The 1980s was a time when Hollywood grew nostalgic for the early 1960s, before the assassination of JFK and the turbulence that followed. Shag (1989) was set in 1963 Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the home of “The Carolina Shag,” a popular dance at the time (and named the official dance of the state in 1984). Carson McBride (Phoebe Cates) is engaged to be married to a rich but boring son of a tobacco farmer (Tyrone Power Jr.) but sneaks off to Myrtle Beach with her friends (Bridget Fonda, Page Hannah and Annabeth Gish) for a fun weekend. There, her life changes when she meets a local boy (Robert Rusler) and falls in love. The film was made with the support of the South Carolina Film Commission and was shot on location at various locations in North Myrtle Beach and at the famed Pavilion. Shag was slated for a United Artists release, but the studio wanted singer Whitney Houston to play one of the lead roles. English-born director Zelda Barron argued it wouldn’t be realistic to have an African-American girl be friends with white girls in the 1960s South, and United Artists withdrew financing. London-based Palace Pictures took over production and Shag would be the only major feature film directed by Barron, who had worked for most of her career as a script supervisor on films like Yentl (1983) and Reds (1981) and later directed videos for the band Culture Club. Roger Ebert noted in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times that the plot of Shag was one that had been used many times before, which may account for why it was not a hit at the box office when it was released in the United States in July 1989 (nearly a full year after its August 1988 UK release), grossing roughly $6.9 million at the US box office.
by Lorraine LoBianco