Over the weekend, I decided to rewatch all the Beach Party movies, the American International teen film series that started in 1963 starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Here’s the list, with IMDB links.
Muscle Beach Party
Beach Blanket Bingo
How to Stuff a Wild Bikini
If you’ve never seen them, go read about them and check out the cast lists. There’s something weirdly eye-catching about all of them. For instance, as the first one opens, Frankie and Annette are pulling up to a beach house, just the two of them. They’re talking about how being alone together is just like being married, only it’s really code for sex. They’ve gone away together to do it! Only Annette’s gotten cold feet, so she’s invited about 20 of their friends to crash with them. And then she wonders why Frankie takes up with the local hot foreign blonde.
The second and third have Don Rickles as a beach neighbor, first running a gym and then a bar. (It’s for the kids, he says. We don’t have cigarette machines or serve alcohol, only beer and soft drinks. Different world back then.) The third also has Frankie playing a dual role as the Potato Bug, a British pop star whom all the girls go crazy over. One IMDB reviewer calls it the best of the group, and I think they’re right.
After that, the series is pretty clearly looking for new inspiration. Ski Party is simply terrible (featuring a Bosom Buddies-like drag plot for Frankie and Dwayne Hickman), and Pajama Party is a misnomer, since they’re still in bikinis by the pool until the last third of the film. Frankie’s not even in that one (although he lends a vocal cameo), replaced by Tommy Kirk as a Martian sent to find out more about Earthlings. It also has Buster Keaton, of all people, as an American Indian stereotype accompanied by a Swedish dumpling who wears little and says nothing but “Yah, yah”.
Elsa Lanchester and Dorothy Lamour also guest-star, and the latter does a oddly catchy musical number about dance styles called “In My Day, We Never Did It That Way”. She’s still got the moves, and I think two of the backup dancers are Toni Basil and Teri Garr!
If you watch them, be generous. Realize that the second through fourth all came out in one year, 1964, which meant they were quickie productions. The songs are frothy fun, though, and the movies provide a wild glimpse into what people thought teen life used to be like. You’ll also to get to see a very young “Little Stevie Wonder” and a creepy-looking Dick Dale lip-synching in movies two and three.
But the strangest number of all is the short little ditty from Pajama Party in which Annette sings about how stuffed animals are better than boys. “A stuffed animal never talks back.” “A stuffed animal is more than a toy.” “A stuffed animal never says no.” …. ummm… how big is her stuffed lion?
It seems that many of these movies are being re-released next month in the Frankie & Annette MGM Movie Legends Collection. Sadly, given the title, they had to leave out Pajama Party (now out of print), but you do get two racing films in its place, and it’s a great value.
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