Monday, August 23, 2010
The series of beach movies starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello began just as I was becoming a teenager. I found them fascinating at the time that kids (OK none of them were really kids) were all just hanging out at the beach with no adult supervision. Man! Did I ever wish I lived in California instead of upstate South Carolina!
Beach Party was the first in the series and it not only begat its own sequels, but also copycat movies from other studios. So many movies of this type were made that four years later the genre was played out and came to an end; although in 1987, Frankie and Annette would appear together once again in Back To The Beach, which is more or less a parody of the original movies.
Beach Party contained all of the elements that would show up in the future movies in the series. Frankie and Annette always sing a few songs, either solo or together. In Beach Party Frankie and Annette sing "Beach Party", Annette sings "Promise Me Anything (Give Me Love)" and "Treat Him Nicely", and Frankie does a rocking "Don't Stop Now". There's always a musical guest and in this movie that slot is filled by Dick Dale and The Deltones who perform "Swingin' and a-Surfin'" and "Secret Surfin' Spot". Also look for Dick in several other scenes where he plays the bongos and appears to be a member of the beach gang....maybe they had originally planned for Dick to be a regular in the series.
Other elements that you would continue to see as the series rolled along: Frankie talking to the camera/audience; Frankie and Annette having a spat, then try to make each other jealous, but they always get back together before the end of the movie; an older comedian who runs a business the kids frequent, Beach Party has Morey Amsterdam, this role would later be filled several times by Don Rickles; and Candy Johnson doing her wild shimmy dancing, she's credited in Beach Party as Perpetual Motion Dancer.
Beach Party also introduced us to the worst motorcycle gang anyone has ever seen - Harvey Lembeck as Eric Von Zipper with his gang The Rats and The Mice. He always made me think that his character was Brando from The Wild One run through the minds at Mad Magazine. In Beach Party, Eric Von Zipper also learns "The Finger", which somehow he always manages to work only on himself.
The main plot to hold all of the elements in Beach Party together is about an anthropologist (Bob Cummings) who with his assistant (Dorothy Malone) is studying the beach gang as if they were a wild tribe with their own language and mating rituals. If you think about it, Beach Party was made to appeal to young people, but the movie is actually making fun of them with this plot....but then this movie was written by Lou Rusoff who was 52 at the time.
I've watched several other beach movies in the recent past (reviews forthcoming) and so far I have found Beach Party to be the dullest of the bunch. I laughed only a couple of times during the movie and it also didn't seem to have the playfulness and light heartedness as some of the sequels that came later. One final thing to mention, Vincent Price makes a very small appearance in Beach Party, basically as a promotion for another American International picture he was starring in, The Haunted Palace.