Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Beach Party Series Comes to a Sad End with "The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini"

This was not the film's original title.
As visitors to this blog know, we are Beach Party proponents, Annette admirers, and Frankie aficionados. Yes, we like our BP movies, but what is one to make of the last--and least--entry in American International's seven-film series? Frankie and Annette are nowhere to be seen. Other prominent series regulars that are also missing include Candy Johnson, Donna Loren, John Ashley, and, most notably, Jody McCrea (Bonehead/Deadhead). Even William Asher, who directed five of the series' entries, opted to avoid this outing (he had shifted his focus to his then-wife's TV series Bewitched).

In the closing credits of 1965's Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, AIP announced that Annette Funicello, Deborah Walley, Harvey Lembeck, and Aron Kinkaid "would soon appear in The Girl in the Glass Bikini" (we'll address the title change later). However, by the time production commenced, Annette was no longer attached to the project. Deborah Walley became the female lead and Tommy Kirk, who had previously appeared in Pajama Party, was cast as her co-star.

Kirk and Walley hold hands for a seance.
The plot sends Chuck Philips (Kirk), Lili Morton (Walley), and the older Myrtle Forbush (Patsy Kelly) to the recently-deceased Hiram Stokely's creepy mansion. The trio are the rightful heirs to Hiram's estate, which includes a large sum of money hidden in the house. The dead man's lawyer, Reginald Ripper (Basil Rathbone), wants to swindle them out of their inheritance. Meanwhile, Myrtle's partying nephew Bobby (Kinkaid) shows up at the estate--as does motorcycle gang leader Eric Von Zipper (accompanied by the Ratz and Mice) and J. Sinister Hulk (Jesse White reprising his role from Pajama Party).

Karloff was too ill to stand.
When the completed film, now titled Bikini Party in a Haunted House, was screened for AIP heads James Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff, they deemed it a disaster. Nicholson came up with the idea to add a subplot in which Hiram's ghost (Boris Karloff) has to perform a good deed to get into heaven. A bikini-clad Susan Hart (who had recently married James Nicholson) was also inserted in the proceedings and the movie was retitled The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Unfortunately, the title change meant a big production number called "Bikini Party in a Haunted House"--featuring Aron Kinkaid and Danny Thomas protegee Piccolo Pupa on lead vocals--had to be jettisoned.

Still, the remaining songs penned by Beach Party veterans Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner are quite listenable. Nancy Sinatra does an energetic poolside rendition of "Geronimo" while the Bobby Fuller Four serves as the film's "house band." Piccolo Pupa (that was not her real name) sings lead on "Stand Up and Fight." The Italian performer never achieved success in the U.S. despite three appearances on The Danny Thomas Show and a gig on Shindig! 
Nancy Sinatra sings "Geronimo" and Piccolo Pupa dances.
The saddest part of The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini is watching a fine cast being wasted. Karloff, Rathbone, and Francis X. Bushman were all in the twilight of their careers (and Boris was quite ill). It's painful to watch these classic era stars struggle with horrible material. Just two years earlier, Karloff and Rathbone had an opportunity to show off their comedic skills in Richard Matheson's funny The Comedy of Terrors.

Quinn O'Hara as Sinistra.
It's equally frustrating to see Beach Party veterans like Harvey  Lembeck and Bobbi Shaw forced to recycle old gags. Indeed, the only cast member that escapes unscathed is Quinn O'Hara. She's pretty funny as Sinistra, Rathbone's statuesque, but blind-without-her-glasses, daughter who keeps trying to kill Kinkaid's character.

After The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini crashed at the boxoffice, American  International Pictures concentrated on biker and horror flicks (the latter was always one of the company's staples). The Beach Party series, which had started off with such promise in 1963, had lasted just four years and produced only seven films (if you don't count Ski Party). It would take a few decades for their simple nostalgia and memorable music to become fully appreciated. But these days, I can safely say I am not alone in my affection for such drive-in classics as Beach Blanket Bingo and Muscle Beach Party.


This review is part of the Beach Party Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Speakeasy. Click here to view the full schedule of awesome beachy posts!

8 comments:

  1. Ack, it's too bad that good talent was wasted in this film. I haven't seen this one, and I likely won't bother...unless, of course, I become trapped under something heavy and can't reach the remote. I'm sure it's nowhere near as good as your review.

    Thanks for joining the Beach Party blogathon with the last of the Beach Party flicks!

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  2. The Beach party films are a nice throwback to simpler times. I actually thought of this title myself when thinking on something for the blogathon. Glad someone featured it. :)

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  3. Should be noted that Karloff was far fron a decrepit charity case here. Worth a couple of million, he lived to perform - and this was probably a day's work.

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  4. I'm glad you posted in this one too, a letdown yes, :) but with an interesting story behind it. Thanks so much for taking part in the blogathon!

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  5. It is always a little sad when a promising series ends on a dud. But at least there are fun moments like Sinatra and Sinistra and the always enjoyable Susan Hart. Great review as always, Rick!

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  6. Wow, do you know that I'm a Boris Karloff fanatic and I didn't even realize he was in this movie. I have to watch it if not for that reason alone. I also like the sound of the character, the tall red head who can't see without her glasses, who keeps trying to kill Kirk. It is sad, when great talent has to muddle through a horrible script and production. But in retrospect there's such affection to be had for this guilty pleasure filled genre. AIP made them like no one else. This was a great contribution to the Beach Party Blogathon! Thanks for making me aware of this little stinky gem -Cheers Joey from The Last Drive In

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  7. Never heard of this one. Deborah Walley is no stranger to the beach party film - she's the title star in Gidget Goes Hawaiian. And Tommy Kirk as done his turn in another beach film -Catalina Caper. I only know of the latter due to MST3K's lampooning of it.

    This is a very interesting write up.

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  8. It's a shame that the series came to such a sorry demise, but surely they saved the best title to last?!

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