For the record, I say towards the end of the episode that I think people should be able to do whatever they want. I meant to add the caveat “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.” Unfortunately, too many people these days only believe in the first half of the sentiment and not the second.
Like most folks, I’m a creature of habit. As it turns out, I’ve got a pretty set habit of watching certain kinds of movies at certain times. Horror movies in the fall give way to Christmas movies which eventually give way to action movies and the occasional drama and then, when spring and summer hit, I want to watch a combination of 80s comedies, all-time favorites and — the latest entry in the equation — fun flicks from the 60s. Last year I watched a good deal of the Frankie and Annette beach movies including Bikini Beach, Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine, Pajama Party and Ski Party. I also watched Beach Party, but never got around to watching it, so in the spirit of the season and as a way of paying tribute to Annette Funicello who recently passed away, I figured I’d give it another view.
This is actually the very first in a series of teen beach films put out by a company called AIP that all featured teens usually during summer vacation operating in remote locations on their own with little-to-know parental or adult supervision. While never overtly so, the films play with and talk about sexuality in tongue in cheek ways. Beach Party finds Annette and Frankie (Avalon) heading to the beach to spend the summer in a beach house. Turns out, though, that Annette wasn’t super excited about spending all that time with just Frankie, so she invited their whole crew along.
As dudes in movies did back then — and still do in real life today — Frankie takes his anger at this situation and directs it in a negative fashion by flirting with other girls. That makes Annette angry, so she winds up fancying an older anthropologist who’s in the area to study the mating habits of the modern American teenager who he often compares to tribes from other continents.
Most of the elements found in the latter AIP films can be found here. There’s the rocky relationship (that’s not really that rocky) between Frankie and Annette, lots of surfing, spontaneous dance scenes complete with hot musical acts (this one has Dick Dale and the Del Tones), a biker gang lead by Eric Von Zipper, a few cool adults and healthy doses of innuendo. I like this movie for the same reason I liked all the others: in addition to being a fun and entertaining movie on its own, it also acts as interesting time capsule from an era where teenagers were becoming a whole new demographic, one that was looking to live a completely different way than their parents before them, something that hadn’t really happened much up til that time. Sure, this is a Hollywood cash grab to try and co-opt that, but at the same time, these movies must have had a huge influence on the kids and young adults they were marketed to. It’s like when I was a kid watching Saved By The Bell, that was an interpretation and sanitization of youth as seen by TV execs and writers who were much older than their subjects. And yet, kids like me watched that and internalized it into reality. Fun stuff to think about!
After watching Beach Party, Netflix suggested I watch The Spirit Is Willing. I was completely unfamiliar with this film but become wildly intrigued the more I looked into it. First off, it’s directed by William Castle who directed an all-time favorite of mine The House On Haunted Hill. He also did 13 Ghosts and The Tingler, movies that all took advantage of gimmicks to give theatergoers extra thrills. What intrigued me was the fact that this guy who was so known for straight up horror movies decided to try his hand at comedies. This particular comedy stars legendary comic Sid Caesar and Vera Miles of Psycho fame as the parents of Barry Gordon (the original voice of Donatello on TMNT!). Sid and Vera have decided to rent a house in New England seems nice, but is actually haunted by a psychotic woman who killed her new husband on their honeymoon as well as the maid she found him kissing. She wound up dying too in the craziness.
What you get with the film is a young man who seems to rub his parents the wrong way at every turn in the unfortunate situation of trying to convince his parents that the house his haunted. Things get more complicated from there as the rich uncle comes to visit and gets involved, the dad starts to believe after talking to the town’s local librarian, the mom thinks that dad is having an affair, the uncle thinks the boy is a crossdresser because he’s buying all these different items for an older woman in an effort to get one of the ghosts to show up at a naval themed costume party. Catch all that?
What’s great about this film is that it works on several different levels. Even though I marked it as a horror film over in the categories, it’s about 95% a comedy and 5% a horror film (if that). In fact, the only reason I’m giving it that large of a percentage is that it plays on one of my big fears: knowing that something strange and possibly deadly is going on but not being able to convince anyone else. Plus, you’ve got giant knives of various kinds flying around at people, the near hanging of one of the characters and plenty of ghostly shenanigans that practically destroy the house and this family (the ghosts here have no trouble interacting with the physical world, but can’t talk to the living). As a comedy, it works on several levels. You’ve got the cartoonish slapstick that comes from the ghosts trying to constantly kill each other and anyone they come across. At the same time, the script has plenty of hilarious bits from Caesar (as you’d expect) and young Master Gordon who mixes snotty 60s teenager with Borscht Belt stand-up.
