Party with Frankie & Annette: The 7 Official Beach Party Movies

iStock
iStock

In the 1960s, a unique genre of movies came into the world: the "beach party movies." The inevitable ingredients included several "teenagers" (using that term loosely), surfing, the beach, a few token adults thrown in, and, of course, a wafer-thin plot line.

The basic premise was fairly simple: a very innocent boy and girl are in love (in a wholesome way) only to encounter some threat from the outside (of the beach) 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 '60s 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 filmed in Paradise Cove in Malibu, CA, in the dead of 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.)

Although there were many spin-offs and rip-offs (movie makers never miss a chance to cash in on another's successful formula), the "classic" beach party films were the ones made by American-International Studios and usually directed by William Asher, a total of seven films.

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. (Oddly, Frankie always played a character named "Frankie," but Annette was inevitable dubbed either "Didi" or "Dolores.") Frankie was already well into his twenties when the film was made, but played a "teen" for the next several years. Annette was fresh from her days as a Mouseketeer on The Mickey Mouse Club with Walt Disney and became the epitome of the sweet, wholesome beach girl. According to Annette, old Walt was severely against her even donning a bikini, as he thought it would tarnish her image, as well as Disney's. (I can't neglect to point out the fact that Annette's bikini is hardly "skimpy;" it is hilariously big and full, almost a one-piece swimsuit with an inch or two sliced out of the middle.)

Nonetheless, the fact is that Annette, more than any other single figure, made the bikini acceptable and popular with American women and untold women and girls all over the world. From its introduction in 1946 to when Annette began donning bikinis in the beach party movies, bikini sales in America actually rose an incredible 3000 percent. The films also helped generate a huge spike in the mid-'60s in the sale of surfboards to guys.

2. MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (1964)

Beach Party was followed quickly by three more beach party films in 1964: Muscle Beach Party, Pajama Party. The first two were pretty much just more formula films starring Frankie and Annette. The main claim to fame for Muscle Beach Party is that it was the official big screen debut of "little" Stevie Wonder. The beach party films became showcases for other music legends, too, such as the Beach Boys, Little Richard, the Animals, and the Supremes.

3. BIKINI BEACH (1964)

The third movie, Bikini Beach, has a slight (very uneasy) twist: Frankie plays dual roles, that of "Frankie" and also a bizarre "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 memorable role as Eric Von Zipper. Lembeck, a marvelous character actor, played Von Zipper as a middle-aged satire of Marlon Brando's motorcycle-riding hood in black leather from his classic movie The Wild One (1953). As Von Zipper, Lembeck played the teens' adult nemesis, a bumbling clown who always got the worst of it in the end. 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 completely immobile.

4. PAJAMA PARTY (1964)

The third beach party movie of 1964, Pajama Party, is notable mainly because former Disney actor Tommy Kirk took over the "Frankie" role as Annette's boyfriend. Frankie makes only a few brief cameos, and Kirk is definitely a weak fill-in. As if poor Tommy Kirk didn't have a hard enough time fitting in, in Pajama Party he plays a Martian (!) who comes to Earth, interacts with the resident teens, and is justifiably confused. Oh, and look quickly to spot a teenaged Teri Garr as one of the girl dancers buried in the sand on the beach.

5. BEACH BLANKET BINGO (1965)

The beach party movie genre reached its apogee in 1965 with what is almost unanimously regarded as the finest beach party film, Beach Blanket Bingo. The film is both funny and, at times, quite touching. (I swear!) It features Frankie singing his best beach party song, "These are the Good Times," and also features a young Don Rickles with a glimpse of his famous insulting nightclub act. Paul Lynde acts as comedic relief and, believe it or not, the indomitable Buster Keaton is present to do a few brilliant pratfalls. (Keaton actually appeared in several of the beach party films and was, as always, brilliant and hilarious.) Also featured in the cast is a very young and drop dead gorgeous Linda Evans playing singing sensation Sugar Kane. Marta Kristen (of TV's Lost in Space) plays a mermaid named Lorelei who has a platonic romantic encounter with the beach party films' resident goofball, "Bonehead" (played by a likable Jody McCrea). Beach Blanket Bingo is a perfect time capsule of the pre-Beatles 1960s, although it premiered after their arrival in the U.S.

6. HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI (1965)

In 1965's How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Frankie appears for only 6 minutes. (He may have been getting bored; he was also growing a bit long in the tooth to play the perennial chipper "teenage" surfer boy.) In his place is Dwayne Hickman (of "Dobie Gillis" TV fame) but, like Tommy Kirk, Hickman just can't fill Frankie's shoes.

How to Stuff a Wild Bikini does give us the treat of seeing Mickey Rooney camp it up as "Peachy" Keane, an ad executive, with a very fetching Beverly Adams as his protege. According to Rooney, his agent gave him hell for accepting the role; he had been approached by American-International directly and his agent had no part of the deal. Rooney says he was paid well, hung out with a lot of fun kids, and got to listen to rock 'n' roll all day. The money he earned probably came in handy, too, as Rooney had recently declared bankruptcy.

7. GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI(1966)

The final classic beach party film was 1966's Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Though there was no Frankie, no Annette, no surfing, and no beaches, this very bizarre movie is still considered the last of the "beach party" films. Featuring the great Boris Karloff in one of his final roles, the movie is about a bikini-sporting ghost who is a guardian angel to the female lead, Deborah Walley. Walley and Tommy Kirk replace Frankie and Annette, who had, by this time, outgrown their "Frankie and Dolores" roles. This "golden turkey" is pleasant only for the lonely guys who want to stare at a gorgeous ghost running around in a bikini. (OK, guilty as charged.)

With Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, the end of the beach party movies had finally arrived.

13 Great Rockumentaries Every Music (and Movie) Fan Should See

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

More people are watching documentaries these days, which likely means that more people are rocking their faces off with nonfiction. Far from Ken Burns’s soothing tones, these music-filled films demand amplification and an unseemly amount of perspiration.

Rock documentaries are tricky beasts. Though they often have the built-in advantage of following around famous people, they aren’t immune to boredom and eye-rolling faux depth. Keeping it simple by showcasing the music can be good, but it’s no way to be great. The best of the best manage to deliver a stellar soundscape, offer a backstage pass to the real humans who make it, and hold our ears even if we aren’t already devoted fans. If a little history gets made in the process, even better.

Grab a seat next to Penny Lane on the bus. Here are 13 of the best documentaries that every music—and film—fan should add to their Must Watch list.

1. WHAT’S HAPPENING! THE BEATLES IN THE U.S.A. (1964)

A singular piece of filmmaking where nonfiction talent met transcendent musical genius on the threshold of gargantuan stardom, this is the best Beatles documentary ever produced. Directed by legendary documentarians Albert and David Maysles, the film captures the band’s first frivolous jaunt through America, where they raised the screaming decibel level in The Ed Sullivan Show theater and goofed off in hotel rooms. It’s an explosion of youth before they changed music forever.

2. DON’T LOOK BACK (1967)

Another marriage of style, skill, and subject, Don't Look Back helped shape how the rockumentary genre could provide insights into the people who shape our popular culture. That so many iconic moments emerged from D.A. Pennebaker’s watershed work, which strolled with Bob Dylan through England in 1965, is a testament to the legendary musician's infinite magnetism. The cue cards, singing with Joan Baez in a hotel room on the edge of breaking up, the Mississippi voter registration rally, and on and on. Since it portrayed fame’s effect on the artist, the art, and the audience, most every other rock doc has been chasing its brilliance.

3. GIMME SHELTER (1970)

The rockumentary has evolved to be as diverse as the sonic landscape itself, which is why Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping can send up the current scene just like This Is Spinal Tap! did in the 1980s. Still, 1970 feels like the year that defined the rockumentary. Another Maysles joint, this profound doc captured The Rolling Stones touring at a time when they were one of the biggest bands in the world and only getting bigger. The music is powerful and immediate, and the film closes with their appearance at the Altamont Free Concert, which turned deadly when—after a day of skirmishes between concertgoers and the Hell’s Angels acting as security—a fan with a gun was stabbed to death when he tried to get on stage during “Under My Thumb.”

4. WOODSTOCK (1970)

The other 1970 film that helped define the genre allowed thousands to claim they’d been to the biggest concert event of the generation without actually going. If rock ‘n’ roll emerged from unruly teenage years into conflicted young adulthood in the 1960s, nothing stamped that image in henna ink better than Woodstock and the documentary that accompanied it. The bands that appear are legendary: Crosby, Stills & Nash; The Who; Joe Cocker singing The Beatles; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and many more. It’s a fly-by of the three days of peace and music that you could play on repeat with summery ease.

5. ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1973)

Rock doc royalty D.A. Pennebaker captured David Bowie’s final performance in his red-domed sci-fi persona at London's Hammersmith Odeon with a flair that captures the frenetic energy of the room. The crowd is as much a part of the moment as the band is, as the camera places you in the middle of a transitional moment in music history. To see Bowie that close up now is a wonder. And, naturally, the music is out of this world.

6. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981)

Instead of following the famous, Penelope Spheeris’s debut dug its nails deep into the Los Angeles punk scene at the turn of the decade. Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and other bands your parents have never heard of perform mosh pit-sparking anthems and show off their living conditions like a grungy proto-version of MTV Cribs. There’s a purity here missing from most music docs—a chronicle of people whose passion far, far outweighs their paychecks, and a screening that led the LAPD to request that the movie never be shown in LA again.

