Beach Party (series)
Synopsis of Movie
In the early 1960’s, it seemed like the entire country had gone surf-crazy. It all started when Gidget became a box-office smash in 1959 and made surfing became the defining teen craze. Suddenly, kids everywhere were heading for the nearest beach in their woodies, looking for the next killer wave as they jammed out to surf tunes by Dick Dale and The Beach Boys. It was the perfect setup for a movie, and American International Pictures, creators of teen-minded drive-in flicks like Dragstrip Girl and I Was A Teenage Werewolf, stepped in to fill the void in with a comedy aimed at surf-minded kids.
Beach Party centered on the antics of Frankie and Dolores, two clean-cut but surf-crazy teens. Frankie spirits Dolores away for a romantic rendezvous at the beach, only to receive a blow to his ego when he discovers she has invited along the rest of the gang. Dolores becomes angry when she realizes Frankie had amorous ideas and sets out to make him jealous by flirting with Professor Robert Sutwell, an anthropologist who is studying the dating habits of surfing teenagers.
In between the moments of romantic drama, there was plenty of opportunity for comedy. A major source of the film’s laughs was Eric Von Zipper, a leather-wearing motorcycle rebel whose antics were a parody of Marlon Brando’s performance in The Wild One. There were also funny bit parts by The Dick Van Dyke Show veteran Morey Amsterdam as the owner of the local teen hangout and horror star Vincent Price in a rare comedic turn as Big Daddy, an eccentric millionaire.
Surf guitar wizard Dick Dale provided some rocking tunes, as did stars Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. The film also boasted a cool background score by prolific exotica composer Les Baxter. The film moved along at a fast clip thanks to solid direction by William Asher, a television veteran who had directed many episodes of I Love Lucy.
The end result was a likable, energetic film with something to please every kid. Parents also liked the film because it presented two positive, well-groomed role models in Frankie and Annette. Beach Party’s wide appeal helped make the film into American International Pictures’ biggest-ever hit. The producers were quick to see they had a good thing going and quickly began churning out more Beach Party films. In fact, no fewer than three follow-ups were issued by American International in 1964 alone.
Muscle Beach Party was the first, reuniting Avalon and Funicello for another session of fun in the sun. This time, Frankie and Dolores have to deal with a gang of muscle men moving in on their beach territory. Their leader is Jack Fanny, an obnoxious fitness trainer played by comedian Don Rickles. Beach life gets further complicated when Julie, a gorgeous and wealthy Italian countess, falls for Frankie. Not only does this annoy Dolores, it also angers Julie’s freshly-dumped boyfriend, muscleman Flex Martian. However, all problems get resolved in time for plenty of surfing and partying.
The finished film kept up the blend of comedy, romance and surfing in high style. Dick Dale returned to add some guitar-driven rock to the soundtrack, and Stevie Wonder made his screen debut as one of the film’s musical guests.
Music was also a big focus in the next Beach Party film, Bikini Beach. This installment features Frankie Avalon in a dual role as Frankie and as a British teen idol known as ‘Potato Bug’ (a none-too-subtle dig at The Beatles). The plot of Bikini Beach focuses on the kids matching wits with Harvey Honeywagon III, a cranky millionaire who wants to kick the kids off the beach and build a retirement home where they surf. He also thinks that his pet monkey, Clyde, is smarter than the teens and sets out to prove it. This leads to a funny scene wherein the surfers have to square off in a surfing competition with Clyde! The Eric Von Zipper character returns for this film, as does musical guest Stevie Wonder.
The last Beach Party movie of 1964 did not have a lot of Beach in it. It was called Pajama Party and traded surfing for science fiction. The story centered on Gogo, a Martian teen who is sent to Earth to prepare for an invasion. However, his plans go awry when he falls for Earthling teen Connie. There are also subplots dealing with con men trying to bilk Connie’s aunt Wendy out of her fortune and with Eric Von Zipper angling to get revenge on the volleyball players who “left footprints on their beach.” Everything gets tied up neatly in the pajama party finale.
Despite the lack of surfing antics, Pajama Party was still a lot of fun. It also benefited from nifty comic performances by Elsa Lanchester as Aunt Wendy and comedy genius Buster Keaton as Chief Rotten Eagle.
