Comedy · Musical

Guilty Pleasure: Beach Party (1963)

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The life of a California teen – “surfin’ all day and swingin’ all night.”  Image: ishareimage.com

Please, no judging.

Here is today’s confession: We are endlessly fascinated by the Frankie + Annette Beach Party movies.

There were a handful of these movies made between 1963-66, each one worse than its predecessor – and that is saying something. These films, made by American International Pictures, were targeted to teenagers and include lots of music, dancing and surfing.

These elements must appeal to us more than we care to admit, because these crazy movies are our ultimate guilty pleasure.

Our favourite is Beach Party (1963), the first of the illustrious series. In this movie, a social anthropologist (a deadpan Robert Cummings), rents a beach house so he can spy on these mad surfing kids and write a book on Post-Adolescent Surf Dwellers.

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Cummings sports a voluminous academic beard. Image: Forgotten Actors

Cummings may be a professor and a noted expert in his field, but he’s as thick as day-old gravy when it comes to l’affaire de coeur. No one is more aware of this than his assistant (Dorothy Malone), a savvy, chic woman who’s half in love with her dim-witted boss.

Among the so-called “surf dwellers” are a young couple, teen heartthrob Frankie Avalon and former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. Avalon has rented a neighbouring beach house so he can spend the weekend alone with his girlfriend. Unbeknownst to him, Funicello has invited half the state of California to share the house with them, because she’s not ready for The Big Step.

As a result, Avalon and Funicello spend most of the movie trying to make each other jealous. Avalon takes up with a waitress from a local hotspot, while Funicello flirts with Cummings.

There’s a bad guy, too!, in the form of Harvey Lembeck, the leader of an inept motorcycle gang. Lembeck calls his minions “You Stupid”, while his dress and mannerisms spoof Marlon Brando in 1953’s The Wild One.

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Marlon Brando – er, Eric von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) is easily defeated. Image: B-Movie Detective

Beach Party doesn’t have a complex plot, but the script is surprisingly funny and self-mocking. Malone delivers some laugh-out-loud punchlines, while Cummings and Funicello share some amusing moments, many of which poke fun at Cummings’ age. In one scene, Cummings takes Funicello for a ride in his twin-engine plane, and she asks how he learned how to fly.

Cummings: “…That was before the war, of course.”
Funicello: “Which one?’
Cummings (wryly): “The Spanish American.”
Funicello: “Oh, you’re teasing. I bet it was World War I.”

One thing this movie never fails to do is remind you of how Hip it is. Scenes incorporate bongo drums and surfing slag as much as possible. The beach fashions are über stylish, and no one appears in the same swimsuit twice. Even the local hangout is hip, featuring poetry as performance art, yoga practitioners and live music by Dick Dale and the Del Tones.

This film also never fails to remind you that teenagers are cool, while the older generation is, well, old. In one scene, Cummings decides to go to the beach in his neck-to-knee 1920s-era bathing suit. Funicello defends the suit by saying tactfully, “I like it. It’s substantial looking.”

Beach Party isn’t cinematic art, nor is it a deep analysis of the human condition. It is, however, an entertaining movie – which makes it a worthy guilty pleasure.

Beach Party: starring Bob Cummings, Dorothy Malone, Frankie Avalon. Directed by Willam Asher. Written by Lou Rusoff. American International Pictures, 1963, Colour, 101 mins.

This post is part of the Beach Party Blogathon co-hosted by Speakeasy and yours truly. Click here to view all the groovy posts in this blogathon.

Beach Party Frankie Annette

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35 thoughts on “Guilty Pleasure: Beach Party (1963)

  1. Love your post, Ruth! I’m not sure if I’ve seen every single one of the Frankie and Annette movies, but I definitely have them all in my collection! Thanks for reminding me how much I love Eric Von Zipper, “Treat Him Nicely,” Candy shimmying during the credits, poor dumb Jody McCrea, and the whole beach party franchise!

