I remember watching the show “Laverne & Shirley” when I was a kid. They would mention how much they loved someone called Fabian on many episodes. For that matter, I can remember my mom and her sister bringing up the name Fabian when talking about their teenage years. He was one of the biggest of the teen heart-throbs and today’s movie features him, though he doesn’t end up being the character you’re supposed to root for. That’s somewhat odd for a teen idol in the movies. It’s 1961’s “Love in a Goldfish Bowl.”
The film begins on the campus of a small California college where two students have been making things difficult for the administrators. Gordon Slide (Tommy Sands) and Blythe Holloway (Toby Michaels) have a purely platonic relationship, yet they’ve become a major distraction for each other. Their grades are slipping and the administrators have forbidden them from seeing each other. Most of today’s college students would find this school to be hilariously and unrealistically strict. The dean and his staff know the comings and goings of each student, down to when someone has an asthma attack, and can somehow control who someone does or doesn’t spend time with.
Though Spring Break is approaching, both Gordon and Blythe are lamenting how they will be spending the time off. Gordon’s divorced mother (Jan Sterling) likes to party with guys half her age in Hawaii, and is expecting her son to join her. Blythe’s father (Edward Andrews), a senator from Colorado, expects her to join him in Denver. By the way, the senator’s secretary is played by Mrs. Star Trek herself, Majel Barrett. Since neither one is thrilled with this arrangement, Gordon and Blythe decide to spend spring break together at Gordon’s mother’s California beach house. Gordon even calls Blythe’s father, doing an impersonation of the head of the school, Dr. Frowley (John McGiver), to tell him that Blythe needs to stay on campus to catch up with her studies.
The two successfully make it to the beach and proceed to essentially play house. Gordon gets very wrapped up in being the man of the house and thinking he knows everything about life. Blythe starts to picture herself keeping house, though she seems to be challenged when it comes to simple domestic chores. But…there is no hanky panky going on!
One day, while the two are out on Gordon’s boat, they end up too far from shore. The boat eventually capsizes and the two are rescued by a Coast Guard ship. One of the sailors on board is Guiseppe “Seppi” La Barba (Fabian), who takes an instant liking to Blythe. She, of course, is flattered, while Gordon begins to steam with jealousy. Seppi begins spending just about every moment of shore leave he has coming around to the house to visit Blythe. Gordon and Blythe assure him that they are staying at the house with Gordon’s mother, but Seppi seems to always miss her.
When Blythe tells Gordon that she is going to a party with Seppi, Gordon tells her she can’t go. He’s been growing more and more jealous with each day. Eventually, they work out a compromise and decide to hold the party at the house. Blythe just loves the idea of being the hostess, but things get out of hand when Seppi ends up inviting pretty much all his sailor buddies…not to mention the fact that he starts to get a bit too, shall we say “friendly” with Blythe. Of course, this is all just in time for Gordon and Blythe’s parents to show up and spoil things.
Even for 1961, the premise of “Love in a Goldfish Bowl” is a little hard to believe. These two young, attractive college students have a beach house all to themselves…but the normal sort of spring break debauchery never even enters their minds. Instead, Gordon sits in bed reading and smoking a pipe like the king of the castle…Blythe does the shopping and brings home a surrogate child in the form of a lost dog. They seem a bit like two five-year olds playing make-believe.
When Fabian enters the picture, things should’ve become a bit more interesting. With Gordon turning jealous, there should’ve been all sorts of scheming to eliminate this suave sailor. Having the two leading men involved in back and forth revenge plots would’ve taken things in a fun direction. But Gordon is too clean-cut a character to even launch the first salvo…despite the fact that we’re told he’s a bad influence at the beginning of the film. Likewise, there was a missed opportunity to turn Fabian’s character into a real slime-ball and give Gordon the chance to rescue the girl. But, I’m sure having Fabian play the bad guy would not have been good for his image.
Still, the three leads are likeable enough to make the movie enjoyable. But the highlight performances of the film come from the adult characters. The parents are so wrapped up in their own world’s…it’s much like the parental units John Hughes often put on the screen in the 80’s. They provide some good comedic moments in what is otherwise a pretty dry script.
In the end, the film is enjoyable, but a bit too squeaky-clean for its own good.