This is the sixth in The Retro Set’s weekly summer series taking a look at beach party movies of yore from guest writer Danny Reid.
Beach Blanket Bingo: A Fishy Story
“You don’t get all of your kicks from surfing, do you?”
Just by complete coincidence, I was actually in a Bingo hall last night. It wasn’t planned or anything, but watching rows of elderly Japanese and Americans sit, riveted as a laconic DJ called out numbers, I couldn’t help but think: “This is so goddamn sexy, someone should make a movie about this.”
And, thankfully, someone did. The last full ‘Frankie and Annette’ pairing of the Beach Party series, Beach Blanket Bingo is a disastrous entry in which no one is quite sure what they’re doing or why. The subplots are plentiful, the nods to silent comedy more ham fisted, and the cool new sport the kids pick up– skydiving, if you can believe it– is never photographed with an ounce of immediacy or danger. And then Beach Blanket Bingo does the absolute worst thing any of the movies in the franchise attempted to do– for one lengthy subplot, it takes itself seriously.
Let’s see if I can rattle these off with a minimum amount of effort:
- Frankie and Dee Dee (Annette) are bickering because Frankie is being pursued by rising pop star Sugar Kane (Linda Evans) and parachutist Bonnie (Deborah Walley) while Dee Dee is getting big eyes from pilot Steve Gordon (John Ashley).
- Publicity agent Bullets (Paul Lynde) is trying to drum up headlines for Sugar Kane, usually by way of ludicrious stunts including near several near-murders.
- Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) is still hanging around and even has a musical number this go around. He becomes obsessed with Sugar Kane and kidnaps her.
- The man who was once Fanny and then Big Drag is now Big Drop (Don Rickles) and he’s accompanied by slapsticky pal (Buster Keaton) and a buxom blonde (Bobbie Shaw).
- Lastly, Deadhead (Jody McCrea) falls in love with a mermaid named Lorelei (Marta Kristen), which is played like a serious tragic romance thing. It’s like if someone took Disney’s The Little Mermaid and made it a romantic tragedy for some reason.
All of these disparate plot threads are stitched together with the usual amount of slapstick and silliness, though the enthusiasm seems to have diminished severely since Bikini Beach. It’s hard to imagine Frankie and Dee Dee are ever very happy as the romantic entanglements are more or less just a series of very dumb misunderstandings. Frankie even lacks his usual inability to come back to reality– his problem is that he just likes looking at girls in bikinis, of which there are many. (If that’s all that it takes to doom a relationship, I should probably stop writing these reviews before my wife finds out.)
The cast is overstuffed, to be blunt. Paul Lynde, who is normally a bit catty and over the top, really isn’t given any jokes and mostly serves as a wide-eyed antagonist, a desperate man trying to push a mediocre pop star. (Speaking of, why do so many pop stars arrive at this beach? At least The Potato Bug knew how to vacation in style.) The new teens are bland, and the rest of the cast pretty much seems to lack any sort of guidance. Don Rickles, who’d played characters up to this point in the series, pretty much just gets to be himself and launches into a series of jokes during one lengthy set. And Buster Keaton, whom the writers apparently confused with Harpo Marx, mostly just chases women around, or is chased by them.
Deborah Walley, who got around in beach movies including Gidget Goes Hawaiian, has a pitiful role here, vamping it up as a rather shrill and pointless character. Her love interest, besides the flabbergasted Frankie, is Steve. Steve is played by John Ashley, who was in all of the previous Beach Party movies as Frankie’s best friend. Having him be a bad guy here is kind of baffling (did he lose a bet?), though he probably gets more lines than in the last three movies combined. He’s kind of ineffective as a villain though.
But the oddest choice for the entire movie has to be how it takes the romance between Bonehead and Lorelei, played with romantic yearning and desire. It’s just… baffling. I don’t know how better to describe it. While the series has always been fantastical, it’s also been sarcastic, too cool for plain jane yearning. Bonehead (sometimes Deadhead) usually gets a number of comic relief lines and some skimpy outfits, but putting him in as a dazed romantic is just… again, baffling. I can’t figure out why it was done besides to throw Jody McCrea a bone. It doesn’t help that Kristen Marta isn’t a very solid actress, missing ‘otherworldly’ and hitting ‘slightly confused’.
Beach Blanket Bingo is kind of an interesting mess, a mixture of autopilot and desperation. As the beach bunnies became Playboy bunnies and Frankie and Annette begin to look more like parents than teenagers, it was no wonder that it was time for the beach movies to evolve. But we’ll have to wait until 1966 for that.
Best & Worst Attributes
- Best song – Whereas Bikini Beach had a solid set of numbers, the musical acts in Beach Blanket Bingo all seem to have taken a backseat to the overly complicated plot. Donna Loren’s back with another nice little anthem, but otherwise the numbers doled out by Frankie, Annette, and Linda Evans are uniformly bland or forgettable. Also, whoever decided to give Harvey Lembeck a sub-Disney level of schtick villain song was wrong in a big way. All that said, the title track is annoyingly catchy and fun, and it’s pretty much the epitome of why these movies are so much fun– too bad the rest of the movie refutes it.
- Best credit – William Asher, who has directed the entire series so far, has apparently saved the best for himself, as his name is laid over two gyrating posteriors.
- And the moral of the story is… Mermaids are real.
The film is available on Amazon. Here’s the trailer:
Next week: The Girls on the Beach (1965)