I feel like there’s also other levels that the movie works on. There’s a larger metaphor going on here about how younger and older generations have trouble dealing with one another. That’s the central conflict at the heart of the movie, but I’m not sure if it’s trying to say much more than what it says or if there’s a deeper meaning. It doesn’t really matter if there is or not, though, if you can read into it, it’s there in some way. Anyway, this is less of a focus, but I get the idea that there’s an aspect of “normal life is the real hell” because of how Caesar’s character suffers through the film. There’s a very real and heartfelt moment early on after the kid’s first interaction with a ghost and Sid says something like, “We’re living with a stranger.” As the movie progresses, you can tell he’s got a really heavy heart because of the loss of relationship with his son. We also eventually learn that Casear — an editor — is in danger of losing his job. For some reason he also seems wildly distracted to the point that he dodges the obvious advances of his Vera Miles which is the hardest thing to believe in this ghost tale.
As I said above, the end of the movie gets somewhat complicated as all kinds of subplots come home to roost, but I was impressed and surprised with how the film ended as it was a cross of happy and sad-but-still-kinda-happy. So, let’s call this SPOILER TERRITORY for a nearly 50 year old movie, but there you go. At the end of the film, the snooty, jerky uncle winds up getting straight up murdered by the jilted lady ghost. This allows her to haunt him for all eternity and supposedly leave her husband and the maid to chase after each other on their own. This not only ends her reign of terror, but, unbeknownst to them, alleviates Sid and Vera’s money woes because they’re his only relative and they’ll get all his cash. It was cool implying this at the end of the movie without directly stating it. I also enjoyed that the parents decided to take it a little easier on their kid, even if he was kind of a snotty jerk before the ghosts started wrecking havoc with his life.
While these films aren’t really all that related aside from being comedies from the same decade, I still give each of them a big ol’ thumbs up and recommend anyone check them out.
I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I pushed play on the Netflix Instant version of Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine. I thought it was just another iteration of the AIP surf flicks I’ve enjoyed so much this summer (like Ski Party, Pajama Party and Bikini Beach), but it also happened to combine a few other favorite genres (to varying degrees of success) with some sci-fi/robot stuff going on as well as a spy motiff. Oh, and the bad guy is none other than one of my all time favorite actors Vincent Price absolutely relishing in his role as an evil mastermind. To say the man chews scenery doesn’t quite do his performance justice, he savors that ham like a world-class steak and it really makes the movie.
The plot revolves around Price’s Dr. Goldfoot creating lady-looking robots to rob wealthy men. In a precursor to Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse and The Matrix, the robots are directly programmed for the specific men they’re going after, which is a pretty rad idea seen through the prism of mid-60s sci-fi. Anyway, a couple of guys played by Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman get wise to the plot and try to put a stop to it which leads first to a dungeon scene with cameos by some of their fellow AIP stars, including Annette Funicello, and then into a huge chase scene that includes boats on wheels and street cars.
It’s got all that, plus the trademark wit and thinly veiled sexual innuendo you should come to expect from the surf flicks and on top of all that it stars Price at his hammiest AND has some James Bondian moments (they this element is the weakest of the batch by far), which makes this like the Voltron of weird subgenre movies for me. And you know what’s even crazier? It was going to be a musical originally, but those bits were cut out, though its unknown whether that was before or after filming started. Wouldn’t it be rad if someone uncovered a full print of this film with those scenes intact? I’d definitely give it another watch!
After watching and really enjoying Bikini Beach, I’ve been on an Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon kick. Pajama Game is not part of the surf movie series as Annette plays a different character and Frankie’s barely in it. However, the motorcycle gang called The Rats does show up, so maybe this is a Mallrats/Chasing Amy kind of thing and different actors just play different characters in the same universe. Anyway, this time around, a group of kids hang out at the beach and at nice houses with pools. Anette’s boyfriend is more interested in volleyball than anything else (clearly asexual) so she winds up falling for a new boy in town named George. Meanwhile, a neighbor wants to break into a widow’s house and steal all the money her husband left, so he convinces her to have a pajama party to cause a distraction.
Oh, by the way, George is actually a Martian played by Tommy Kirk who also played Biff in The Absent Minded Professor (an often played film in my house growing up, his dad in that movie was the old guy in Bikini Beach!). He’s supposed to be paving the way for an alien invasion, but winds up falling for Annette which works out fine because her boyfriend would rather bump balls.
Oddly, the trailer for the film isn’t on YouTube, so here’s one of the musical numbers:
This movie was very high on fun and hijinks. I love the elaborate way the widow has to go about getting her money. I love the low tech way they set up a teleporter to bring in more Martians for the invasion. I love how instead of relying on either one of the two storylines (breaking into the old lady’s house, alien invasion) they went with both of them along with all the teen drama that usually surrounds these story. I love the cameos by Dorothy Lamour, Buster Keaton, Avalon, Don Rickles and a couple of background dancers/actresses better known as Teri Garr and Toni Basil. Really, I just loved this movie.
In the following year’s Ski Party, Annette plays a cameo as a professor while Frankie and a fellow college student pal go off to a ski resort to pick up chicks. To get really close to the ladies, they decide to dress in drag to infiltrate their ski class…and maybe learn a little something along the way.
While this film might have been far less complicated than the previous one, I was impressed with how funny it was. Sure there’s the goofy, campy stuff like Frankie inflating his ski coat to go further on a ski jump and accidentally flying all over the place, but there were also some really funny jokes that are still funny today.
One the stereotypes people might have about these kinds of films is that they’re tame by today’s standards. And yeah, that’s true from an on-the-nose perspective. You’re not going to see any topless women or kids randomly hooking up, but that’s more because that kind of stuff wasn’t sold in teen films back then. But all that stuff is still there below the surface. I was surprised with the use of the word “sex” in these movies because it was like they were actually admitting the teenagers want to have sex (shocking!). A lot of creative types say that rules and regulations actually push them to be more creative when it comes to bawdy jokes and dealing with sex and I think that shows in these movies.
Oh, that reminds me of something. As you might expect, homosexuality isn’t mentioned whatsoever in these movies, but I think elements of it can definitely be seen on screen. Pajama had the boyfriend who was more interested in volleyball, which doesn’t really mean anything, but in this one, Frankie’s pal dresses up like a girl and it actually works for him. When, as his guy self, he calls up a girl and gets shot down, he dresses up like his girl self again, calls up a boy who was flirting with him earlier and they go out. And have a wonderful time. Heck, he spends the rest of the movie talking about how great this guy is and that he things he can make a marriage work with him, forget about that whole being a man thing. I guess you could argue this was played for laughs (“This would NEVER happen, so it’s funny!”) or if something got slipped past the censors. I can’t remember how Frankie’s pal ended the movie, but I thought that was a really interesting subplot. For what it’s worth, Frankie did not support his friend.
Another great thing about these movies is the music. While Pajama Party didn’t have anyone I recognized, Ski Party featured none other than the God Father of Soul, The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, Mr. James Brown! AS A SNOW RESCUE GUY! He literally rolls into a lodge on skis with cocktail carrying German shepherds, says a few jokes and busts into “I Got You (I Feel Good).” Holy poop! Oh, Leslie Gore sings “Sunshine, Rainbows and Lollipops” too, but that’s nowhere near as cool as James Brown. Double oh, Yvonne Craig — TV’s Batgirl — stars as one of the objects of affection. I think she was my first ever crush.
So, I just spent a great deal of time bestowing the virtues of these films, but I think the most important thing to take away is that they are silly fun with a real “Up With Kids” vibe to them. It’s funny to think that, right now as I watch these movies, I’m older than the characters in the film (though probably the same age as some of the actors). Even as a burgeoning fogey, I still relate to the themes in these flicks and can’t imagine living in an even more buttoned-up society. Remember, the sexual revolution was still a few years away from really blowing up, so this was the best kids had of seeing even the remotest, nicest form of rebellion on screen (I haven no idea if this is completely factual but it sounds good, doesn’t it?).
Even now I’m not sure why I added Bikini Beach to my Netflix Instant queue. I think the site might have suggested the film after seeing how many teen-oriented summer flicks I’ve watched, but most of those have been from the 80s. The other day I thought about watching Hannibal, but figured it would be a bit too intense for my daughter (who tricked me on Tuesday by making me think that two hour naps were the new norm, tricky baby). When that idea fell through, I saw this Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello flick at the top of the queue and went for it.
I’ve never seen one of their flicks (though research tells me there were seven total films in this series, of which BB is the third installment), but it wound up being a really fun and goofy movie that was perfect for paying limited attention while doing work and watching the kid. The idea is that a group of surfer kids sets up shop on a stretch of beach that happens to be right next to a famous Beatles-esque pop star called The Potato Bug AND near the property of a stodgy old guy who owns a nearby retirement home. This causes two sets of problems as Bug woos Annette away from Frankie AND the old guy tries to get rid of the kids by writing editorials in the newspaper he owns about how animalistic they are. How does he prove this? Well, he’s trained his ape to do all the things the kids do: surf, dance and drive. Why he’s not writing stories about this incredibly scientific breakthrough, I do not know.
After some of those goofy looking surfing scenes we’ve all seen on clip shows and whatnot, the tide turns a bit as Potato Bug shows proficiency at drag racing which makes Frankie want to take it up as well so they can race. There’s also a bunch of stuff with Don Rickles as a guy who owns both the racetrack and the local teen hang out (which doesn’t sell hard liquor because it’s for the kids, but does serve beer…) as well as a biker gang whose leader is a total goofball who allies himself with the old guy even though the old guys is not down with all that. There’s also a werewolf for no reason other than someone won a contest.
There’s also a good deal of musical numbers including one by Little Stevie Wonder at the end. I’m a fan of surf rock, though I’m admittedly ignorant of most of it. I dig the Ventures, Jan & Dean, the Dick Dale stuff I’ve heard and Link Wray (just barely surf, but in the same vein). The stuff in this flick isn’t nearly as good as any of that, but it’s still fun. And that’s really what this movie is about: having fun, even in the face of jerky old people who want to stiffle your fun. It’s kind of cool knowing that this plot goes so far back in film. Think about it, our parents were watching these movies and thinking, “Yeah, man, screw that old guy, I just want to SURF!” I suggest checking out all seven movies and reminding your parents of them when they start giving you a hard time (assuming your folks are still giving you static when you’re nearing 30).