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  2. Your fascination with Beach Party movies leads me to believe you are well-adjusted!! Terrific commentary! I MUST watch BEACH PARTY again soon!!

    Thanks for co-hosting this fantastic event!

    Aurora

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  3. This post just sings summer – what a guilty pleasure-fest! I don’t think I’ve seen every Frankie + Annette movie, but I’ve definitely seen Beach Party which certainly ticks every box, right? I love how they represent an idealised version of Americana that still seemed so attractive – when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s I dreamed of being one of those teenagers.

    PS – note how she’s coordinated her sweater to the car in the opening pic. That’s SKILL!!

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    1. Ha ha! Yes, as you’ve no doubt noticed, Annette is impeccably dressed in EVERY SCENE!

      I agree – it certainly is an idealized view of the American Teen. If only the teen years really were that simple, with such clear complexions! 🙂

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  4. Dig that happening post, man! The Beach Party movies are not great art, cinematic or otherwise – but they are surprisingly good fun. I need to see this inaugural one again, as it’s been ages. I did recently check out BEACH BLANKET BINGO, and its freakishly catchy theme song stuck in my head for days. Annette Funicello is always super cute, Frankie Avalon had some decent comic timing, but it’s always the veteran actors who pop up (like Buster Keaton and Paul Lynde in BINGO) that are the most fun. It must be said, the plethora of bikini babes certainly doesn’t hurt…

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    1. Ha ha! You have the lingo down pat, Jeff. Re: veteran actors… I love that they appear in these movies, and I especially love Paul Lynde. He makes me laugh without saying a word.

      Thanks for dropping by and for coming to our Beach Party!

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  5. Yes to everything here, and our high opinion of these fun pictures is how this blogathon was born. I was reminded watching BIKINI BEACH a few days ago, how scary Candy’s powers are! yikes. These require zero brains to watch and enjoy and that’s just what you need sometimes! Thanks for being such a great co-host 🙂 this has been a blast

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  6. I’ve never seen any of these and am not sure I’d heard of them, but you make them sound like fun, so I’ll have to check this one out! Perfect summery fare for this blogathon, which is another great one from you!

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  7. Ha! Interesting. I haven’t seen this. But your review, reminded me of Blue Hawaii with Elvis.
    Music, jealousy, beautiful beaches, beautiful people, fashionable swimsuits, etc etc… There is something so innocent about these films, you don’t see today.
    Anyway my latest, far from innocent, entry, for the Beach Party Blogathon
    https://nononsensewithnuwansen.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/beach-party-blogathon-italian-film-il-compleanno-in-english-davids-birthday-2009/

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  8. The first BP pic holds a special place for me because it started the whole thing. It’s funny that AIP originally thought that these movie needed adult stars in major roles! Actually, Bob and Dorothy are just fine (though she doesn’t have a lot to do except to wait for Bob to realize that she’s still hot). The music is great as always and this did introduce “the finger.” It probably ranks #3 for me after BEACH BLANKET BINGO (my face!) and MUSCLE BEACH PARTY. Fun write-up!

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    1. I really like Bob and Dorothy in this film. (His beard is SO over the top!) The music is always great in the films, like you said. If I were a teenager in the 1960s, I would see each of these films multiple times.

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  9. I’ve only seen parts of these movies here and there, never sat down and watched one all the way through. I think it is about time I did that. It seems like a pretty innocent guilty pleasure to me. Perfect for my summer bucket list. And since I live in Arizona, and don’t want to step foot outside the next 3 months, it will give me something to do that actually sounds fun! 🙂 Thanks, Ruth!

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    1. Shari, they are enjoyable as long as you turn part of your brain off. You can’t look for plot holes or depth – just have to go with the flow. However, the script does have some very funny lines.

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  10. Ah, Huge James Bond fan…LOL Never miss a film and I have all of them. I like Daniel Craig and think he’s a great Bond. Also love the Die Hard films. The beach part films are so much fun and so, um, unrealistic. Still, fun.

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