It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical:
Fireball 500 – Musical #710
American International Pictures
Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Annette Funicello, Chill Wills, Julie Parrish, Harvey Lembeck, Sandy Reed, Michael Nader, Mary Hughes, Salli Sachse, Patti Chandler, Luree Holmes, Linda Brent
Stock car racer Dave Owens (Avalon) travels from California to North Carolina to compete in stock car racing. His racing rival in the south is Leander Fox (Fabian). Dave gets mixed up in moonshine running — along with Leander — after meeting Martha (Parrish), who convinces Dave to run moonshine for her. The law catches up with Dave and says if he doesn’t play ball, his racing career will be jeopardized.
• Sandy Reed is a race announcer for this film, as well as technical advisor. Reed was an announcer at race track in Glendale and Riverside, California.
• The premiere was held in Charlotte, NC.
• The Fireball 500 car driven by Frankie Avalon was created and designed by George Barris for the film.
• Location scenes filmed in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the Ascot Raceway in Gardena, California, and at the Saugus Raceway in California.
• The car driven by Frankie Avalon was a Plymouth Barracuda.
• Racing footage
• “Fireball 500” performed by Frankie Avalon
• “Step Right Up” performed by Annette Funicello
• “My Way” performed by Frankie Avalon
In the 1960s, the studio American International Pictures (AIP) was well-known for beach films. But as the beach films started to lose popularity, AIP had to transition. FIREBALL 500 (1966) was the beginning of this shift into more serious films.
Frankie Avalon, Fabian Forte and Annette Funicello all take on more serious dramatic roles in FIREBALL 500. Frankie plays stock car racers, Dave, who travels down south to Charlotte, N.C., and gets coerced into running moonshine. His racing rival, Sonny Leander (Fabian), is also mixed up in the moonshine deal. When the government gets involved and some of the moonshine runners die, Frankie and Fabian team up to get to the end of this.
When you read the plot you may think, “Where is Annette?” I thought that pretty consistently throughout the film. This film definitely lacks in Annette Funicello, though she does get to sing one song. She also doesn’t have the romantic interest you may think.
You may also be thinking, “Is this really a musical?” With four or five songs throughout, I consider this a musical. But it’s not the same as the beach musicals, music wise. And there certainly are no beach scenes. Just racing footage, cars spinning out and pavement.
However, lots of the usual beach party cast members are in the film: Harvey Lemeck, Michael Nader, Mary Hughes, Salli Sachse, Patti Chandler, Luree Holmes, and Linda Brent.
As someone who grew up and lives in the south, I loved seeing the southern setting, such as Frankie Avalon driving on I-85 through Atlanta and 74 to Charlotte. That said, some of the southern accents are pretty bad, especially Harvey Lembeck’s.
A downside of this film to me is Julie Parrish and her bad wig. I wasn’t a fan of her character, and I didn’t buy her romance with Frankie Avalon.
Something else strange about this film is it starts and ends with Claymation cavemen, that felt more like an AIP comedic beach party. It didn’t feel the overall dark, dramatic tone of the film.
Overall, this is an interesting film and departure for Frankie Avalon, Fabian and Annette. And the title song of “Fireball 500” is quite jaunty.
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