Monday, March 10, 2014

Bikini Beach: “Where All the Chicks Are Bikini Clad”

Welcome to Bikini Beach, where the ladies adorned in bikinis are constantly distracting passing drivers, cooks, surfers and guys already spending time with girls. Frankie (Frankie Avalon), Dee Dee (Annette Funicello), and the rest of the gang are spending another summer at the beach, lying on the sand and surfing against the rear projection that is the ocean. Their fun in the sun is threatened when Harvey Huntington Honeywagon III (Keenan Wynn) arrives with his chimpanzee, Clyde (Janos Prohaska), who shows off his surfing skills to a dumbfounded crowd of teens. Honeywagon, however, is demonstrating the youngsters’ lack of intelligence, bolstered by a “preoccupation with sex,” and he follows it with a scathing article in his newspaper. The lovely Miss Clements (Martha Hyer) soon learns that Honeywagon’s true agenda is to purchase the beach property and convert it into a retirement home, Sea-Esta by the Sea.

Meanwhile, back at the beach, Frankie is in danger of losing Dee Dee to... well, himself, as the actor also portrays British rock phenomenon, The Potato Bug. The singer pitches a tent on Bikini Beach and instantly woos the girls, including Dee Dee, who is peeved by Frankie scoffing the idea of marriage. When The Potato Bug boasts of his proficiency at drag racing, Frankie believes he can regain Dee Dee’s affection by besting the British star. It literally becomes a race to the finish, while monkey wrenches are thrown into the mix: Frankie having few resources with which to purchase a race car (not to mention the inability to drive one); Clyde the chimp once again transcending humans by securing the drag racing record and out-watusi-ing everyone; and the delightful but dim Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his motorcycle gang of Ratz and Mice stirring up trouble for all.

Bikini Beach (1964) was the third in American International Pictures’ Beach Party films and was directed by William Asher, a prolific TV director and producer. Asher also directed the preceding films, Beach Party (1963) and Muscle Beach Party (1964), as well as How to Stuff a Wild Bikini and the fan favorite, Beach Blanket Bingo (both 1965). Asher’s direction works well with the slapstick comedy and frivolous (but endlessly quotable) dialogue. He does repeat some visual puns (e.g., girls causing surfers to “crash,” accompanied by sounds of vehicular collisions, from Beach Party), but there are also worthy gags such as the recurring unknown female in a bikini drawing everyone’s attention, at one point inciting the camera to turn away from the action.

While Frankie Avalon’s performance as The Potato Bug is a bit hammy, it’s also a nice change from the character of Frankie, whose cheeky attitude makes him undeserving of a lady such as Dee Dee. Potato Bug, with his moptop haircut and indistinguishable songs, is a gleeful play on The Beatles, who, in 1964, were in the midst of their British Invasion in the U.S. The only time that The Potato Bug is excessive in Bikini Beach is when Frankie impersonates the singer as a ruse. It’s Frankie playing Frankie playing Frankie, and it’s unduly metaphysical for a Beach Party film. Furthermore, Frankie is too convincing and manages to fool the typically shrewd Dee Dee.

Don Rickles plays “Big Drag,” but there’s an explicit acknowledgement that he’s the same character from Muscle Beach Party. When Big Drag is told that he looks familiar, he states that he was once called Jack Fanny and references “a string of muscle men” (“I got out of the Fanny business; that’s all behind me now”). Rickles is exceptionally funny in Bikini Beach, avoiding the mismatched stand-up routine he would perform in Beach Blanket Bingo, and dishing out amusing dialogue with charm, like when he recites a litany of problems with a race car he’s trying to sell. His response to Frankie when asked if anything is functional: “The radio’s kinda nice.”

Jody McCrea reprises his role of Deadhead in Bikini Beach. Although apparently portraying the same character, he was called Bonehead in Beach Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (evidently Big Lunk in 1964s Pajama Party is not the same guy). Candy Johnson also revisits her role as Candy, the “Perpetual Motion Dancer,” whose swinging hips become a viable weapon and can knock opponents to the ground. Harvey Lembeck as Eric Von Zipper makes a most welcome return in Bikini Beach, having been absent from the earlier Muscle Beach Party. He isn’t allotted time for his own song like in Beach Blanket Bingo, but he does give himself The Finger (See “F” in The Beach Party Movies: A to Z) and it’s a treat to hear his refrain, “You stupid!” and his argument favoring motorcycles over drag racing cars: “Cycles is better.

Like most of the Beach Party films, Bikini Beach has a number of memorial tunes. Musical highlights include Donna Loren singing “Love’s a Secret Weapon”, the Frankie and Annette duo, “Because You’re You”, and “This Time It’s Love”, a solo by Annette. The film also features a performance from Little Stevie Wonder (who’d made his film debut in Muscle Beach Party) and “introduces” the short-lived surf rock group, The Pyramids.