7. SIGN "☮" THE TIMES (1987)

Having Prince at the center of your concert doc is a shortcut to ensuring it’s one of the best of all time. There’s the music, of course. Hits like “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look,” and Sheila E. beating the hell out of her drum kit. There’s also The Purple One's inexhaustible energy and stage presence. As a bonus, the film jumps between concert footage and (instead of candid hotel conversations) a sci-fi narrative where we get to go to Prince Planet. It’s a rocky, disorienting experience that could have only been held so tightly together by a master showman.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (1991)

It might be hard to explain to a younger audience just how dominant Madonna was as an artist coming out of the 1980s or the kind of landmark event this film represented because of her status. The travelogue of her Blonde Ambition Tour was like peeking into the insane world of the ultra-famous—not least because Madonna was dating Warren Beatty at the time and part of the film involves her hanging out with Al Pacino, Lionel Richie, and more. There are threats that the Canadian police will arrest her for simulating masturbation in her show, the Pope trying to get the tour canceled in Italy, and a slightly awkward return home to see family. All par for the course for someone whose personal life was carved up for public consumption.

9. RHYME & REASON (1997)

An unparalleled look into the lyricism and lifestyle of rap musicians from the genre’s rise through its global domination of the 1990s, the concert and party footage is fantastic, and the number of interviews is staggering. Peter Spirer spoke with more than 80 rap and hip-hop artists to craft a snapshot of what life was like for a group of musicians who discovered their voices could echo across the world as well as those who followed after to even greater success. Instead of going deep on one person behind the music, it’s a historical document of the culture itself as seen through the eyes of those at its very center.

10. THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (2005)

For those who don’t know Daniel Johnston’s music, this doc is a crash course not only in its stripped-down, anti-folk vibes but the head it all comes spilling out of. Instead of romanticizing or ignoring his bipolar disorder, Jeff Feuerzeig’s movie engages with it directly, drawing beautiful gems from a troubled mind. An absolute masterpiece, it’s less a vision of a musician giving glimpses into his real life than it is a vision of a human being who makes music.

11. AWESOME; I F*CKIN’ SHOT THAT! (2006)

Rockumentaries follow two major formats: the raw concert doc that’s like a ticket to a show you couldn’t attend, and the profile where artists drop quotables in between performances. They’re safe and familiar, which is probably why the Beastie Boys gave both styles the middle finger in favor of a grand experiment. A year before YouTube launched, the rap trio gave 50 fans in their Madison Square Garden audience camcorders to capture the concert. The result is a genuine, fans’-eye-view of the experience, and a chaotic mashup of perspectives.

12. THE PUNK SINGER (2013)

It’s astonishing how much time and ground Sini Anderson’s portrait of Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna covers. It’s so much that labeling her Bikini Kill’s leader is woefully reductive. Artist, pioneer, feminist, activist, and a dozen other titles swirl around Hanna’s sweat-covered brow as we get to know her both as an artist and as a person. It’s also a punk fever dream of riot grrrl greatness, featuring incendiary archival footage and excellent talks with members of Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, and Julie Ruin, as well as Carrie Brownstein and the Beastie Boys’s Adam Horovitz (who is also Hanna’s husband).

13. JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (2015)

A fairly recent addition to the pantheon, Amy J. Berg’s doc is a stirring tour of archival footage of the gravel-throated songstress. Narrated by musician Cat Power, instead of losing perspective to the fog of history, a blend of modern conversations and ghosts from the past offer fresh eyes and ears to create a heartsick celebration of one of music history's most beloved artists, whose career was cut woefully short.

20 Memorable Elvis Presley Quotes

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

More than 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley remains a rock ‘n' roll icon and has yet to be ousted from his position as “The King.” Yet the Tupelo, Mississippi-born, Memphis, Tennessee-raised superstar never took his fame for granted, nor did he forget his roots. Here are 20 memorable quotes about Elvis’s life and legacy.

ON AMBITION

“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”

ON MAINTAINING YOUR VALUES

“It's not how much you have that makes people look up to you, it's who you are.”

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do.”

ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

“I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend.”

“I've never written a song in my life. It's all a big hoax.”

“I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to.”

ON THE ARMY

“After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake.”

“The army teaches boys to think like men.”

ON TRUTH

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.”

ON THOSE LEGENDARY DANCE MOVES

“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I can't help it.”

“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do 'em all together, I guess.”

ON KEEPING POSITIVE

“When things go wrong, don't go with them.”

ON STARDOM

“If you let your head get too big, it'll break your neck.”

“I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.”

“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It's very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.”

“The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year.”

ON LOVE

“Sad thing is, you can still love someone and be wrong for them.”

ON THE PITFALLS OF HOLLYWOOD

“I sure lost my musical direction in Hollywood. My songs were the same conveyer belt mass production, just like most of my movies were.”

ON GETTING OLDER

“Every time I think that I'm getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.”

ON LEAVING A LEGACY

“Do something worth remembering.”

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