Having enough of the rat race in New York, Carlo Cofield (Tony Curtis) escapes to the other side of the country, California and the golden beaches of the West Coast. However, on arriving, he meets with a mishap: his possessions are in his car, so when he is taking a bite to eat as he looks out over the ocean, a frustrated artist bumps it with her vehicle, sending it down the hill. By the time Carlo notices, it has picked up speed and goes off the road, down an embankment where it lands on its roof, its owner tumbling after it. A bus full of beach bums nearly crashes into it, but so does the artist, Laura Califatti (Claudia Cardinale), and she is furious about the near miss. Then one of her stray matches sets the wreck alight...
It's a helluva complicated meet cute, but there it was, Don't Make Waves, a Beach Party movie for men reaching their mid-life crises in the sixties. That's the nineteen-sixties, Tony wasn't that old when he made this, but he was edging past his prime with a succession of starring roles which were having difficulty sustaining his stardom. He would have an unlikely hit in the title role of The Boston Strangler, but that didn't set him on a path to more testing dramatic parts no matter that he had proven he could handle them, though at least he was doing better in the industry than the director of this, Alexander Mackendrick. This would be his last outing on film before he retired to take up a university post.
There was a hint of the satirical bite he had brought to what was Curtis's best performance in Sweet Smell of Success which they had made in the previous decade, but as it played this was a weirdly sketchy, uncertain spoof on both the male ego and the fads going around California at the time, or the cooler hangouts at any rate. What this looked the most like was a dry run for the Blake Edwards megahit of the late seventies, 10 only with Dudley Moore in the lead, as there was even a nubile young lovely for the hero to lust after in spite of them having very little in common. She wasn't the Cardinale character, she was one of the beach set called Malibu and played by Sharon Tate, whose life would be ended a couple of years later in an atrocious murder case.
For that reason, and it's a reason which affects every Tate performance captured in her films, it's difficult not to think of what happened to her at the hands of the Manson Family when you see her, such was the world-changing effect of the crime, throwing such innocent cults as the Muscle Marys we see Malibu as a groupie for into a very different light. After 1969, anything vaguely hippy-ish had to be countered by the knowledge that it wasn't all peace and love with them, although for the majority it probably was, it was just that Charles Manson had spoiled the party, along with other elephants in the room such as the Vietnam War. Thus Don't Make Waves was a curio, finding breezy amusement in a set of characters who would be nostalgia items within a few short months, so imagine how they look now with their cutesy naivety.
Except that the script, which Terry Southern had a hand in, doesn't quite regard them like that either. It finds them preferable to Carlo, who bluffs his way into the swimming pool business of Laura's married boyfriend Rod Prescott (Robert Webber, already a seasoned screen heel) and takes advantage of her when we can see he should be treating her better - I mean, she's Claudia Cardinale! Yet all Carlo can see is Malibu, who he finds an excuse to persuade into a promotion as she is a skydiver, leading to a sequence not out of place in a Bond movie as he falls out the plane and she has to rescue him mid-air (alas, nobody rescued the stuntman in real life, he died in a sobering bit of foreshadowing). This was all over the place really, as you had Edgar Bergen sans dummy as a lady astrologer (though not dressed as one, thankfully), Jim Backus with his wife as themselves, apropos of nothing, and scene after scene of semi-parodic interaction which secretly longs for the carefree life. It ended abruptly with a mini disaster movie which might have been called Landslide! Music by Vic Mizzy, with a Byrds theme.