The character of Honeywagon shares his name with the term for a mobile restroom utilized for film and TV productions. A honeywagon is a trailer housing multiple rooms for various uses. It’s more generally written as two words, and as such, a honey wagon is for transporting waste or a portable component of a sanitation system.Janos Prohaska, who portrayed Clyde, often played monsters or animals, in costumes which he designed. He typically appeared on television, such as Star Trek, as the Horta, Mugato and Yarnek, in the respective episodes, “The Devil in the Dark”, “A Private Little War” and “The Savage Curtain”. Prohaska also starred as the recurring Cookie Bear in The Andy Williams Show, as well as the TV series, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, Bewitched, Land of the Giants and The Outer Limits. His creature creation from the Outer Limits episode, “The Architects of Fear”, was deemed so unnerving that local stations in some cities censored or delayed the broadcast.

Bikini Beach is a commendable entry in the series of Beach Party movies. By the third film, the characters are familiar, and the Frankie-Dee Dee struggle is an anticipated theme. There’s also the prerequisite celebrity cameo, a surprise appearance near the film’s end, with a joke on a previous cameo in Beach Party. I’ll concede that Beach Blanket Bingo is the most revered of the bunch, but I quite fancy time on Bikini Beach: there’s good humor, silly characters, and Annette in a bikini. Frankie’s eyes may wander (although more so in other films, like to Luciana Paluzzi in Muscle Beach Party), but mine are completely glued.

9 comments:

  1. Sark, this may well be your most entertaining review yet...I adore it! (And, as you know, when Rick adores a film review, it stays adored.) You highlighted one of the great mysteries of the BEACH PARTY series: How can Frankie look at another girl when he's dating Annette...oops, I mean Dee Dee...who wants to marry him although his only skills are apparently surfing and singing for free at local hangouts? He doesn't deserve her! I rather enjoy BIKINI BEACH, although the subplot with Keenan Wynn seems a bit like filler material (though I am fond of Sea-Esta by the Sea...if I could afford a beach house, I would surely name it that). Rickles is indeed funny as Big Drag and, though I'm a fan of MUSCLE BEACH PARTY, it's nice to have Eric Von Zipper back (I agree that "cycles is better" than drag cars). Yes, Frankie hams it up as The Potato Bug, but his first song, complete with "ooh's," is well-done. I love your comment about the metaphysical aspects of Frankie playing Frankie playing Frankie--talk about a performance for the ages. I know there are people who scoff at the BEACH PARTY movies and I was one of them once. But there's a nostalgic innocence and a sense of fun about them that transcends normal film criticism. Plus, as you pointed out, there's some very good music. I usually spend 90 minutes at BIKINI BEACH every summer...wouldn't be summer without watching some BP movies.

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  2. I, too, really enjoy the Beach Party movie series and like to revisit them, like old friends. In "Bikini Beach" you just know that Clyde will have to enter the drag race after you see his success as a surfer. You know that HHH will have portraits on his wall whose faces will change to reflect their "feelings" on his actions. You look forward to seeing Candy dance with her magic moves and hear a lot of sweet singing from Annette and Frankie, Donna, and Little Stevie Wonder. And it is always great to see Eric Von Zipper and his entourage on or off their cycles. I loved your nostalgic review, Sark, and chuckled once again over Don Rickles comments about leaving the Fanny business behind him. What a groovy review!

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  3. I love these movies. They're pure nostalgia. While I admit that Frankie comes across as a heel sometimes, he sure is cute! My husband and I saw him in Vegas last year and he still has a great voice. He was once considered a very good trumpet player too.

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  4. Haven't seen any of the beach party movies, but your review is so good that it has me interested! They sound like a lot of corny fun, which is just what we want for summer - hope they're on dvd.

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  5. When I was a little kid I used to wonder why none of the teenagers I saw in real life were like the folks in the Beach Party movies.

    Thanks for recalling the fun times, and the coolest guy in a black leather jacket - Eric Von Zipper.

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  6. This beach series makes me want to jump around the living room while listening to old 45's then drink a root beer float! A fun decade for movies when things were left to our imagination.
    Great post!
    Page

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  7. Loved the Beach Party movies. The music was fun and it was always great to hear Annette sing the duet("Because You're You") with Avalon. The "band" at Big Daddy's in this film is the Pyramids. Their version of "Fingertips" is classic early 60's surf music. It's also fun to see a very young Stevie Wonder, who shows up at the end.

    Last but not least.. how can you forget Candy Johnson, the wild blond go-go dancer character who, with the swish of her hips, could put a man in a daze?

    Another great post Sark. Now, I'm ready for summer. :)

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  8. I'm so late coming over to read and comment! I loved this fun post about one of my favorite beach movies. I particularly liked Keenan Wynn and Don Rickles in this. Great post, Sark!

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  9. I love the Beach Movies but have to say this is one of my least favorites of the Frankie/Annette films. Drag racing takes over for surfing and the "adult plot" with Ed Wynn and that chimp really ruin it for me. But I agree Frankie is wonderful playing the Potato Bug and the songs are some of the series best.

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