Summer is coming to an end, folks, which means this is the eleventh and final post in The Retro Set’s Beach Party Summer! Guest writer Danny Reid brings us his 11th and final entry in his weekly installment series taking a look at beach party movies of yore. But fear not! You can catch up on Danny’s Beach Party series here, and follow his ongoing movie musings and adventures over at the wonderful Pre-code.com!
The Sweet Ride: Surfing Into the Sunset
“It was pretty weird. She just kept looking back at this house the entire time. […] She just kept staring back at this house and moaning about how she wanted to die.”
Inspired by their own success with trash-masterpiece The Valley of the Dolls (1967), 20th Century Fox thought that it was clearly time to recklessly vomit ‘dark mature content’ not only all over A Star is Born but upon the carefree beach movies that had been lapping up on the big screen for the last few years.
1968’s The Sweet Ride (whose euphemistic title should be a tipoff) is about a trio of men who enjoy eternal adolescence in a house next to the beach. Collie (Anthony Franciosa) is the Peter Pan of the group, using a potent mix of booze, women, and drugs to keep his compatriots in line for their Never Never Land lifestyle. Choo-Choo is a beatnik musician who always goes too avant garde with his music. And then there’s poor, dumb Denny, a surfer who is still smooth on the board but a little soft in the head.
One sunny day, Denny spots a woman stuck in the surf on the abandoned on the beach who has lost her bikini top. That’s Vickie (Jacqueline Bisset), an actress who has a dark past (she may have slept her way up the ladder) but quickly falls for Denny’s penetrating stare and youthful naivete.
There’s complicating factors, including a biker gang that’s less Von Zipper and more “Sons of Anarchy” led by a fellow named Mr. Clean. (See? It’s almost Tarantino-esque.) There’s also the studio big shots who are pushing and pulling at Vickie, all of which combines to lead to a rather surprising amount of rape and beatings for her. Poor Jacqueline Bisset has nothing to do in the movie but look miserable, as the movie aggressively pursues its twin morals: women who open their legs are instantly whores and men who pursue hedonistic pleasure will eventually find it fruitless.
The strongest actor in the film is Anthony Franciosa as Collie, perfectly selling the sleaziness of his eternal child, both in terms of manipulating others as well as pushing himself on a bevy of intoxicated and brain dead women. He has a real slimy charisma and a dark reality to him that most of the other characters only have on the surface.
Bob Denver and Michele Carey are the film’s idea of ‘fun’, as his complete inability to commit is matched by her desire to nail him down– before Vietnam gets a chance, of course. And then Michael Sarrazin smoulders, which is all you can hope for from such a useless character.
The Sweet Ride could be seen as a dark parody of the Beach Party movies in regards, with Collie being the ‘never grow up’ Frankie and Choo-Choo being a Deadhead redux. But the most interesting comparison may be between The Sweet Ride and the first big studio beach party film, Where the Boys Are. The latter is the epitome of late-50s scare-films, a dire warning to women about the necessity for marriage and the dangers of lust and love. The Sweet Ride functions in much the same way, though it’s made for the boys in the audience.
The Motion Picture Production code has also been chipped away by this point in the 60s, so the blood and lurid material flows more freely. The near-constant rape present in the movie represents a dim view of womanhood. Here the women are disposable sex toys, and the only cure is for men to rexamine the way they treat women. While that may sound more progressive, in reality, the movie laps up the perversity of its characters’ hijinks and can’t really sell the third act evolution. The moral feels inherently dishonest, a byproduct from the plot rather than a point being made.
And that might speak a lot about all of the beach party films of the early 60s. Their moralizing is inherently false, since they’re all about the joys of sun, surf and sex. The best point they make about it is that it can’t last, but the dramatics become almost deafening. The movies at their best capture the carefree wispiness of youth, that feeling that the teenage years can and should last forever, but always ending with a gentle reminder that that kind of nostalgia is simply that: a fuzzy, warm memory.
This film is available from Amazon in beautiful pan and scan. The trailer: