Sunday, June 30, 2013

10,000 Kids On 5,000 Beach Blankets

The first of American International’s enormously popular Beach Party series, unlike the rest, gives the biggest parts to adults.

In 1963's BEACH PARTY, middle-aged director William Asher, an Emmy winner and Malibu resident, and writer Lou Rusoff take the point of view of Robert Sutwell (LOVE THAT BOB Cummings), a bearded anthropologist, and his stacked assistant Marianne (Dorothy Malone), who stake out the Malibu beaches and spy on local teenagers to study their sex habits. Future Beach Party pictures would, of course, concentrate on the teenagers—notably Frankie (Frankie Avalon) and Dolores/Dee Dee (Annette Funicello)—with adults in supporting roles as comic relief.

Frankie rents a beach house for the summer with ideas of sharing with Dolores, but she doesn’t trust her sex-mad boyfriend and invites all their friends to stay with them. Rusoff, who died tragically before BEACH PARTY was released, provides little more plot than this. Frankie and Dolores fight, try to make one another jealous, break up, and get back together. Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his clowny biker gang show up to make trouble. Lembeck goes all out for slapstick laughs, but his act would grow old in future films.

Slightly more realistic than later Beach Party entries—the kids smoke (pot?) and drink beer—BEACH PARTY coasts on its bouncy pop and rock tunes by Avalon, Funicello, and especially the awesome Dick Dale & The Deltones and its energetic, likable cast. Unfortunately, Oscar winner Malone (WRITTEN ON THE WIND) has too little to do, but Asher finds plenty of room for Morey Amsterdam as a beatnik bar owner, John Ashley (MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND), Jody McCrea (as Deadhead), Andy Romano (UNDER SIEGE), and Hungarian hip-shaker Eva Six. Vincent Price (his upcoming THE HAUNTED PALACE is plugged) makes a cool cameo, and try to spot Yvette Vickers (ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN) and Meredith MacRae (PETTICOAT JUNCTION).

BEACH PARTY is the first, but not the best, Beach Party movie, but it still provides a frothy good time. Asher, who directed five more, and producers James Nicholson and Samuel Arkoff had a pretty good idea what made it work and did a good job duplicating the formula. Contrary to reports, Funicello does wear a two-piece swimsuit. Les Baxter composed the score. MUSCLE BEACH PARTY was next.


Grant said...

I know what you mean by the pot reference. Even though it's probably a cigarette as far as the story is concerned, the way Frankie Avalon and John Ashley pass it along during one scene makes it look like an inside joke.

I never knew that Yvette Vickers was in it, though.

Grant said...

Meredith MacRae is also a little hard to spot because she doesn't really have any big moment in it, but that changes in one of the sequels, BIKINI BEACH. Oddly enough, in that one she plays about the closest thing to a loose woman among the surfers, in spite of her usual image.