Beach Party (1963)
Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello first frolicked together in Beach Party, the start of American International Pictures’ loose, teen-oriented franchise concerned with sun, sand, surf, song and squeaky-clean sex. The pair plays Frankie and, um, Dolores, young lovebirds who venture toward the SoCal waves for a vacation.
Ironically, neither is the film’s real star. That honor belongs to Bob Cummings (Dial M for Murder) as Professor Robert Sutwell, a woefully unhip, but amiable academic with a presidential beard and the entire shoreline under surveillance. It’s strictly for research, as he’s studying the mating habits of the American teenager. The virginal Dolores feigns interest in this square in order to make Frankie jealous, since he’s been drooling over a milk-jugged Hungarian sexpot (Eva Six, 4 for Texas) who waitresses at the local hangout run by the goateed Cappy (comedian Morey Amsterdam).
That’s about all the story the movie needs, as TV sitcom director William Asher (Bewitched) is basically filling space between all the ass-shakin’ dance sequences, many to the tune of surf-guitar king Dick Dale (sporting an earring the size of a bracelet) and the Del-Tones. Providing comic relief in a flick packed with it is Harvey Lembeck (Stalag 17) as Eric Von Zipper, a dopey motorcycle gang leader who comes with not only his own catchphrase (“You stupid!”), but his own sound effects.
A real time capsule of a motion picture, Beach Party is fluff, yet vibrant, inoffensive, smile-inducing fluff that generates as many genuine laughs as it does inadvertent ones, i.e. “What is with Annette’s pumpkin hairdo?” It’s hard to hate a movie that ends with a pie fight and a Vincent Price cameo that serves solely to advertise AIP’s The Haunted Palace, and I don’t. Quite the opposite. —Rod Lott