And so, courtesy of Olive Films, in 2019 we go back to the beach with Annette, Frankie, and the whole Beach Party gang, courtesy of a stellar new Blu-ray for one of the last films in the popular series, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.
Beach Blanket Background
Looking to capitalize on the success of sand-and-sea hits from other studios, namely the Gidget pictures and Where the Boys Are, American International hosted a Beach Party in the summer of 1963, with Bob Cummings and Dorothy Malone for the oldsters and Frankie Avalon and – borrowed from Walt Disney – Annette Funicello for the kids. AIP might as well've been printing money: the film had Box Office Bonanza written all over it, and sure enough, Beach Party was the studio's biggest hit to date – beautiful color, widescreen, and lots and lots of tight butts stuffed into bathing suit trunks and bikini bottoms wiggling at the camera - they could've charged general admission prices just to watch the trailer and still made a fortune.
By the end of 1964, AIP had given us more seashore escapades with Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, and Pajama Party. 1965 followed with Beach Blanket Bingo, Ski Party, and the film that concerns us here today, as we learn How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. (For you completists out there, these were followed by three more-or-less Beach Party movies, Sergeant Deadhead, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, and Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Drop us a postcard if you want to know more, we’re just the guys that could tell you.)
Frolics in the sand, virginal romantic drama, musical guest stars, over-the-hill performers brought in for the moms and dads out there, a bevy of songs, and a big slapstick finish: this Bikini, stuffed, follows the formula of the earlier films, but with all these films in production bing-bang-boom, a cast change was necessitated for most of them. Here, we have Dwayne Hickman as our leading man, with Frankie Avalon relegated to key support so he could go star in the simultaneous Deadhead. Candy Johnson, the hip-shaking human wrecking ball of a dancer, is notably absent as well, and many of the other Beach Party regulars are given what amounts to extended cameos.
Our plot: Frankie’s on maneuvers in the Naval Reserve and since he’s playing around with the native girls, he becomes worried that good ol’ reliable Dee Dee might well be up to the sort of panky that’s preceded by hanky, so he hires local witch doctor Buster Keaton to keep an eye on her. Good thing, too, because she’s being swept off her feet by Dwayne and seriously considering becoming one of the many loves of Dobie Gillis. That’s not enough plot, even for a Beach Party film, to fill out our running time, so there’s additional nonsense about – get this – ad executive Mickey Rooney hosting a contest to find the perfect American boy and girl, leading to not only a lot of songs about perfection, but Rat Pack motor-sickelist Eric Von Zipper up for the award himself. It’s screwy, I tell ya, folks.
Many critics find these last couple of Beach Party films to be the weakest in the series, but they didn’t much care for the first few in the series either, so let's ignore them. Here in the Balcony, we’re big fans of all of ‘em, and applaud AIP’s attempts to broaden the series by turning them from teen comedies with pop songs to full-fledged musicals with numbers that advance or comment on the plot; nobody will mistake these movies for The Music Man or Show Boat, but considering some of the huge-budget, impossible-to-sit-through musicals of the 1960s, we’ll take these any day.
Million-dollar Song Lyrics:
The Beach Girls: "We got charm / We got looks / We got brains / We read books!"
Our musical guests this time are the Kingsmen, not doing Louie Louie; Annette (who was preggers at the time and spends most of the movie on a beach blanket, commenting on the goings-on, with a bowl of popcorn or a bucket of KFC blocking her baby bump) does several numbers, and there’s a show-stopper called How About Us, with the beach girls pleading their case with Mickey Rooney.
Rounding out our cast is Harvey Lembeck as Von Zipper; Beverly Adams as the lady in the Wild Bikini; Jody McCrea and John Ashley back in their typical surfer boy roles; and guest star Brian Donlevy as Rooney’s boss.
The Olive Blu-ray is phenomenal, gorgeous and crisp and showing off the widescreen cinematography (by Floyd Crosby) at its best. Includes the trailer.
Muscle Beach Party and Beach Blanket Bingo are also available from Olive Films, and hopefully sales on this Wild Bikini will be good enough to get us the rest of the series.