“A Colorful Life”: Remembering Joan Leslie

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Actress Joan Leslie in the 1940s

Actress Joan Leslie in the 1940s

With her shining smile, bright eyes and fresh face, actress Joan Leslie had an innocent girl-next-door appeal. But during her career at Warner Brothers during the 1940s, Joan Leslie held her own in top films with major actors such as Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.

She was a full-fledged star by age 17. And it all began on the stage when she was nine years old.

Joan Leslie—then Joan Brodel—was part of a sister act, with her sisters Mary and Betty, known as the Three Brodels. The sisters traveled the United States and Canada; singing, dancing, doing impressions and playing instruments, according to a 1999 interview in the book “Movies Were Always Magical” by Leo Verswijver.

Joan played the accordion and did an impression of actress Greta Garbo.

While performing in New York, an MGM scout saw Joan and signed her to play a small role in the Greta Garbo film “Camille” (1936). In film, Joan, 11, played Robert Taylor’s little sister. She had one line, welcoming him home as he arrived at her first communion.

As she continued to get small, uncredited roles in films such as “Nancy Drew—Reporter” (1938), “Susan And God” (1940) and “Foreign Correspondent” (1940), Joan changed her last name from Brodel to Leslie so she wouldn’t be confused with actress Joan Blondell.

Pictured with her sisters and mother in for a LIFE magazine photo spread.

Pictured with her sisters and mother in for a LIFE magazine photo spread.

But her big break came at age 15. Joan got the role of Velma, a young girl with a club foot, in the Howard Hawks directed film “High Sierra” (1940) starring Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. In the film, Bogart is a criminal on the run, and when he meets Velma, he wants to help her get an operation for her foot.

At age 15, Joan Leslie with Humphrey Bogart in

At age 15, Joan Leslie with Humphrey Bogart in “High Sierra”

“That was such a good role,” Leslie said in the Verswijver interview. “And I was only 15! I wish I had more such roles when I was older.”

By age 17, Joan Leslie was on the cover of the Oct. 26, 1942, issue of LIFE magazine. “Joan Leslie: girlish and unassuming, at age 17 she shines brightly as a full-fledged movie star able to sing, dance and act,” the magazine headline said.

Joan Leslie on the cover of Life, Oct. 1942.

Joan Leslie on the cover of Life, Oct. 1942.

By this time, Leslie had starred with Bogart a second time in “Thieves Fall Out” (1941). Still in her teens, she played the love interest to top stars such as Gary Cooper in “Sergeant York” (1941) and James Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942).

“When you talk about working with the best, I’ll always remember Jimmy Cagney. What a creative, dynamic person he was,” she said in the 1999 interview.

Both Cooper and Cagney received Academy Awards for Best Actor for their respective roles.

“I never was nominated but I don’t feel I did anything up to that caliber,” she said.

In most of her roles that followed at Warner Brothers, Joan Leslie exuded a persona that was the young, innocent, sweet girl-next-door.

“I was merely being myself in the 1940s, that’s what it really was,” she said.

However, Joan Leslie always proved to be versatile. She could go from comedies with Eddie Albert, such as “The Great Mr. Nobody” (1940) to the hard hitting drama “The Hard Way” (1942), playing the younger sister Ida Lupino is pushing to make a star. At age 18, Joan was also the youngest of any of Fred Astaire’s dance partners in the 1943 film, “The Sky’s The Limit.”

Publicity photo of Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie in

Publicity photo of Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie in “Sky’s the Limit.”

However, because she was so much younger than her peers such as Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda and Bogart, she said she never felt like she was a “chum” to any of these stars, but was also never scared or in awe while working with them.

“People were very nice to me…” she said. “They were getting the quality from me that they wanted: young, innocent and sweet girl next door. It was during the war (World War II) and that’s what they wanted to project on the screen.”

Like many other actresses, Joan Leslie danced at the Hollywood Canteen during World War II with the soldiers. Art imitated life as she starred in the film “Hollywood Canteen” (1944) as herself. In the film a soldier, played by Robert Hutton, wins a date with Joan Leslie and the two end up falling in love.

Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton in the film

Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton in the film “The Hollywood Canteen” (1944)

In 1946, Joan Leslie was voted No. 1 in a Future Star poll, but becoming quality roles were scarce for her. This largely was because she sued Warner Brothers for control of her contract, believing after the age 21 she should be able to pick better parts. Warner lowered her billing in some of her films and blackballed her name with other studios.

“I always liked to play a certain kind of part as a certain kind of person and I don’t find that very much anymore. The business has changed so much,” she said in 1999.

Joan Leslie with her husband William Caldwell, MD.

Joan Leslie with her husband William Caldwell, MD.

However, once Joan Leslie married obstetrician William Caldwell, MD, in 1950, her interest in Hollywood started to fade. When the two had twin girls, Patricia and Ellen, Joan stopped making films and concentrated on her role as a mother.

“When I married, that would be the most important thing in my life,” she said. “When you had a colorful life as an actress, it’s not easy to say that and to mean it as well. My husband respects me for what I have accomplished in my career.”

After her career, she was involved with parish work, the Los Angeles Public Library’s after-school reading program, and the advisory board of the Damon Runyan Cancer Fund, according to her obituary.

Dr. Caldwell passed away in 2000 and Miss Leslie passed away at age 90 on Oct. 12, 2015.

“I had a very colorful life, she said. “There’s nothing quite like it.”

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Musical Monday: Rock Around the Clock (1956)

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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 more than 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

Rock-Around-Clock-PosterThis week’s musical:
“Rock Around the Clock” (1956) – Musical #528

Studio:
Columbia Pictures

Director:
Fred F. Sears

Starring:
Johnny Johnston, Alix Talton, Lisa Gaye, John Archer, Henry Slate, Robert Banas (uncredited)
Themselves: Bill Haley and the Comets, The Platters, Ernie Freeman Combo, Tony Martinez and His Band, Alan Freed

Plot:
Fictional film about how rock and roll music is discovered. Band manager Steve Hollis (Johnston) observes how a band with a new sound draws teenage dancers when they felt dance bands were dead. The band the kids are dancing to is Bill Haley and the Comets and Hollis sets out to promote them. However, booking manager Corinne Talbot (Talton), who was jilted by Steve, is set to have the band fail.

Trivia:
-This is considered the first major rock and roll musical.
-Queen Elizabeth II requested a print of this film to learn more about rock n’ roll after the movie was released. While on vacation in Scotland at Balmoral Castle,she asked for it to be flown in for a special showing. The film was banned in some British cities before Queen Elizabeth saw it, according to a Sept. 22, 1956, Louella Parson’s article by Louella Parsons. Bill Haley later performed for Queen Elizabeth in 1979.
-The New York Times wrote there were teenage riots when the film was released. In Great Britain and America, teens danced in the aisles, clapped to the music, tore up the seats and shouted they wanted “We want Bill,” according to the book Cliff: An Intimate Portrait of a Living Legend by Stafford Hildred, Tim Ewbank. In Oslo, Norway there were teen riots outside the theater and in Belgium, Germany, teens through tomatoes and eggs at the police station, according to Rebels and Chicks: A History of the Hollywood Teen Movie by Stephen Tropiano
-Haley starred in a sequel to this film called “Don’t Knock Rock” the same year.

Johnny Johnston, Alan Freed and Lisa Gaye in "Rock Around the Clock"

Johnny Johnston, Alan Freed and Lisa Gaye in “Rock Around the Clock”

Notable Songs:
-Rock Around the Clock performed by Bill Haley and the Comets
-Razzle Dazzle performed by Bill Haley and the Comets
-The Great Pretender performed by The Platters
-Only You performed by The Platters
-See You Later, Alligator performed by Bill Haley and the Comets

My review:
If you are a fan of 1950s rock and roll or music history, “Rock Around the Clock” should be added to your must-see list.

The plot is fairly thin but ties in well with the musical performances. It’s also relevant for that time. While rock and roll seems pretty common place now, there was some push back and it was seen as rebellion from teens to adults. The riots and banning of this film when it was released exhibits this idea.

