In The Balcony
BEACH PARTY tonight!
Olive Films brings us two of the classic Annette/Frankie films (BD $29.95, DVD $24.95 each)
Here in the Balcony, we’re perfectly comfortable being introduced at parties as “Hey, this is the In The Balcony guy. You know, the one that loves that awful Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon Beach Party movies.” Love, perhaps. But if you think they’re awful, you must be a ho-dad or a gremmie.
A quick review of the Beach Party series: the first, Beach Party, was released in mid-July 1963 on the heels of the Gidget and Where the Boys are films, and had a bit more of an adult theme, with Robert Cummings and Dorothy Malone for the grownups and Annette and Frankie for the kids. Morey Amsterdam kicks off the series’ habit of spotlight TV or guest stars in supporting or surprise roles, and the Beach Party gang, most of whom would show up in all or most of the films, includes John Ashley, Candy Johnson (whose dancing hips cause earthquakes), Jody McCrea, and Meredith MacRae. The musical guest is Dick Dale, whose surf instrumentals would bring so much to Pulp Fiction many years later. Beach Boys pals Roger Christian and Gary Usher wrote the songs. Harvey Lembeck contributes much of the comedy as Eric Von Zipper, spoofing Marlon Brando in The Wild One.
At this point in our narrative, let’s shoot down a rumor we’ve heard many times over the years: that Walt Disney decreed that Annette couldn’t wear a skimpy bathing suit in the film. Not true; he simply asked her not to wear anything “too immodest." She’s dressed quite sexily in some of the films (notably Bikini Beach) but these were her child-bearing years, and she typically wore clothes that would hide the babies she was carrying.
Beach Party was a massive hit and led to the first of two Olive Films offering, Muscle Beach Party (1964), not one of the stronger entries in the series. Don Rickles invades Malibu with a fleet of musclemen; Dick Dale and Morey are back, and they’ve brought with them Buddy Hackett and 13-year-old Little Stevie Wonder. Von Zipper is sorely missed in this one, but Donna Loren, lovely Luciana Paluzzi (who played various roles in the James Bond series at that time) and special guest Peter Lorre, in one of his final films, take up some of the slack.
Bikini Beach was next, with Avalon spoofing the British Invasion, and guest stars Keenan Wynn, Martha Hyer, and Boris Karloff, plus the return of Little Stevie Wonder. Then Don Weis replaced regular series director William Asher (Elizabeth Montgomery’s husband) for the first series spin-off, Pajama Party, with Tommy Kirk as a Martian invader and guest stars Jesse White, Elsa Lanchester, Dorothy Lamour, and – not for the last time in the series – Buster Keaton. Look for Teri Garr as one of the teenage dancers.
The fifth in the series, and the second Blu-ray from Olive Films, is arguably the best in the entire series: Beach Blanket Bingo hands us publicity-seeking singing sensation Linda Evans and a mermaid, Marta Kristen (Lost in Space). Paul Lynde supplies the comedy, and the Hondells perform. Lots of songs and fun in this one, and Jody McCray (Joel's son) gets a bigger than usual chance to shine in his Deadhead/Lunkhead role.
The series continued on, but its success meant that American-International split up the regulars to churn out more films. Ski Party (1965) has only a cameo by Annette, with Deborah Walley and Yvonne Craig taking the female leads against Frankie Dwayne Hickman. Lesley Gore, James Brown & His Famous Flames, and the Hondells perform. Then came How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965, with Mickey Rooney; Frankie does only a brief walk-on) and Sergeant Deadhead (1965) with Deborah Walley handling the romantic comedy with Frankie. The film, intended to replace the fading Beach Party series with a military comedy series, was not a success, but it did better than the next (and last) of the Beach Party series.
The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) was reportedly made solely so that AIP co-founder James Nicholson could make a star out of his beautiful young wife, Susan Hart. Oddly, the film was top-heavy with old people, including Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, and no Annette or Frankie in sight. It closed out the series, but AIP soon moved on to motorcycle pictures and did quite well with them; the ‘60s were a time of change, you know.
We certainly don't want to forget the belated 1987 follow-up reunion of Frankie and Annette, the delightful Back to the Beach, a solid hit that would've led to at least one more film, but Annette's illness precluded that. She passed away in 2013.
Yes, the films were corny and innocent and stupid and nobody’s going to claim they’re great movies. But there’s something so sunny and funny and charming about them that over the years, they’ve remained great favorites of ours, with romance, dancing, pretty girls, drag racing, broad comedy, legendary guest stars, and moments of great fun. We love ‘em. Thanks to Olive Films for bringing two of them (and beautiful they are in HD in correct 2.35:1 widescreen ratio) to Blu-ray; hopefully, others will follow.
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