Movie Cycles: Beach Party Movies (1963-1965)

In the 1960s, a new genre emerged, the “beach party movie.” The ingredients included several teenagers, surfing, the beach, some adults thrown in, and thin plot line.

The basic premise was simple: a very innocent boy and girl are in love (in a wholesome way) only to encounter some threat from the outside world, either an adult villain, a handsome young fellow who tries to attract the girl away from the guy, or a hot-looking young chick who tries to attract the guy away from the girl.

The plot line is played out, a few songs by 1960s artists are thrown in, add some slapstick gags, and a nice, simple resolution in which, above all, the guy and the girl realize that nothing can ever come between them. As simplistic and formulaic as it all sounds, the low-budget beach party movies were tremendously popular in the early to mid-1960s. Teenagers all over America flocked to see the surfing, the mildly amusing jokes and gags, and—let’s be honest here—the very healthy young people in their extremely well-fitting swim suits.

The films were usually shot in Paradise Cove in Malibu, California, in the winter to fit their future release schedule dates. The poor actors and actresses had to frolic on the beach in swimsuits, freezing in the cold weather.)

There were many spin-offs and rip-offs that tried to copy the successful formula.

But the “classic” beach party films were made by American-International Studios and usually directed by William Asher.

They include:

1. BEACH PARTY (1963)
In 1963, Beach Party, the first official “beach party” movie, was released and became a box-office smash. It starred the most popular beach party couple: Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.

Frankie always played a character named “Frankie,” but Annette was inevitable dubbed either “Didi” or “Dolores.” Frankie was too old when the film was made, but he played a “teen” for the next several years. Annette was fresh from her days as a Mouseketeer on The Mickey Mouse Club with Disney and became the epitome of the sweet, wholesome beach girl.

Walt Disney was against her even donning a bikini, as he thought it would tarnish her image, as well as Disney’s.  Annette, more than any other single figure, made the bikini acceptable and popular with American girls all over the world.

From its introduction in 1946 to when Annette donning bikinis in the beach party movies, bikini sales in America actually rose 3000 percent. The films also helped generate a huge spike in the sale of surfboards to guys.

Beach Party was followed by three more beach party films in 1964: Muscle Beach Party, Pajama Party. The first two were formulaic films starring Frankie and Annette. Muscle Beach Party was the official big screen debut of “little” Stevie Wonder. The films became showcases for other music legends, such as the Beach Boys, Little Richard, the Animals, and the Supremes.

3. BIKINI BEACH (1964)
The third movie, Bikini Beach, has a slight twist: Frankie plays dual roles, that of “Frankie” and also a “rock star” known as “The Potato Bug.” Obviously a take-off of the new musical sensations, The Beatles (beetles, potato bug… get the gag?), Frankie’s “Potato Bug” had a mustache, glasses, and a very cheesy British accent. In the end, of course, Frankie’s charm triumph’s over the “threat” of “The Potato Bug” stealing Annette away.
One indispensable figure of almost all the beach party films, including Bikini Beach, was Harvey Lembeck in his role as Eric Von Zipper. Lembeck, a character actor, played Von Zipper as a middle-aged satire of Marlon Brando’s motorcycle-riding hood in black leather from his 1953 movie The Wild One. Lembeck played the teens’ adult nemesis, a bumbling clown who always got the worst of it. He gave the films their single most memorable sight gag with “the finger,” a paralyzing index finger being forced against his temple, which left him immobile.

4. PAJAMA PARTY (1964)
The third beach party movie of 1964, Pajama Party, is notable for former Disney actor Tommy Kirk taking over the “Frankie” role as Annette’s boyfriend. Frankie makes only a few brief cameos, and Kirk is definitely a weak fill-in. Kirk plays a Martian who comes to Earth, interacts with the resident teens.

You can spot Teri Garr as one of the girl dancers buried in the sand on the beach.

The beach party genre reached its apogee in 1965 with what is regarded as the finest beach party film, Beach Blanket Bingo.


Beach Party

Muscle Beach Party

Bikini Beach

Pajama Party

Beach Blanket Bingo