The plot looks at how mainstream band managers and booking managers were reluctant to take a chance on such a radical departure from the dance bands of the 1940s and early 1950s, which were dying out in popularity by this time.

Though qualified as a b-film, “Rock Around the Clock” is also important as film’s first rock and roll musical and was notable enough for Queen Elizabeth to screen the movie to learn what rock and roll is all about.

The lead actors in this film-Johnny Johston, Alix Talton and Lisa Gaye-aren’t anything to write home about but are adequate enough to carry the plot.

But the real stars of the film are the musical performers: Bill Haley and the Comets, The Platters and the Bellhops.

The only musical performances I was not keen on was Tony Martinez and His Band. After listening to Xavier Cugat for years, Tony Martinez sounded like noise.

“Rock Around the Clock” has great music and terrific jive dance numbers; a must see for music lovers.

Bill Haley and his Comets in the film "Rock Around the Clock" (1956)

Bill Haley and his Comets in the film “Rock Around the Clock” (1956)

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Musical Monday: Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957)

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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.

p721_p_v7_aaThis week’s musical:
Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957) – Musical #520

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Richard Thorpe

Starring:
Dean Martin, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Paul Heinreid, Walter Slezak, Eva Bartok, Dewey Martin, Jules Munshin, Dean Jones

Plot:
Wealthy American Ray Hunter (Martin) owns a successful chain of hotels all over the world. The latest hotel he buys is in Rome where Nina Martelli (Alberghetti) works as a stenographer. Nina the youngest with three older sisters, the oldest-Maria (Bartok) who also is smitten with Ray. When Ray proposes to Nina, her father (Slezak) says there’s no way the youngest can get married be before her older sisters get married first. Ray gets to work on finding husbands for the other girls.

Trivia:
-Filmed on location in Rome, Italy
-The first film made after Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’s partnership started to dissolve.

Notable Songs:
-Only Trust Your Heart performed by Dean Martin and Anna Marie Alberghetti

My review:
“Ten Thousand Bedrooms” is a cute, colorful musical with a great array of stars.
However, it didn’t fair too well in the box offices, resulting in a $1,196,000 for MGM. This was also a disappointment for Dean Martin. This was his first film after his split with Jerry Lewis. While Lewis’s career continued to with hit after hit, Martin wasn’t having as much luck.

Martin’s songs in the film were all fairly forgettable and seemed “safe” for a singer of his caliber. The worst of his songs is called “Money is a Problem,” a duet with Jules Munshin.

The most disappointing part of “Ten Thousand Bedrooms” for me is that we only here Anna Maria Alberghetti sing one song, and it’s only a few lines of the song.

Alberghetti has a beautiful operatic voice and which is completely wasted by not being utilized in the film.

The added bonus of this film is Paul Henreid. His part is small, but Henreid adds something special to all of his films.

The only other downside is that the film is a tad long at two full hours for as fluffy of a plotline.

For a colorful bit of cute escapism, check out “Ten Thousand Bedrooms,” just don’t expect any show stopping songs from either of the leads.

All of the brides in "Ten Thousand Bedrooms"

All of the brides in “Ten Thousand Bedrooms”

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Behind the Screen at the Museum of the Moving Image

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The film and television industry have shaped the way society behaves from the way they dress to the toys they play with.

The Museum of the Moving Image, located in Astoria, NY, celebrates TV and film of the past and present through exhibits that highlight everything down to film makeup and costuming, equipment used behind the scenes and the editing process of screenplays.

Exhibits also show where and how it all began from optical toys from the 1800s to early color television cameras.

In late July, I visited the Museum of Moving Image and enjoyed exploring their Behind the Screen exhibit which included everything from sketches by Orson Welles to a Margaret O’Brien doll. Below are photos from the visit:

All Made Up: 

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Life masks of actors. The front mask is of Dorothy McGuire in “The Enchanted Cottage” (1945) with Anthony Quinn in “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1962) to the left. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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A telegram sent by Orson Welles to Maurice Seiderman in reference to make-up–specifically rubber noses–for the film “Compulsion” (1959). Sent in Sept. 1958. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Sketch made by Orson Welles in August 1958 of how he wanted his makeup to look in "Compulsion" (1959).

