most of the cast winds up sitting on the sidelines, fretfully wondering who will emerge as the champ. (You can sort of see in this pic and others how hard it was in the sun and sea to keep Hunter's blond hair brown. It kept naturally bleeding out.)

As the ocean beats the surfers down again and again, the number of guys still out there and willing to give it another try dwindles down further and further. And whichever one manages to outlast the rest is also required to do yet another round all alone in order to secure the title!

Now, I said that this was more serious than the Frankie & Annette movies, and it is, but this isn't Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. There's a generally happy ending in store for everyone. And most people watching this are either on the lookout for stunning surf footage, scads of tan beefcake or the cutie-pie curves of Fabares in a vast array of Catalina two-piece swimsuits.

All three gals posed for publicity photos in their Catalina wear, but the closest Hart ever comes to sporting a bikini in the movie is one brief period in which she's also smothered up by a coordinating cover-up. She never looks like she does in this photo in the finished film.

As the credits roll, we finally hear the Jan & Dean title song. (This album cover has shots that don't appear in the movie either. You can tell from the portrait of the singers what they would have looked like in the roles Hunter and Brown ultimately played.) The credits for Ride the Wild Surf are done in our all-time favorite way which is, of course, with each performers name and role being shown the same time as his or her face! Thus, we'll use this approach as we review the key members of the cast.

At the time of this movie, teen singing sensation Fabian had been starring or co-starring in a number of films from his 1959 debut Hound Dog Man to North to Alaska (1960) with John Wayne and Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962) with and all-star cast that included Barbara Eden. He still had a few more movies to go, but his screen career would mostly peter out by the end of the decade. You can read more about him in his Underworld tribute here. He is currently seventy-three.

Hunter, the eldest of the three male stars, had been in movies since the early- 1950s and was a hugely successful pin-up teen idol for most of that decade. By the early-'60s, he'd begun to mix movies with TV (including a failed sitcom during the 1960-1961 season.) Though he stayed reasonably active through the 1980s, his chief days as a movie star ended with the 1960s. You can read more about him here, too, in his Underworld tribute. He's still with us today at age eighty-four.

Brown became a Warner Brothers contract player in the late 1950s and was put to steady work in their movies and TV series. (He costarred on the western Lawman from 1958-1962.) After 1964, he spent the greater part of his time on TV rather than in films and eventually enjoyed a considerable amount of success on daytime soaps. He also has his own tribute here. Sadly, Brown passed away just this past March at age eighty of Parkinson's Disease.

Fabares was at or near the height of her popularity as a popular young actress. The niece of Nanette Fabray (who'd changed the spelling of her name for ease in pronunciation), she'd been appearing on TV and in movies since the mid-1950s and had grown up before viewers eyes on The Donna Reed Show (1958-1965) as Reed's daughter, a role she was still essaying at the time of Surf. Three Elvis Presley movies followed and then a long line of TV guest appearances (not to mention a role in the legendary TV-movie Brian's Song, 1971.) A late-career high came with her role as Craig T. Nelson's wife on Coach (1989-1997.) Absent from TV screens since 1998, she found a voice-acting niche as Superman's adoptive mother Martha Kent in several projects. She is seventy-two at present.

Eden burst onto the scene around 1956 and began working in a variety of movies as well as costarring on a syndicated series How to Marry a Millionaire (1957-1959), based upon the hit 1953 movie. Although she was featured heavily in four 1964 films, she began her iconic TV role in I Dream of Jeannie in 1965 and played it through 1970, becoming forever associated with the part. Many TV-movies and the occasional feature followed though she began to slow down her work considerably in the mid-2000s. She is still with us today at age eighty-four.

Unlike her fellow female costars, Hart is purely an actress of the 1960s. Vacation- ing in Hawaii, she was spotted by a Hollywood agent who saw potential in her. She began to pop up on TV in 1961, with more and more opportunities over the next couple of years. She won, if that's the correct word, the ingenue role in the 1963 horror flick The Slime People and by 1964 was not only doing Surf, but also appeared in For Those Who Thing Young and Pajama Party. She had married American International Pictures co-founder James Nicholson. In 1965, she reunited with Hunter for War Gods of the Deep. Titles like Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) signified her place in the Hollywood stratosphere, though after her husband's death in 1972, she took over producing duties on films that became considerable successes for the small studio. She is still alive today at seventy-five, though long out of the business, concentrating on charity work and other endeavors.

Mitchum came to the movies via his famous father Robert, who he resembled strongly. He worked with a certain amount of regularity from the late-1950s through about 1990, but mostly appeared in supporting roles in westerns, war films and, later, low-budget action movies. He's still alive today at seventy-five.

If Hayes, who only enjoyed about a five-year span in movies and TV, seems at all familiar, it could be due to his other 1964 role, which was as Diane Baker's fiancee in Strait-Jacket. During one of the movie's hootiest scenes (which is really saying something!), Baker's mother Joan Crawford gussies herself up and tries to seduce him! After 1965's Winter-A-Go-Go, he only made a few TV guest star appearances before departing the biz in 1969. He is presumably still with us at age eighty.

Davis, whose part in this is rather small, mainly as a co-ins- tigator with Hayes against Fabian, began his career on the TV war drama The Gallant Men (1962-1963) and then proceeded to Dark Shadows (1968-1970.) In 1972, he stepped into the western show Alias Smith and Jones after that series' costar Pete Duel committed suicide, but the show ended soon after. He continued to work on TV occasionally through the '80s and '90s and is also known as Jaclyn Smith's first husband. He is still alive today at seventy-seven.

McLeod was unfamiliar to me though it turns out she did enjoy a rather lengthy career in the movies, beginning in the early 1940s, later segueing into TV guest roles though the early-1970s. She was also the wife of busy character actor Don Keefer, who went into retirement after her death, but lived himself to be ninety-eight! Pneumonia claimed Ms. McLeod in 1997 when she was seventy-five. 

And that, my friends, is THE END!


David Brum said...

Tab Hunter mentioned the making of this film in his autobiography. He was aware that this was lightweight material, but the juvenile shenanigans on the set irritated him to the point where he took on the role of de-facto disciplinarian. Presumably, he was referring primarily to Fabian and some of those in smaller roles, since Hunter, Brown, and Eden were clearly no longer kids (Eden and Hunter already in their 30s).

Poseidon3 said...

The median age of the leads in this was relatively high and almost no one was new to the biz, so they must have really let the sun, surf and sand go to their heads! I'll have to revisit my copy of the Hunter bio and see what he said. Thanks!

Gingerguy said...

I was glad to catch this wild post! The hair color merry go round is hilarious, the only one who looks good is Shelley, I hate Barbara dark haired, and the boys look silly. Btw, I am staggered about Nanette Fabray and Shelley Fabares, I always wondered why she had such a weird spelling-turns out it was correct. Only in the underworld would I get such knowledge. The Frank Sinatra Jr kidnapping is such a strange story, as he recently died I was curious about it and read his obituaries. I remembered the Jan and Dean connection. Sad and sordid that it haunted Frank Jr's career. I love me some short shorts and think the guys all look great in this. I hate the "shorts" men wear now that are down to their knees. The chin/ball sac omg! you are totally right. I love anything to do with "Straitjacket" and kind of love Hayes in that. I think I also recognize him from my beloved "Homicidal"? Funny that Roger Davis was married to Jaclyn Smith. He reminds me of Dennis Cole, she definitely had a type. I am a huge "Dark Shadows" fan and he was on for years as a goody two shoes fiancée. This was a really fun read, thanks Poseidon!