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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical:
“Beach Party” (1964)– Musical #288
American International Pictures (AIP)
Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Robert Cummings, Dorothy Malone, Morey Amsterdam, Vincent Price, Harvey Lembeck, John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Meredith MacRae, Candy Johnson, Michael Nader, Mickey Dora, Eva Six
Themselves: Dick Dale and the Del Tones
Professor Sutwell (Cummings) is an anthropologist observing the teenage surfing subculture with his assistant Marianne (Malone). One couple he observes in the mix of dancing, surfing and kissing teenagers are Frankie (Avalon) and his girlfriend Dolores (Funicello) head to the beach where Frankie hoped to have romantic alone time with Dolores. However, Dolores invited the whole gang of friends because she “doesn’t trust herself” to be alone with Frankie. This causes a rift between the two and each tries to make the other jealous, and Dolores uses Professor Sutwell.
Robert Cummings as the anthropologist observing the surfing subculture
-The first of the American International Pictures surfing films.
-Walt Disney’s request to have his contract player Annette Funicello to not wear a bikini that shows her naval is true, according to her autobiography “A DREAM IS A WISH YOUR HEART MAKES: MY STORY.” Funicello was in compliance with Disney, which angered the American International Producers. However, she held her ground to not wearing sexier clothing, also because she said she didn’t feel like a sex symbol.
-Filmed in three weeks for $300,000, according to Annette Funicello’s autobiography
-“Beach Party” is Annette’s favorite of the beach films, she wrote in her autobiography.
-Real life surfers Mickey Dora, Johnny Fain, Mike Nadar, Ed Garner did the surfing scenes.
-AIP producers originally wanted singer Fabian for the lead role, and singer Bobby Vinton’s agent was trying to get him the part, before Frankie Avalon was cast, according to Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969 by Thomas Lisanti
-Robert Cummings’ beard
-Goofy scenes like a guy playing a recorder and a girl coming out of the sand like a snake.
-“Hang on to the picture rights, American International will snap it in a minute” -Dorothy Malone referencing the producers of the film while discussing Robert Cummings’ research.
-Robert Cummings comparing the teenage dancing to rituals such as the Simonian Puberty Dance and the mating dance of the whooping crane
-Candy Johnson’s go-go dancing
-Beach Party performed by Frankie and Annette
-Don’t Stop Now performed by Frankie Avalon
-Secret Surfin’ Spot performed by Dick Dale
-Swingin’ and a-Surfin’ performed by Dick Dale
Annette Funicello says this was her favorite of the beach films and it is mine as well.
While “Beach Blanket Bingo” is probably the most memorable and famous of the AIP films, “Beach Party” has the best plot, songs and stars.
All of the beach films are nonsense, but “Beach Party” seems like it made some sort of attempt to have a coherent (though goofy) plot line. I feel like this largely has to do with the roles and casting of Dorothy Malone and Robert Cummings. “Beach Party” has legitimate laugh-out-loud moments, mostly due to Robert Cummings as the “square” anthropologist, where the others don’t, at least for me. I thought it was hilarious when Cummings, using his knowledge of anthropology, is comparing teenage dancing to “the mating dance of the whooping crane” or “the Simonian puberty dance,” and then performs a math problem in order to accurately surf.
In other beach films, Keenan Wynn has an evil gorilla, Deborah Walley skydives or Frankie Avalon plays a dual role as British singer, “Potato Bug.” That’s just dumb. I also personally have never been a big fan of Harvey Lembeck’s beach film role of motorcyclist “Erik Von Zipper,” who thankfully has a minimal part in “Beach Party.” This isn’t the case in other beach films.
Of the adult special guest stars that were featured in these movies–Mickey Rooney (How to Stuff a Wild Bikini), Keenan Wynn (Bikini Beach), Dorothy Lamour (Pajama Party), Don Rickles (Bikini Beach, Muscle Beach Party), Brian Donlevy (How to Stuff a Wild Bikini)–Robert Cummings and Dorothy Malone play key roles in the film and seem to not be absolutely insane. I left Buster Keaton off this list, simply because his roles in the beach films are very minor and he seldom speaks.
Another selling point for me is that Annette Funicello gets the most screen time in “Beach Party” than in any of the other beach films. While she is a star in the other five films, those movies mainly revolve around Frankie Avalon and up and coming stars, like Linda Evans in “Beach Blanket Bingo.”
“Beach Party” also has some awesome music, including music from Dick Dale and the theme “Beach Party,” which is my favorite song from all of the beach films.
Aside from colorful sets and attractive teens, “Beach Party” is rather important. While “Gidget” (1959) started the beach film craze and lead to “Beach Party,” this 1963 hit also began what everyone now knows as “Frankie and Annette beach films.”
“Beach Party” is colorful nonsense, but it’s a lot of fun and has laugh-out-loud funny moments. Give it a shot before turning up your nose to all beach films.
Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in their first beach film, “Beach Party.”
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