The 1961 film, Love in a Goldfish Bowl, tells the story of two college students.
Gordon Slide (Tommy Sands) and Blythe Holloway (Toby Michaels) are best friends. Their relationship is strictly platonic, though everyone at the college assumes that they’re more than just friends. Gordon and Blythe both share the common bond of coming from broken but wealthy families and they both want to do something more with their lives than just following the rules. Blythe is a good student, the daughter of a senator. Gordon is styles himself as being a cynic, or at least what was considered to be a cynic by the standards of 1961. (James Dean would have probably called him a phony.) The school’s headmaster (John McGiver) suspects that 1) Gordon and Blythe are more than just friends and 2) that Gordon is a bad influence on Blythe. He even orders them to stop seeing each other, which I guess is something that headmasters could get away with in 1961.
Still, it’s going to take more than some stuffy authority figure to keep Gordon and Blythe for enjoying their Spring Break! Especially when Gordon’s mother happens to own a beach house, which would be the perfect place for the two of them to hang out. Despite knowing that each of their parent probably wouldn’t approve of them spending the break together, Gordon and Blythe decide to do just that. Blythe even gets permission for her father, albeit by duplicitous means. (Gordon imitates the headmaster on the phone. Wow, that wild and crazy Gordon.)
At first, the beach house seems like the perfect place for Gordon and Blythe to unwind. But when they meet Giuseppe La Barba (Fabian Forte), things start to change. A member of the Coast Guard, Giuseppe plots to steal Blythe away from Gordon, with his schemes causing Gordon and Blythe to reconsider their feelings for each other.
Considering that this film is 60 years old, it’s perhaps not surprising that Love In A Goldfish Bowl often feels like it’s a rusty time capsule that someone buried in the sand on a California beach. Everything from the intrusive headmaster to the scandal of divorce to the domestic routine that both Gordon and Blythe naturally slip into as soon as they arrive at the beach house makes this film feel almost as if it comes from another planet. While the film is critical of adults who don’t understand what it’s like to be young and idealistic, it also ultimately ends with the suggestion that the adults might not be so clueless themselves. It’s a bit of a wishy-washy approach to what little conflict the film has to offer up.
My point here is that Love In A Goldfish Bowl is an amazingly innocent little film, the type of Spring Break movie that would cause even your grandma to say, “Those kids really need to loosen up and live a little.” Usually, I kind of like time capsule films like this, just because I’m a history nerd and I’m always interested in seeing how people used to live and communicate. Unfortunately, Love In A Goldfish Bowl is a remarkably slow 88 minutes and neither Tommy Sands nor Toby Michaels have enough chemistry to be interesting as friends, let alone as a chaste couple waiting for their wedding night. Fabian has a little bit more screen presence than Tommy Sands but overall, this is a pretty bland affair.
Ultimately, this film is mostly interesting as an example of what beach movies were like before AIP reinvented the genre with the Frankie and Annette beach party films. Thank goodness people finally learned how to celebrate being young and on the beach.