In 1965, the series returned to the beach in Beach Blanket Bingo. Both Frankie and Dolores returned to active duty in this surf comedy epic. This time, Frankie sets out to win Dolores’ heart by winning a skydiving competition. He also has run-ins with Lorelei, an attractive girl (and possible mermaid) who starts a romance with Bonehead. Frankie also has to rescue Sugar Kane, a singer who has been kidnapped by Eric Von Zipper and his biker gang. Paul Lynde, Don Rickles and Buster Keaton also add to the film’s humor with funny bit parts. The end result was a colorful, fast-paced romp that many Beach Party fans consider to be the best of the series.
A bit of the supernatural was introduced for 1965’s How To Stuff A Wild Bikini. In this film, Frankie goes off to serve in the army reserves. When he becomes scared that his rival Ricky will steal Dee Dee (a.k.a. Dolores) while he’s away, he enlists the help of a witch doctor. This witch doctor conjures up Cassandra, a sea goddess, to enchant Ricky. Problems arise when Cassandra attract of all the men in town and creates pandemonium in the process. Mickey Rooney provides the required celebrity cameo and, as usual, Eric Von Zipper and his gang contribute to the comic mayhem.
The final entry in the Beach Party series was 1966’s The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini. With the exception of Eric Von Zipper, it had an all-new cast of characters. This time, the Beach Party antics are combined with a haunted-house plot. The laughs and chills begin when Hiram Stokely, a recently-deceased circus owner, is told by his dead wife’s ghost that he must do a good deed to get into heaven. When Chuck and Lili, his nephew and niece, arrive at his mansion for the reading of his will, corrupt attorney Reginald Ripper starts plotting to bump them off. Hiram realizes he can do his good deed by protecting them.
Things get complicated when a busload of surfers arrive looking for a place to party. Of course, Eric Von Zipper and his biker cronies decide to get in on the act as well. In between the scares and the laughs, there are plenty of swinging pop tunes by guest stars Nancy Sinatra and The Bobby Fuller Four. Before the night is over, Hiram’s relatives get their inheritance, Ripper gets his comeuppance, and Hiram gets to go to heaven while all the kids do the hully-gully. All in all, Ghost In The Invisible Bikini was a fun blend of surf-comedy and scary movie, benefiting from a nifty haunted-house set and good performances from horror film vets like Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone.
Despite all these plus factors, The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini had the misfortune of coming out as the surf craze was on its last legs. American International Pictures moved on to another teen-movie craze when a little biker movie called The Wild Angels gave them a big hit. However, the innocent charm of the Beach Party series continues to entertain kids and nostalgic adults today. These films gained new popularity when reissued on video in the 1980’s and even inspired an 1980’s update, Back To The Beach, that reunited Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello for the first time in years. As long as the idea of ‘fun in the sun’ continues to be popular, there will always be room in the hearts of filmgoers for the Beach Party series.
Movie Release History1963 - Beach Party
1964 - Muscle Beach Party
1964 - Bikini Beach
1964 - Pajama Party
1965 - Beach Blanket Bingo
1965 - How To Stuff a Wild Bikini
1966 - The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini
1987 - Back to the Beach
Movie Sub Categorieslive-action
Movie StudioAmerican International Pictures
CastProfessor Robert O Sutwell Robert Cummings
Marianne Dorothy Malone
Frankie Frankie Avalon
Dolores Annette Funicello
Eric Von Zipper Harvey Lembeck
Deadhead / Bonehead Jody McCrea
Ken John Ashley
Cappy Morey Amsterdam
Ava Eva Six
Himself Dick Dale
Rat Pack Member (J.D.) Andy Romano
Rat Pack Member Alberta Nelson
Rat Pack Member Linda Rogers
Rat Pack Member Jerry Brutsche
Rat Pack Member Bob Harvey
Rat Pack Member John Macchia
Ed David Landfield
Sue Delores Wells
Rhonda Valora Noland
Tom Bob Payne
Big Boy Duane Ament
Biker Peter Falk
Tour Guide Roger Bacon
Brunette Yoga Girl Sharon Garrett
Blond Yoga Girl Yvette Vickers
Beach Girl Meredith MacRae
Beach Girl Laura Nicholson
Beach Boy Michael Nader
Beach Boy Mickey Dora
Perpetual Motion Dancer Candy Johnson
Big Daddy Vincent Price(uncredited)