Sunday, May 8, 2011

Beach Blanket Bingo: "That's the name of the...that's the name of the...that's the name of the game!"

The fourth installment in AIP's Beach Party series remains the best remembered for several reasons. It featured early performances by blonde actresses Linda Evans and Marta Kristen, both of whom would find fame on television (Evans in The Big Valley and later Dynasty; Kristen in Lost in Space as Judy Robinson, the older daughter). It marked the first teaming of director William Asher and comedian Paul Lynde. That same year, Asher produced the TV series Bewitched for then-wife Elizabeth Montgomery and soon cast Lynde in his most famous role as Uncle Arthur, the mischievous warlock. Beach Blanket Bingo also marked the beginning of the end for sand-and-surf teen movies. Frankie Avalon made only a cameo in the follow-up How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. Neither Annette nor Frankie stayed around for The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, the dismal final entry in the Beach Party series.

The storyline in Beach Blanket Bingo hinges on three loosely-connected subplots. Frankie and Dee Dee (Annette), who live on the beach with a bunch of friends, become mixed up with skydivers Steve (John Ashley) and Bonnie (Deborah Walley, a former Gidget). Bonnie wants to make Steve jealous, so she puts the moves on Frankie. In retaliation, Dee Dee feigns interest in Steve. Meanwhile, Frankie's pal Bonehead (Jody McCrea), a perennial loser at love, encounters a beautiful mermaid named Lorelei (Kristen). She can walk on land for brief periods (“You have pretty legs for a fish!” exclaims Bonehead), but her life as a sea creature proves a serious obstacle to a permanent relationship. Bonehead also likes Sugar Cane (Evans), an unknown singer being promoted by Bullets (Lynde), a snide publicity hound. Sugar has another admirer, too, motorcycle gang leader Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck), who kidnaps the singer because she is his “idol.” Unfortunately, Von Zipper's pool hall rival, South Dakota Slim (Timothy Carey), kidnaps Sugar from the motorcycle gang leader.

It’s pretty silly stuff, but remains undeniably entertaining thanks to the pleasant performances and engaging songs. The most famous tune in the whole Beach Party series is probably the hook-laden title track (“Beach blanket bingo…that’s the name of the game!”) penned by Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner. However, my personal fave is “It Only Hurts When I Cry” crooned by bubbly Donna Loren—who should have been a pop music star, but spent her best years stalled on the brink of stardom. The soundtrack also features Harvey Lembeck’s showstopping number “I Am My Ideal,” which boasts some delicious lyrics (“I'm the greatest, I admit / I got class, I'm full of it”). It was popular enough to be reprised by Lembeck in How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. (By the way, while it appears that Linda Evan is singing, she’s actually lip-syncing to Jackie Ward’s vocals).

The Beach Party films pretty much defy serious analysis, except in regard to their pop culture treatment of 1960s teens, especially young women. In Beach Party, Annette’s character believes herself to be attracted to an older man (Robert Cummings). In Bikini Beach, she--along with all the other girls--swoon over British rock sensation The Potato Bug (Frankie in a dual role). She sits idly by while Luciana Paluzzi tries to steal Frankie in Muscle Beach Party. And in Pajama Party, her boyfriend is the incredibly dumb Big Lunk (Jody McCrea), whom she eventually dumps for an affable alien. So, it comes as a surprise in the series’ fifth film when Dee Dee decides to take matters into her hands. In Bingo, when Frankie seems interested in Bonnie, the skydiver, Dee Dee hooks up with Steve (series regular John Ashley, the “other good-looking guy”). It may just be a routine jealousy ploy, but it’s a step-up for Dee Dee—showing that she’s willing to take matters into her own hands and not allow Frankie to dictate their relationship.


The Beach Party movies are an acquired taste. I never really caught the bug until the late 1990s when AMC started showing them on Saturday nights. But I became such a fan that I bought all seven on DVD and last summer, my wife and I watched one every weekend for almost two months. It was a blast! Muscle Beach Party may be a close second, but Beach Blanket Bingo is still stuck firmly in the sand as our #1—thanks to its songs, the mermaid, creepy South Dakota Slim, wisecracks from Paul Lynde and Don Rickles, Donna Loren’s singing, Frankie & Annette’s natural chemistry, and the always amusing Harvey Lembeck. In fact, Harvey delivers our favorite line to Linda Evans' Sugar (which we tweak a bit in saying to each other): “Eric Von Zipper adores you. And when Eric Von Zipper adores somebody, they stay adored.”

