Monday, July 1, 2019

A Swingin' Summer Swings No More

I suspect that many of you have experienced the disappoint-ment of re-watching a once-cherished movie that has been tarnished by time. I wouldn't classify A Swinging' Summer as a "cherished" movie, but there was a time in my youth when I found it to be a pleasing entertainment. Thus, when I recently discovered it on Amazon Prime, I was enthused about seeing it again. Oh, woe!

The plot is not the problem since many Beach Party knock-offs of the 1960s were held together with string, sealing wax, and other fancy stuff. Rick, his girlfriend Cindy, and his pal Mickey plan to work at a Lake Arrowhead dance pavilion during their college summer break. They don't even reach their destination before they hear on the radio that the pavilion will not open. Undeterred, Rick proposes that the trio take charge and run it themselves. After all, Rick happens to have a friend who is a talent agent. Surely, they have enough money between them to stage the first dance.

William Wellman Jr. & Quinn O'Hara.
As it turns out, they need a lot more cash upfront! Without telling Rick, Cindy has her rich dad guarantee the finances. However, Rick turns into a workaholic, so Cindy flirts with a lifeguard who looks like trouble. Meanwhile, Mickey encounters a pretty scholar (Raquel Welch) who decides she wants to study him. There's a big fight between Rick and the lifeguard. And, oh yeah, there's a lot of music.

Frankly, the music is pretty good, but we'll get to that in a minute. The problem is that the viewer has to suffer through 50 minutes of the picture's 80-minute running time before the rock'n'roll shifts into high gear. As the film's star, William Wellman, Jr., the famed director's son, makes Frankie Avalon look like Ronald Colman. He has no screen charisma and it's hard to fathom why Cindy doesn't dump her crappy boyfriend and just stay with the lifeguard. (Yes, I admit that I sometimes wondered why Annette didn't drop Frankie, but he had some charm...and could sing!) Wellman, Jr. even looks pathetic in the big fight scene with the lifeguard, which is horribly staged and goes on for far too long.

Quinn O'Hara.
Scottish-born redhead Quinn O'Hara is pleasant enough as the female lead. She later had a small part in The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, the last Beach Party movie. She did lots of TV in the 1960s and allegedly dated Frank Sinatra and Fabian in real life. Her other co-star, James Stacy, is best remembered for the Western TV series Lancer and for marrying Connie Stevens and later Kim Darby. His acting career was temporarily derailed when he lost an arm and leg in a motorcycle accident. He staged a remarkable comeback, but it was short-lived and he was later convicted of child molestation. Stacy served six years in the prison in Chino, California. That incident casts a dark cloud over his lighthearted scenes.

Despite its amateurish build-up, A Swingin' Summer ends on a high note with musical performances by Gary Lewis and the Playboys, The Rip Chords, Raquel Welch, and The Righteous Brothers. I had forgotten how successful Gary Lewis's band was--it charted twelve Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. That's actually the same number as The Righteous Brothers, who are better remembered today. The duo sing "Justine" in A Swingin' Summer, which was not a hit. However, its follow-up on the chart was the iconic "Unchained Melody."

A studious Raquel Welch.
A Swingin' Summer was Raquel Welch's third film and provided her biggest role to date. She wouldn't get to demonstrate her modest singing talents in another movie. However, she later earned good reviews for her Vegas act and for replacing Lauren Bacall on Broadway in the musical Applause. Incidentally, Raquel was on her way to stardom when A Swingin' Summer was released overseas. So, the film's title was changed to La Calda Notte, which translates to The Hot Night and features Raquel alone on the poster.


3 comments:

  1. I am going to assume, after checking the IMDb cast list, that the troublesome lifeguard role was given to Martin West. He always had a sort of "Dane Clark" vibe about him, especially as Phil Brewer on General Hospital (too many years ago!).

    Sorry to hear about the summertime glow gone from the movie, but like many of those we can fast-forward to the musical interludes.

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  2. The Beach Party movies are my ultimate guilty pleasure, and when I saw you were reviewing an imitator, I was excited to learn about a new film. Even though it has flaws, I'm going to see it out just because...although William Wellman Jr could never take the place of Ronald Coleman, er, Frankie Avalon. ;)

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  3. I love Raquel in glasses but I am quite sure she had a moment where she wasn’t wearing them.

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