Thursday, 5 May 2011

How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965)

How to Stuff a Wild Bikini was the last of the Annette Funicello-Frankie Avalon beach party movies of the 60s. This represents my first exposure to these movies and it was probably not the best place to start.

It’s actually a bit of a stretch to describe it as an Annette Funicello-Frankie Avalon picture. Avalon gets very little screen time. And Funicello was pregnant at the time and was unwilling to be seen in a bikini, which is kind of a problem if you’re making a beach party movie. They’re really only in the cast all because people expected a beach party movie to star Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.

This all tends to cramp the movie’s style a bit, but to compensate for this it boasts a delightfully silly plot. Even after watching the movie I’m not entirely sure what was happening but the crux of the plot is that Frankie, doing his military service on a remote Pacific Island, wants to make sure his girlfriend Dee Dee back home (Funicello) isn’t tempted to fool around with any other guys. So he does what any normal guy would do, He consults the local witch doctor.

The witch doctor, rather improbably named Bwana and even more improbably played by Buster Keaton, is happy to help. So he sends a magic pelican to keep an eye on Dee Dee, and to make doubly sure (because evidently magic peliocans aren’t a hundred percent reliable) he also sends a magic leopard-print bikini. And a girl to fill it. A girl so sexy that all the boys will be crazy for her and won’t have time to pursue Dee Dee. Unfortunately Bwana’s spell doesn’t turn out perfectly so the girl, Cassandra, although beautiful is also incredibly clumsy. Dangerously clumsy. This has no bearing on the plot but it does allow for lots of visual gags as Cassandra spreads mayhem all around her.

But the silliness isn’t yet complete. Advertising executive J. Peachmont “Peachie” Keane (played by Mickey Rooney) decides Cassandra is the ideal girl for a new campaign. There’s also a sub-plot involving a motorcycle gang, with the gang leader Eric von Zipper and Ricky (Dwayne Hickman) competing in a motorcycle race that provides more opportunities for visual gags and mayhem with both sides coming up with inventive ways to cheat. And who is Ricky? He’s Dee Dee’s new boyfriend, which just shows how unwise it is to rely on pelicans as chaperones. But of course Dee Dee hasn’t actually been unfaithful despite Rick’s eager wooing.

As far as the acting is concerned the biggest weakness is Annette Funicello who doesn’t really seem interested. It’s the kind of performance that suggests she probably didn’t really want to do the film at all. The other actors are generally pretty good. Brian Donlevy is fun as advertising tycoon B. D. (Big Deal) MacPherson. Rooney is much less annoying than usual. Buster Keaton effortlessly steals the picture and seems to be having more fun than anyone else. Watch out for an amusing cameo by Elizabeth Montgomery.

The musical numbers are instantly forgettable, or at least you’ll want to try to forget them as quickly as possible.

It’s not exactly a classic of cinema, and I suspect it’s not even a classic of beach party cinema, but it’s hard to actively dislike this movie. It’s cheerfully daffy and reasonably amusing. And any movie that features both a magic pelican and a magic bikini can’t be all bad.

No comments: