Movie posters were never meant to be accurate depictions of the movies themselves. They were simply meant to get you to buy a ticket. The poster for the 1967 film “Don’t Make Waves” gives the impression that you’re in for a AIP style beach party flick. It features two bikini-clad beauties bookending an image of stars Tony Curtis and Claudia Cardinale, in the background a Mr Universe style bodybuilder is striking a pose. The tag line tell the theater goers to “Turn On! Stay Loose! Make Out!” Meanwhile another paragraph of text informs us that the movie was “filmed in the way-way-way out West, in the land of glutes and pects where the boys and the girls are really surfing it up!” In actuality, the similarities to a Frankie and Annette film are minimal.
Curtis plays Carlo Cofield. When we meet him at the opening of the film, he has driven up a scenic mountain road to spot overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As he tries to eat a sandwich and enjoy the view, a young woman, Laura Califatti (Cardinale), is attempting to paint the ocean scenery nearby. When she grows frustrated with her work, she pitches her canvass over the cliff, hops into her convertible and drives away. What she doesn’t notice is that her bumper catches the bumper of Carlo’s VW bug and sends it rolling down the mountain. Eventually she becomes aware that her actions have caused this disaster and takes Carlo back to her house on the beach to get her insurance information. With no place else to go, she allows Carlo to sleep on her couch that evening. But in the middle of the night, Laura’s lover, Rod Prescott (Robert Webber) comes calling. He quickly kicks the unexpected house guest out, forcing Carlo to sleep on the beach. When Carlo awakes he is surrounded by young, buff beach people. They surf, they body build, and one in particular, a skydiver in a sprayed on bikini named Malibu (Sharon Tate), has quite a way with jumping on a trampoline in slow motion. Carlo immediately becomes fascinated with her.
From there the story gets complicated as Carlo sets many different plans in motion. When he returns to Laura’s beach home and finds that Rod, the head of a the Seaspray pool company, has left his briefcase behind, he sets out to become a top salesman for the company. He forces Rod to give him a job as a pool salesman when he uses the info in his briefcase to make some big high-profile sales…including one to Gilligan’s Island star, and voice of Mr. Magoo, Jim Backus. I mean, think of the marketing potential…who wouldn’t want to have the same pool as Jim Backus!?!
Carlo also starts to make plans to steal Malibu away from her bodybuilding boyfriend, Harry (actual Mr. Olympia winner David Draper). It seems Harry and his muscle head buddies live by the advice of a newspaper astrologer called Madame Lavinia…which is just the pen name of an elderly man (played by the great ventriloquist Edgar Bergen). Madame Lavinia also happens to be in the market for a swimming pool, so Carlo cuts the “Madame” a deal in exchange for him telling Harry, who is in training for a body building contest, that too much sex will drain his strength. Thus allowing Carlo to swoop in and claim the gorgeous Malibu for himself.
The style of the film is hard to describe. Many refer to it as being a “sex farce” as it deals with various different love triangles, but with it’s bikini chicks, bodybuilders and skydivers, it does have some elements of the beach party genre. The story is actually based on a novel by Ira Wallach (who also worked on the screenplay) called Muscle Beach. Presumably, the title was changed so as not to be too similar to AIP’s “Muscle Beach Party” from a few years earlier. But this story is much more “adult” in nature than the Beach Party films are. In those films, sex was occasionally hinted at, but never really a part of the story.
The film does start off promising. I like that from the beginning of the film we really have no idea who this Carlo Caulfield character is. Why is he eating a sandwich at a mountain overlook? When Laura destroys his car he says that she’s destroyed everything he owns…maybe he’s having one last meal before he hurls himself off the cliff. OR, could it be that he knew she’d be up there, he knew that she was having an affair with a wealthy pool executive? Perhaps he’s a con man that’s been plotting this whole thing for months. We don’t know, and I kind of like it that way. I also enjoyed the interactions between Curtis and Cardinale, even if her heavily accented, “how-do-you-say” style of speaking gets a bit tiresome. I realize English is not her first language, but her speaking feels a bit cartoonish here.
The basic story of this schemer infatuated with a sexy skydiver is interesting…even better are his attempts to sneak his way to the top of the world of pool sales… but a few silly elements cause the film to go downhill. The skydiving sequence in which Curtis tumbles out of a plane without a parachute, to be rescued by Tate, is just plain silly. Some sources claim that this sequence resulted in an on-set fatality when a stuntman drowned parachuting into the ocean. But if the skydiving sequence is silly, that’s nothing compared to the film’s climax when a house slowly rolls down a mountain, courtesy of a mudslide, with all the principal characters inside.
I admit to having laughed a bit, but in the end, I don’t think I would call “Don’t Make Waves” a good film. However, there is enough nostalgia and 60’s southern California atmosphere to make it an enjoyable movie watching experience.