It’s confusing to think that Alexander Mackendrick, the director of such classics as The Man in the White Suit, The Lady Killers, and The Sweet Smell of Success, also made Don’t Make Waves (1967). I suppose that even ambitious film directors need something light and fun to cleanse the artistic palette.
But that’s not how it worked out. Not exactly a 60s-style sex romp. Not a romantic comedy. Not a beach film. Not a social satire. Not even a Tony Curtis vehicle.
It’s all of those, which make it odd, a hybrid, a FrankenFilm with seemingly disparate parts that manages to keep alive. Lovers display pain over failed relationships. Muscle men have feelings and muse about astrology. Beach blondes have jobs and ambition. Mistresses express remorse over their situations. It’s a film with an odd attitude about money and possessions:
Character 1: You know what I want? A box of twenty-five Monte Cristo panatelas. I want a king-size vibrator bed. I want a 35mm. Hasselblad, a Rolls-Royce convertible. I want driving gloves made from the underside of antelope ears. A bold men’s cologne for the man who does something to women. A cashmere double-breasted jacket that’s going to get me there first.
Character 2: Get where?
Character 1: Doesn’t matter. I want to be where the action is. I want to live a life of understated elegance.
And why is an uber-60s band like The Byrds singing the quirky theme song? Irony? I doubt it. (Remember, leader Roger McGuinn used to play with Bobby Darrin. It’s Hollywood show biz baby).
The presence of stone-faced Sharon Tate also layers on an obtuse reality. You’re definitely not going to find Frankie and Annette on this beach.
It’s never explained why New Yorker Tony Curtis is so anxious to assume a west coast existence. I mean, isn’t he just on a holiday? Or is he, in a classic 60s sense, searching for himself?
It’s a film that undercuts the American Dream. The Go West anthem falls flat. There’s nothing along the coast but mud slides, desperate businessmen and aging beatniks. The last scene reveals the lead characters splashing in the Malibu surf – but you get the feeling (similar to watching Benjamin and Elaine in the Graduate’s last scene) that they have nowhere to go…at least together.
And in 60s pop, the whole zeitgeist is togetherness. Curiouser and curiouser!
Ian M. Clarke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org