Welcome to the fourth entry in The Retro Set’s weekly summer series taking a look at beach party movies of yore from guest writer Danny Reid.
“Imagine, comparing us to monkeys.”
The third movie in American-International’s Beach Party series, Bikini Beach has narrowed down the focus to the essentials: scantily clad women, toe-tapping music, and Hanna-Barbera shenanigans galore.
The movie takes no time in making its purpose clear in the film’s opening sequence, the camera following a bikini-clad bottom as it antagonizes a number of innocent bystanding males. While I’m not a “butt person” myself (I’ve heard terrifying rumors that lady farts come from there!), the metronomic qualities that that bikini’d bottom possesses almost immediately lulls the audience into a sense of safety. There will be no Bergman-esque musings on life or death, nor any Fellini derived commentary on the terrors of unrealized creativity. No, you’ll be watching ladies’ butts. And they may or may not be farting.
It’s a brightly colored cartoon for sure, and any human emotions that may have been faintly present in Beach Party have now morphed into “hijinks.” It’s a better package than Muscle Beach Party since Keenan Wynn, as the film’s resident “guy who doesn’t get these teeny boppers but eventually becomes their pal”, has a less grating schtick than Buddy Hackett.
Speaking of the plot in some roundabout sense, here we have Annette’s turn to jump at a new love interest. While Frankie is still putting off thinking about tomorrow, a British rock star named “The Potato Bug” has setup camp on Bikini Beach and soon has all the beach bunnies swooning. He’s pretty much the embodiment of the American view of Brits, what with the terrible teeth, bad facial hair, a completely clueless demeanor, and frequently using the lamest slang one can toss out. And, yes, he refers to the U.S. as ‘the colonies’.
Frankie Avalon plays both Frankie and Bug, which makes for a few fun sequences (including a dueling duet) where you’re left wondering which one is the double and which is the real Avalon. It also means that Bug can’t be all that bad, and it’s up to Frankie and his crew to learn not to be so biased against ridiculously horrific cultural stereotypes– a Life and Death of Colonel Potato Bug, if you will.
Elsewhere, Keenan Wynn is a cranky old owner of a retirement home and he’s not too fond of the teenagers letting their libidos loose nearby. To prove the uselessness of teenage culture, he’s taught a monkey named Clyde to surf and drag race.
Okay, that bears repeating. This man hates teenagers so much, he taught a monkey to surf and drag race.
But while Wynn is a grump, the real baddie of the piece is the resurgent return of Eric von Zipper, the mishmash of Brando’s Wild One and blubbering incompetence. He’s out gunning for revenge against the surfer bums after his previous humiliation, and this time goes so far as to try and critically injure the Potato Bug during a climactic drag race while making it look like Frankie did it. Despite the overt assassination attempt, Zipper escapes in a pre-What’s Up, Doc? variation on a wacky race before ending up at the mandatory bar fight. I think Keenan Wynn falls in love with someone at some point as well and realizes that kids aren’t so bad after all.
The loose continuity of the series (loose being about as loose as Candy Johnson’s constantly gyrating hips) makes several recurrences here, with references to ‘The Finger’ from Beach Party and Big Drag admitting that he used to be Jack Fanny from Muscle Beach Party before he “put that Fanny behind [him]” popping up.
Bikini Beach is impenetrable. The movie is teflon. Even if I presupposed a Freudian analysis here– perhaps Frankie is the id, the Potato Bug is the superego, and Annette is really Mickey Mouse in disguise– the movie would still make no amount of sense. It’s a loose connection of gags, music, and skin in a frantic flurry of trying to seem off-base enough to seem ‘cool’ while still adding in enough slapstick for kids of all ages.
And this is fine. Bikini Beach is fun and well made, but the movies in the series are becoming interchangeable. The only thing changing seems to be the size of the bikinis, and the farts they may or may not be hiding.
Best & Worst Attributes
- Best Song – Bikini Beach has the best overall soundtrack from the movies so far, lacking a clunker in the bunch. Stevie Wonder makes another appearance, and even the film’s title theme is easy to get into. Donna Loren, who’s popped up for just a song in the last two movies, gets her best outing here with the spry and silly “Love’s a Secret Weapon” which will have to be my pick in a very close competition.
- Worst Outfit – Despite stiff competition from that monkey outfit, the Potato Bug’s bodyguard dresses up in a weird combination of leotard and chauffeur suit that’s just utterly strange.
- Somehow still the most random thing in the movie – Val Waren won a contest for the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland and got a cameo in the movie. He plays the werewolf randomly hanging out at the bar where Zipper plots.
- Best name for a newspaper –
- And the moral of the story is… Old people need to respect that teenagers just want to have fun. Also, girls have butts.
Trivia & Links
- From Thomas Lisanti’s Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave:
The third of the Frankie and Annette beach party films, Bikini Beach’s budget was $ 600,000— double the amount expended on Beach Party. It was money well-spent as the movie brought in $4.5 million at the box office, making Bikini Beach one of the biggest hits of 1964. However, it probably would have even grossed lots more if AIP’s first rock group choice appeared in the movie— the Beatles.
According to William Asher, Jim Nicholson had seen the Beatles perform in London before anyone in the U.S. had ever heard of them. Asher was once again slated to direct and he was co-writing the screenplay with Robert Dillon (who worked in producer capacities on Beach Party and Muscle Beach Party) and Leo Townsend. […]
A script was written where the British pop group comes to the sunny shores of Malibu to see what it is like to live on the beach. The story had the boys camped alongside the surfers, and one of them would find romance with Annette. Before filming began, the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, their careers took off like a rocket and their managers refused to let them appear in the movie for the small fee that was offered. Asher then had to quickly rewrite the script and, instead of four British longhaired singers, there was now only one called the Potato Bug. It was decided that Avalon would play this part complete with “blond Beatle hairdo, brush mustache, round spectacles and front tooth gap.”
The film is available on Amazon. Here’s the trailer:
Next week: Ride the Wild Surf (1964)