One of the great movies of our adolescent years was Bye Bye Birdie, the film version of the successful Broadway musical.
It’s one of the rare instances when the changes Hollywood inevitably brings to Broadway adaptations actually improved the story.
The story was inspired by Elvis Presley’s 1957 induction into the army. The title character’s name was a play on then current rock singer (and future country star) Conway Twitty.
Dick Van Dyke and Paul Lynde were brought in from the stage show to play essentially the same parts.
There were two big changes.
This is the film that started it all!
Teen exploitation movies! A nationwide craze for surfing! The slang phrase “Big Kahuna!” Sandra Dee’s brief career as a movie star!
Before Gidget, there had been movies aimed at teenagers, but they were mainly bad horror and science fiction films whose stars were still adults. Gidget was the first movie for the Baby Boomers to make the kids and their personal lifestyle the focus.
In the early days of TV, most major Hollywood studios saw it as “the enemy,” the force that was driving down attendance at movie theaters.
In those days, only Universal (which frankly could use the money), Walt Disney (who knew how to use TV to promote his movies and new theme park) and Warner Brothers really embraced the new medium.
Warner Brothers specialized in churning out 60-minure Westerns and private eye shows for ABC-TV. They began with the Western Cheyenne. When that clicked, others soon followed. One of the first was Sugarfoot, starring Will Hutchins.
Is there a Baby Boomer male who didn’t have a crush on Hayley Mills back in the early 60’s?
If there was, he probably never saw her in her magnum opus, The Parent Trap.
The film trades on the extremely popular, but probably psychologically unhealthy fantasy of a lot of divorced kids that they can somehow get their parents back together again.
In this case, the too dumb for their own good ‘rents are played by Brian Keith (who owns every young girl’s fantasy of a California horse ranch) and Maureen O’Hara (who inhabits no one’s fantasy of a stuffy Boston home, relieved only by Charlie Ruggles as a grandfather with a permanent twinkle in his eye).
In The Parent Trap, their kids are both Hayley Mills (or Hayley and her body double, Susan Henning) as twins who were separated at birth by their idiot parents.
While often lumped together with “The Twilight Zone” and “Boris Karloff’s Thriller,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” is the true original, debuting 4 years before TZ and 5 before “Thriller.”
Alfred Hitchcock’s show was also different than the other two in that it didn’t deal in either supernatural or science-fiction. The situations may have been odd, but were always rooted in reality. Cold, brutal or gruesome reality, but reality nonetheless.
The show debuted in the fall of 1955 featuring a pair of now-classic episodes directed by the master himself. The first, “Revenge” about a husband looking for the man who assaulted his wife when she was alone in their mobile home and “Breakdown” featuring Joseph Cotton as a man paralyzed in a car crash, unable to tell the workers carting him off to the morgue that he’s not dead!
Hitch would go on to direct 15 more half-hours during the show’s 8 season run. But even when he wasn’t directing, the show always highlighted ed his style of crime thrillers. And of course, each episode featured the master himself introducing and closing each program with a generous helping of his macabre sense of humor and disdain for the sponsor.
If one comedy personified how Americans saw themselves in the early 1960’s, that comedy would be Pillow Talk. This first teaming of Doris Day and Rock Hudson was instant box office gold, racking up $18 million in ticket sales (back then, that was a blockbuster!) and leading to more on screen teamings of the two.
Now, the entire premise of Pillow Talk makes it impossible to remake today. It revolves around something we once called a “party line.”
Most people would have trouble remembering a time without cell phones, let alone a time when even the most glamorous of people (like Hudson & Day’s characters in this comedy) had to share their telephone line with total strangers.
The gimmick is a clever twist of the mistaken identity meme quite common in farce.
In show biz, imitation may not be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is the most predictable.
When 77 Sunset Strip was a rating success in the 1958 -59 TV season, Warner Brothers immediately began working up other series with the same basic components.
First, you need an exotic, but American locale. Hawaii was perfect. Not only was it tropical, but it was very topical as well. During 1959 and 1960, Hawaii was on its way to becoming our 50th state.
The Hawaiian Eye Detective Agency was headquartered in Honolulu’s upscale Hawaiian Village Hotel. The detectives performed security duties for the hotel in exchange for rent. The offices were quite elaborate with a tiki statue by the front door (often kissed for good luck) and a full sized private swimming pool! (Just what every private eye needs.)
Next, you add a handsome but mature leading man (the Efrem Zimbalist of the show). For Hawaiian Eye, that would be Anthony Eisley as Tracy Steele.
Now, more than half a century later, there has never been a rock & roll film that has surpassed “A Hard Day’s Night.” Not only is it a great rock movie and a great time capsule showing how insane Beatlemania was at its height, but it is simply a great movie (having made many “100 Greatest Films” lists) that influenced many subsequent filmmakers and is credited with single-handedly inventing the music video.
The next time you watch this classic, here are some things you can watch for that you might have missed before.
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