Party On: Pajama Party (1964) & Ski Party (1965)

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?).

Rocking Out: The T.A.M.I. Show (1964)

My rental of The T.A.M.I. (Teenage Awards Music International) Show is a testament to whatever cybermagic controls Netflix’s suggestions. After rating hundreds, possibly thousands of movies, it’s gotten really good at recommended things I want to see and this concert footage from 1964 with performances by The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, Chuck Berry, James Brown and the Flames, Marvin Gaye, the Rolling Stones and plenty of others was a lot of fun. For a better explanation of the whole thing, please jump over to TrailersFromHell and listen to John Landis’ explanation of the show, which he actually attended.

Surf rockers Jan and Dean act as hosts, introducing most of the acts. The bands and groups play on a set with frenetic go-go dancers and a live, screaming audience cheering the bands on. It kicks off with Chuck Berry and Garry And The Pacemakers trading off songs. I’m not sure why they decided to do this as it’s not something that goes on throughout the rest of the performances. There are some cool moments with the talent coming together, like a bunch of them getting behind Lesley Gore (I didn’t recognize her name, but she sings “You Don’t Own Me” and “It’s My Party”) and clapping and then at the very end coming out to dance during the Stones’ last song. The Stones had it pretty rough playing after a crazy-good James Brown set, but I think they did pretty good, and I’m not really a Stones fan.

Here’s one of James Brown’s performances, pretty great, right? He and the Flames gave , by far, the best performance of the film. Like I said, the Stones did well and I really liked Gore’s performance (her material seemed really progressive for the time). I also dug the performances by the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean as I’m a big fan of surf music. For some reason I always have a picture of Jan & Dean being older, but they’re just two dudes having a good time, riding skateboards while singing. Good stuff. Bands that I had never heard of like The Barbarians and Billy J. Kramer And The Dakotas were all right as were the pre-Diana Ross Supremes. The major let down of the show had to be Smokey Robinson And The Miracles. Smokey’s voice was super-sharp and sounded pretty painful at times.

I highly recommend checking out The T.A.M.I. Show if you’re a fan of the early days of rock and roll and R&B. For the most part the performances are really solid, with more good than bad. Plus, it’s fun to see the good old days when it didn’t take flouncy vampires and werewolves to get people screaming their faces off (I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about anything as every single person in that auditorium was about seeing those groups). Oh, also, I recommend the flick if you’re a fan of ladies wearing early 60s style and dancing their asses off. The dancers in this thing–which apparently include Teri Garr and Toni Basil–might not look the coolest to modern audiences, but you’ve got to appreciate their enthusiasm and there’s no doubt that there’s some cute ladies shaking their thangs. Well worth the watch all the way around!