Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Bikini Beach (1964)

Bikini Beach was the third movie in the very successful series of beach party movies released by American International Pictures. Once again Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon are the stars.

It’s summer again and it’s time for teenagers to head for the beach. Frankie (Frankie Avalon), Dee Dee (Annette Funicello) and all the gang are looking forward to surfing and partying but not everyone is happy. Harvey Huntington Honeywagon III (Keenan Wynn), who runs a nearby old folks’ home, is not happy. He considers modern teenagers to be depraved. He has taught his monkey Clyde to surf in order to prove his theory that monkeys have about the same intelligence as teenagers. Honeywagon is also leading a local campaign to have the beach (known popularly as Bikini Beach) closed to surfers.

The kids get some support from local school teacher Vivien Clements (played by Martha Hyer). 

Also on hand, and about to be drawn into this epic struggle, are Big Drag (Don Rickles), Eric von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and Potato Bug. Big Drag runs the cafe where the surfers hang out and also runs the local drag strip. Eric von Zipper (as anyone who was seen the earlier AIP beach party movies knows) is the leader of the Rats and Mice motorcycle gang. As for Potato Bug, he’s an aristocratic British pop star who is also a drag racing enthusiast. Frankie Avalon plays Potato Bug and does so in an outrageously over-the-top manner that almost allows us to forget that British pop stars in the 60s were nothing whatever like this.

There’s naturally a romantic triangle, the gimmick being that both of Annette Funicello’s suitors are played by Frankie Avalon. The gimmick gets pushed even further in one scene with one of the Frankie Avalon characters impersonating the other.

Eric von Zipper of course has a nefarious plot brewing, which he executes with his usual total incompetence. Meanwhile Honeywagon seems to be falling for the charms of the school teacher - does this mean he’ll soften his attitude towards the kids?

Adding drag racing to the mix provides a bit of variety for those audience members who might have been tiring of surfing by this time.

Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are as likeable as ever and their acting is more than adequate. Don Rickles chews the scenery amusingly and he’s more amiable than we expect Rickles to be. Keenan Wynn as Honeywagon has perhaps the film’s most rewarding role and he makes the most of it. Towards the end there’s a brief cameo by one of AIP’s biggest stars (this being a device used in the earlier Beach Party as well).

The music is actually pretty good. In fact it’s great. The movie opens with Bikini Beach which is a terrific song. The musical highlights though are the couple of songs by surf rock band The Pyramids.

Apart from helming no less than five of AIP’s beach party movies director William Asher worked mostly in television. He does a pretty good job with Bikini Beach, keeping the mood light and breezy and not allowing the pacing to drag. The two set-pieces that provide the film’s climax, a wild chase followed by a wild fight in Big Drag’s joint, are done with plenty of energy and playfulness. There are quite a few process shots in the chase sequence but for a low-budget movie made in 1964 they’re not done too badly. 

Asher also pulls off some decent visual gags. The humour is a nice mix of slapstick and verbal gags.

Bikini Beach was paired with Beach Party as an MGM Midnite Movies DVD release. Bikini Beach is letterboxed and not anamorphic but the transfer is generally pretty good. There are no extras. Beach Party is definitely worth seeing as well so this DVD is excellent value. Bikini Beach is also available as part of an eight-movie Annette Funicello-Frankie Avalon DVD boxed set, the transfers being identical to the earlier Midnite Movies releases.

Bikini Beach is a silly light-hearted but genuinely amusing and entirely harmless romp with some great songs. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

Hawkwind33 said...

Great movie I saw as a child at the local movie theater. The dual role Avalon had to play was due to the Beatles backing out of being in this. The film was originally written for them. I believe they asked for more money and was turned down after being on Ed Sullivan.