In the opening moments of the 1967 film Don’t Make Waves, Tony Curtis pulls up beside a billboard welcoming him to “Malibu: Where The Action Is.” He has little to his name, having packed up his meager possessions for a fresh start on the West Coast. Then, after an accident set into motion by failed-actress-turned-amateur-painter Claudia Cardinale sends his car careening into a bus filled with bodybuilders, skydivers, and other beautiful people, he has even less. How better to start anew than by starting with nothing?
Directed by Ealing veteran Alexander Mackendrick, who’d previously teamed with Curtis for the great Sweet Smell Of Success, Don’t Make Waves is an alluring curiosity. It’s never all that funny, but it’s unfailingly pleasant, and fascinating as a window to a lost paradise of beautiful people chasing the dream of endless leisure. Curtis plays a man who knows he’s too old and square to fit into the beachside scene, but once smitten with bronzed beach bunny Sharon Tate (in her debut, playing a character named “Malibu”), he’s determined to find his way in. This means blackmailing Cardinale’s lover, swimming-pool manufacturer Robert Webber, into giving him a job, stating that he wants “everything you’ve got. But I’m willing to work for it.” A leisurely farce follows, as Curtis, echoing some of his Sweet Smell oiliness, charms a house-hunting Jim Backus (playing himself) and tricks an astrologer (Edgar Bergen) into warning Tate’s boyish, hulking boyfriend against having sex with her if he hopes to win an upcoming bodybuilding competition.
Cardinale and Curtis fail to develop any chemistry, the film doesn’t have an ending so much as a stopping point, and Mackendrick never finds a way to move the film forward at a compelling pace. But Mackendrick is great at the details, lingering over Tate’s unearthly beauty as she performs a slow-motion trampoline routine, and making Curtis look out of place whether in the office, on the beach, or moving into the beachfront dream home the film’s climax sends rolling down the side of a hill. After all, paradises—even those populated by beautiful, easygoing people with nothing much to do—have a way of not lasting forever.
Key features: Just a trailer, but the credits have a nifty theme song from The Byrds.