We’ve gone around the world with the lovely Francie Lawrence, and like all good journeys it must come to an end. Gidget started out as a girl surfer gaining the respect of the misanthropes she calls peers; next, she went to Hawaii, where love and bewilderment ensued; now, we’re in Rome with a story that’s better than the sequel, but is still a Gidget film in name only.
Gidget Goes to Rome is a belated return to form for the franchise. It seeks to hit several of the plot elements laid down in the first, particularly Gidget falling for an older man, and adds in reflection on growing up. What you won’t find is surfing, as the franchise buries that entirely in a location that doesn’t lend itself to beaches or the sea. Cindy Carol is a better, slightly muted Gidget but the franchise is kept afloat by James Darren. I enjoyed this more than Gidget Goes Hawaiian, but it’s apparent they sold the sequels in a set with the first because it’s the only way to get people to purchase them at all.
Gidget (Carol), Moondoggie (Darren), and a group of fresh-faced young Americans make the pilgrimage to Rome to find love and adventure. Sadly, Moondoggie and Gidget find themselves growing up, while Gidget ends up in another complicated situation with an older gent (Cesare Danova).
Apparently, my computer is fed up with the Gidget franchise because playing the disc got me the dreaded blue screen of death! Thankfully, it was a warning and everything turned out fine, but I was a bit hesitant to continue forward with the conclusion of the series. Gidget Goes to Rome boasts a 4.4 on IMDB to Gidget Goes Hawaiian’s 5.4, which is far too complimentary to the sequel. Gidget Goes to Rome isn’t good, but it stays on track with its plot, even if said plot is similar to countless other Roman adventures of the 60s (if they weren’t going to Hawaii, it was Rome). You could watch this back to back with The Pleasure Seekers and Monte Carlo and feel as if your DVD player’s on repeat. There’s a distinct lack of fiery passion to the proceedings, but at least you can watch where the budget went, as the film is a roadmap to the hot spots of Rome, shot on-location. The stereotypical elements of various teenage adventure films are on display including torrid romances (one with an older man), mistaken crimes, and a fortuitous climax involving a fountain. All of it is dealt with quickly, but the film still felt long for an hour and forty-three minutes.
Occasionally, I saw shades of the original Gidget; I said shades. There is a cheekiness that was lacking in the last film, and moments where the script and songs appear to be self-aware of how crappy they are. The title songs of the franchise have always been hokey, but this song, “Gegetta” (Gidget in bastard Italian) is hilarious. James Darren is admirable with his Italian, but it’s so laugh inducing; and he has another song sung entirely in Italian if you really love him. There’s also the character played by the darling Jesse Royce Landis, Albertina Blythe. Mrs. Blythe is the chaperone on this Italian excursion and her lines are meta in quality. When she’s introduced to Gidget her summation of the girl is “Oh, God. You’re gonna be the sweet one.” I’m assuming she saw the first two? Landis relaxes and has fun with a character whose mere presence is meant to be wacky and disinterested in the teens themselves.
The relationship between Gidget and Moondoggie felt rushed and half-baked in Hawaiian, and with this it’s the main thrust of the narrative. Gidget and Moondoggie go to Rome to be together, but there’s an unspoken concern that they’ve drifted apart. Moondoggie is a college man now. He’s even taken up smoking to show you how adult he is. The arrival of Roman tour guide, Daniella (Danielle De Metz) puts Moondoggie and Gidget on a course to realizing that maybe their relationship has run its course. In Hawaiian, the machinations of Abby Stewart are petty (probably because we can’t have women be friendly to each other), but there’s an acquired maturity evoked in Gidget Goes to Rome. Sure, Moondoggie returns to being the manipulative boyfriend he was in the first film; he treats Gidget poorly while openly flirting with Daniella, and moves on to dating the guide immediately after breaking things off with his girlfriend. It’s enough to remind us of Moondoggie’s plot-conceived girlfriend (who was also a busty foil to Gidget) from the original. I would have been surprised if the film followed through on this new-found development of the two teens – a perfect lead-up to the television show two years later – because by the end Moondoggie’s return to Gidget leaves audiences with the impression he’s taken back up with her to avoid loneliness. In mentioning maturity, several of the characters are written in a rather smart manner. Daniella isn’t a stupid Italian girl or a succubus (although there is a funny dream sequence with her playing Nero’s wife), and when Moondoggie expects her to give up her career to be with him, she refuses. She refuses to compromise her values and dreams for a man she doesn’t really know; I found it to be a classy move. Also, smart Gidget returns in earnest! Yes, she spouts random trivia like a walking encyclopedia, but I prefer intelligent Francie to boy-obsessed.
I was leery at the presence of Cesare Danova in this film. He’s appeared in a few works of middling quality (particularly the Carroll Baker Harlow biopic), so I was naturally assuming him as a sign of the film’s quality. He’s placed in the role once inhabited by Cliff Robertson in the first Gidget, and while the two are like comparing apples to hot oranges – yes, my love for Robertson knows no bounds – Danova is decent. We do see a few funny quips thrown in that I would have laughed at in the first Gidget; my personal favorite is Moondoggie mentioning “He’s old enough to be her father” to which Gidget’s friend replies “So is Cary Grant.” Quite a zinger, and meta to boot.
Overall, Gidget Goes to Rome whimpers to the finish line as it moves progressively towards the sitcom that would catapult Sally Field into entertainment only two years later. It’s got some chuckle-inducing one-liners, a tight plot, and a return to the formula that made Gidget a fun piece of 50s hokum. If you’re hoping she’ll surf at the end, you’re sadly mistaken although this is way better than Gidget Goes Hawaiian. I recommend watching the first, seeing this, and skipping the middle film entirely.
Interested in purchasing today’s film? If you use the handy link below a small portion will be donated to this site! Thanks!
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.