Sketch made by Orson Welles in August 1958 of how he wanted his makeup to look in “Compulsion” (1959). (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

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Photos of Orson Welles exhibiting the makeup process for “Compulsion” (1959).

Wig worn by Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein (1935). (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Wig worn by Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein (1935). The white streaks was designed by makeup artist Jack Pierce to suggest her birth by electricity. The wig was made by the Max Factor Company and was reconstructed for the museum of Josephine Turner in 1991 who was the head of the wig-making department at Max Factor from 1935 to 1965. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Wig worn by Bette Davis in “Jezebel” (1938). (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Wig worn by Elizabeth Taylor in “Cleopatra” (1963). The wig was designed by MGM’s hairstylist Sydney Guilaroff and constructed by Bill Huntley of Wig Creations in London. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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Script for the Sidney Lumet directed film, “Network” (1976), written by Sidney Chayefsky. The red crayon is Lumet, who would cross out dialogue after it was filmed. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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Replica of Robin Williams’ makeup for “Miss Doubtfire” (1993). (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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Costume worn by Hedy Lamarr as Delilah in “Samson & Delilah” (1949), directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The gown was designed by Edith Head. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

For the Fans and Consumers: 

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Various film fan magazines ranging from 1911 to 1980 including: Motion Picture, Photoplay, Picture Play, Motion Picture Classic, Film Fun, Real Screen Fun, Modern Screen, Silver Screen, Screen Romances, Movie Story, Screen and Television Guide, Screenland Plus TV-Land. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

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Lupe Velez on the cover of a October 1931 issue of Picture Play. (Comet Over Hollywood/ Brandon B.)

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Bette Davis on the cover of Modern Screen, promoting “The Letter.” (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

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William S. Hart on the cover of a June issue of Motion Picture.

 

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Shirley Temple and the Dionne Quintuplets on an issue of Modern Screen. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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Exhibiting how films affected the toy industry with film themed board games, dolls and paint books. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

 

A Pinnochio doll based off of Walt Disney’s 1940 cartoon. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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Silent film actor Rudolph Valentino on 1935 “beautebox.” (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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“Our Gang” coloring book. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Doll of child actress Margaret O’Brien (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Lantern slide, which were used during intermission in modern film houses, which were used between 1916 and 1929. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

Lantern slide, which were used during intermission in modern film houses, which were used between 1916 and 1929. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

 

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Film promotion posters and programs. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

Film Cameras: 

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Edison 35mm Projecting Kinetoscope, Model D, 1912.

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Pathe 35mm Projector from 1905. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

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Edison 35mm Projecting Kinetoscope, 1897. This sold for $100 at the time. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

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Three-strip Technicolor camera, Model EF-2, 1940. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

 

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Musical Monday: On an Island with You (1948)

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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:
On an Island with You” (1948)– Musical #524

Poster - On an Island With You_02

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Richard Thorpe

Starring:
Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Cyd Charisse, Jimmy Durante, Leon Ames, Kathryn Beaumont, Dick Simmons, Marie Windsor (uncredited)
Themselves: Xavier Cugat, Betty Reilly

Publicity photo for

Publicity photo for “On An Island with You”

Plot:
Actress Rosalind Rennolds (Williams) is making a film in Hawaii with her fiance Ricardo Montez (Montalban). But there are a few love triangles getting in the way of their marriage. Actress and co-star Yvonne (Charisse) is in love with Ricardo, and Lt. Lawrence Y. Kingslee (Lawford), the Navy technical advisor for the film, has a large crush on Rosalind. Lt. Kingslee met Rosalind when she was entertaining troops during World War II when he was picked as a volunteer for skit. Ever since, been in love with her. Lt. Kingslee’s love makes him take some extreme measures in order to be alone with Rosalind.