12 comments:

  1. A splendid review of a terrific film, Rick! BEACH BLANKET BINGO is topnotch entertainment, deliriously quotable ("It's a people bite!") and filled with outstanding ditties. I really like Donna Loren's song, and it's a great scene, when everyone literally sits around and listens to her sing. As you mentioned, it's refreshing that Annette takes charge of her relationships. I think she's the prettiest of every girl in the BEACH movies, and I would gladly have stolen her from Frankie. And while Frankie Avalon isn't my favorite actor, I actually found his performance as Potato Bug quite amusing. I'm an Eric Von Zipper fan; he is my ideal. And is this the BEACH movie where he says, "Stand aside, folks. I take large steps!" (If not, I apologize.)

    As an extension of your wonderfully appropriate title, I'd like to say, "Beach Blanket Biiingo... Beach Blanket Biiingo... Beach Blanket Biiingo... that's the name of the game!"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not a surprise: I haven't seen any of these Beach movies. I only remember Frankie Avalon from Grease. I'm sure I've seen bits and pieces here and there, but they never interested me. Your review is good, as it tells me a lot about not only this film but also the other parts of the series as well. Nice pick for the beginning of summer.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Rick ,BTW Donna Loren was the "Pespi Girl on TV in the early to mid 60's.
    As someone who grew in on the beaches of So Cal ( Torrance Cliffs, Hermosa Beach,in the mid 60's)my friends and I thought the Beach Party flicks were pretty LAME, no one looked like my "beach friends" except maybe Jody but I liked Erick Von Zipper(Harvey is a underrated comic great)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I always liked the girl who wore the heavily fringed dress and spent all the dance numbers doing the twist, which made the fringe go wild! I was a very young teen in Indiana when these movies came out, and it was fun to imagine myself on a beach (which I'd never seen), wearing a bikini (which my father would never have allowed) and having Frankie Avalon for a boyfriend. A little side-note: I remember the Micky Mouse Club, and each member wore a t-shirt with their name on front. When Annette started developing her bust, her name stretched out, and all the boys loved it!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Rick, This truly is a fun movie! The music is great. It's perfect for the entire family to watch, and all the characters are wonderful! Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon make such a cute couple. Donna Loren, nails it with her wonderful singing. Paul Lynde and Don Rickles are a couple of cool cats. Jody McCrea and Marta Kristen's relationship is a cute story line. John Ashley and Deborah Walley's skydiving scene is, out of sight!! Harvey Lembeck is hilarious as, Von Zipper. If you're looking for a groovey time...this is the movie for all you, Hot-Doggers and Beach Bunnies...:)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sark, you are so right about BBB being an incredibly quotable movie (you listed two of my favorite lines). And, yes, no BEACH PARTY girl can compare to Annette! Dawn, thanks for mentioning the talented Donna Loren, too. She has a great web site at http://www.donnaloren.net. Paul, Donna was the Dr. Pepper Girl--not Pepsi. I used to think these movies were lame, but then I saw the light...so there's hope for you. Becky, the fringe-dress dancer was the marvelous Candy Johnson (who wasn't in BBB...otherwise, she would have been mentioned!). Kim, every movie buff has to see a BEACH PARTY movie before they die. As Sark and Dawn will confirm, your best bet is BINGO!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Rick ,If your from So Cal I don't think so. Now Gidget that's another story.LOL

    ReplyDelete
  8. Rick ,she also did local So Cal Pepsi spots too.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Rick, this review was a blast! You made every aspect of "Bingo" come alive again for me! This is the quintessential beach movie. I really love Donna Loren's beautiful voice as she sings "So please don't worry if I sigh for him, you know that I'll get by. I'll just pretend that it's not the end; it only hurts when I cry." What perfect lyrics for young love.

    The cast is such fun. Linda Evans and Marta Kristen are both quite cute. And Annette and Frankie are adorable. But Harvey Lembeck is my idol! And when toto adores you, Harvey, you stay adored.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I just watched this movie (and wrote up a quick review on it) myself. Such a good film; light-hearted, funny, and very enjoyable :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks for stopping by the Cafe, Cinema Sweetheart (nice avator!). Your assessment of BINGO is spot on.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thank u ......

    Your blog is very nice & informative...



    kiss throw

    ReplyDelete