Trivia:
-Esther Williams’ character falls in a hole in the jungle in one scene. The director of “On an Island with You” did not cushion the bottom of the hole and Williams sprained her ankle, according to her autobiography, “The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography.”
-Cyd Charisse broke her leg during the filming of the “Pagan Dance,” according to an interview on Turner Classic Movies.
-Ricardo Montalban dubbed by Bill Lee

Child star Kathryn Beaumont

Child star Kathryn Beaumont

Highlights:
-Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban dancing
-Cyd Charisse’s “Pagan Dance”
-Kathryn Beaumont’s Jimmy Durante impression

Notable Songs:
-Takin’ Miss Mary to the Ball performed by Jimmy Durante
-I Know Darn Well I Can Do Without Broadway performed by Jimmy Durante
-On an Island with You performed by Ricardo Montalban, dubbed by Bill Lee
-The Dog Song performed by Xavier Cugat and Betty Reilly
-Não Tenho Lágrimas performed by Xavier Cugat

July 1947, Florida, USA --- Original caption: Esther Williams, movie actress, at Biscayne Key, south of Miami, Fla., while on location. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

July 1947, Florida, USA — Original caption: Esther Williams, movie actress, at Biscayne Key, south of Miami, Fla., while on location. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

My review:
I liked this film better than when I saw it for the first time during Summer Under the Stars 2004.

“On an Island with You” is colorful, humorous and has some excellent swimming and dancing numbers.

This has quite the star studded cast too with magnificent music from band leader Xavier Cugat.

Esther Williams’ swimming numbers are lovely, particularly a dream sequence that Peter Lawford has of Williams in a blue and green sequined bathing suit and another featuring surfboards and a gold lame bathing suit.

But for me, even more stunning than the swimming numbers was the dancing in this film. Cyd Charisse’s dances are show stoppers in all of her films, but these are somehow even more exciting. I think this is partially because her numbers have the added bonus of Ricardo Montalban as her partner. The two dance beautifully together; something they also exhibited in the 1947 film “Fiesta.” I feel like Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban could have made a great dancing team in MGM musicals had they been given that opportunity.

Jimmy Durante adds the comic relief in the film and offers some of the most entertaining songs, though Xavier Cugat’s tunes keep your toes tapping.

Another highlight in “On an Island with You” is a brief role played by child actor Kathryn Beaumont. For Disney fans, this is a great treat since Beaumont was the voice of Wendy in “Peter Pan” (1953) and Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” (1951). This was Beaumont’s second film and first credited role.

Esther Williams writes in her autobiography that “On an Island with You” was “another ridiculous plot.” She felt most of the plots to her films were as fluffy as cotton, which isn’t false.

However, the film offers the perfect mix of cool Technicolor entertainment and gorgeous dance numbers for an August afternoon.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Musical Monday: Surf Party (1964)

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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.

sp1This week’s musical:
Surf Party” (1964)– Musical #521

Studio:
Associated Producers (API), distributed by 20th Century Fox

Director:
Maury Dexter

Starring:
Bobby Vinton, Patricia Morrow, Jackie DeShannon, Ken Miller, Richard Crane, Lory Patrick, Jerry Summers
As Themselves: The Astronauts, The Routers

Plot:
Three girls drive from Arizona to Malibu, CA, for vacation, learn how to surf and find one of the girl’s brothers who she hasn’t seen in a long while.

Trivia:
-Surfers Mickey Dora and Johnny Fain are extras in the film.
-Rather than setting up actors against a screen for their surfing, actor Kenny Miller stood on the back of a speedboat, pretending to surf, as it rode through the water, according to Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies by Thomas Lisanti.

Notable Songs:
-“Crack Up” performed by the Routers

My review:
Thank goodness this was only an hour and seven minutes. But maybe it would have been better had this film had a slightly higher budget and could have hired better male leads.
Part of this low budget gives you one of the few black-and-white surf films. The fact that this film is in black-and-white is really the only thing I found notable about “Surf Party.”
Another noteworthy feature is that this was singer Jackie DeShannon’s first films. Unfortunately, she only got one song and it’s pretty silly: a gospel-esque song about surfing, “Glory Wave.”
The rest of the cast is lousy and the story is pretty melodramatic, complete with battling surfers, coerced innocent girls and surfing stars living in the homes of rich older women.

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