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A Brief Guide To What Passes For Beach Party Continuity
Beach Party, 1963
In the first film in the series, Frankie takes his girl-friend Dolores to what he thinks is a romantic get-away at the beach for summer vacation. Dolores, however, got a case of cold feet and decided to invite all of her and Frankie's friends in order to prevent him from catching her alone with her guard down. As Dolores puts it, she's close to being a woman, and she's "not getting any closer until I'm a wife." Unknown to the gang, anthropologist Professor Robert Sutwell is conducting a study of the mating habits of American teenagers, suspecting some connection between them and the primitive cultures he's used to studying. Which, surprisingly, comes off very politically correct for 1963. Frankie, unable to get anywhere with Dolores, decides to make her jealous by flirting with Eva, the voluptuous waitress at Big Daddy's. While there, the gang runs into both Eric Von Zipper and his gang the Rats, who is prevented from manhandling Dolores by the timely intervention of Professor Sutwell, who incapacitates Von Zipper with the Himalayan Time Suspension Technique. Dolores decides to get back at Frankie for flirting with Eva by letting him think she's interested in "Bob", much to the annoyance of Bob's assistant Marianne, who has long carried a torch for him. A series of comic misunderstands leads to Marianne ending up with Robert, Dolores ending up with Frankie, and the gang saving the Professor from a rumble with the Rats. Eva ends up with Von Zipper.
Frankie's side-kick, played by John Ashley, is named Ken.
Dolore's pal, played by Valora Noland, is named Rhonda.
Candy Johnson shows up and shimmys frequently.
Mike Nader appears as a surfer boy, but isn't given any lines.
Morey Amsterdam appears as Cappy, owner of Big Daddy's, and unofficial patron for the surf-kids
Muscle Beach Party, 1964
The gang returns to the beach, only to discover that their shack is now next door to a gang of muscle-headed body-builders straight out of an issue of Physique Pictorial. And no, the fact that the body-builders are wearing pink shorts and capes when they're introduced isn't the slightest bit gay-baiting, not at all... The body-builders are coached by Jack Fanny, played by Don Rickles, and Peter Lupus, fresh off a stint of Italian gladiator films, plays the pride of Jack's stable, Flex Martian. Julie, a beautiful and wealthy widow, has sailed her yacht to Malibu, and is conspiring with her business manager, S.Z. Matts, played by Buddy Hackett, to buy Flex out from Jack. However, after seeing Frankie engage in a bit of night surfing and singing, Julie falls in love with him instead, and makes plans to wisk Frankie away as her latest play-thing with the bribe of a recording contract. After pissing off his friends, who think he's getting a swelled head, and Dee-Dee, who hates seeing him with another woman, Frankie realizes that Julie is just using him, and the whole story winds up with a rumble in Cappy's recently rebuilt restaurant between the surfers and the body-builders.
Dolores is now Dee-Dee.
Ken is now Johnny.
Rhonda is now Animal, and she's been given a personality trait. It is "boy crazy."
Candy's ability to cause disasters to befall other people by shaking her hips at them is established.
Mike Nader still doesn't have any lines.
Donna Loren first appears as a hanger-on to the surf crowd. Dr. Pepper ads show up occasionally during musical numbers.
Bikini Beach, 1964
A new vacation starts, and the beach gang find themselves squeezed between hostile forces. On the one hand, there's the Beatle-esque British rocker Potato Bug, setting up camp at the beach and making a play for Dee-Dee. On the other, there's Harvey Huntingdon Hunnywagon the Third, owner of the local retirement home, using a trained chimpanzee to attempt to turn the public against the surfers by proving that mentally they're on the same level as a primate, thus allowing him to buy the beach cheaply to expand his retirement community. And then there's the return of Eric Von Zipper and his Rats and Mice, eager to help HHH3 in his quest to discredit the surfers, and given an opportunity to do so when Frankie challenges the Potato Bug to a drag race, allowing Von Zipper and company to sabotage the Bug's dragster and frame Frankie for it. Luckily, 3H3 gets his mind turned around by the timely intervention of local pro-surfer school teacher Vivian Clements and Von Zipper accidentally sabotages Frankie's dragster, leading to a rumble between the surfers and the bikers at the recently rebuilt Cappy's place.
Jack Fanny has retired from managing body-builders and now runs Cappy's and the drag strip under the name Big Drag.
Animal is now played by Meredith MacRae. It's implied that she's now Johnny's girl-friend.
Frankie Avalon plays both Frankie and Potato Bug, a portrayal that never quite feels like it's meant to be a nice parody of the Beatles. As is one of the rules of comedy, the fact that Frankie and Potato look exactly alike is never commented on, even when Frankie disguises himself as Potato.
Mike Nader still doesn't have any lines.
Von Zipper's sociopathic henchman South Dakota Slim puts in his first appearance and plays pool with Von Zipper. Really. That's pretty much it. Also, Von Zipper hangs out with a were-wolf. I told you he was the greatest villain ever.
Beach Blanket Bingo, 1965
The gang's vacation is interrupted when a lady sky-diver lands just off-shore. Frankie swims out to rescue her, not realizing that the lady in question is a pro, and this is all a publicity stunt cooked up by Bullets, the manager of pop singer Sugar Kane, who substituted for the sky-diver, Bonnie, shortly after landing. Frankie being Frankie, he's all too happy to play along with Bullets and his publicity scheme, even though Von Zipper, Sugar Kane's biggest fan, is incensed that she's hanging out with the beach bums. The gang all get it into their head that sky-diving is much more fun than surfing, so they head out to Jack Fanny's latest enterprise, a sky-diving school he runs under the name big drop, where they meet Bonnie and her possessive, jealous boyfriend, the curiously familiar looking Steve. Naturally, a love quadrangle develops between Steve, Bonnie, Frankie and Dee-Dee, as in the pair Frankie has run into a woman more scheming than him and a man more jealous than Dee-Dee. Deadh-I mean, "Bonehead" has too much sense to go sky-diving, so he stays at the beach, where he nearly drowns after hitting his head in a wipe-out. Luckily he's saved by Lorelei, a mermaid. Yes. No one believes him, though, as they all saw Sugar Kane pulling him out of the water. And then things get weird. Frankie is falsely accused of rape by Bonnie. Bonehead is suspected of killing Lorelei when the gang spots him burying the clothes she wore to attend a party with Bonehead on land. And Sugar Kane, thinking it's another of Bullets publicity stunts, gets kidnapped by Von Zipper, only to end up tied up to a log about to be shredded by South Dakota Slim. Everything works out in the end, though in the form of a chase scene between surfers and bikers rather than a rumble.
This time around, Animal is played by Donna Michelle. She still doesn't get to do much other than keep Dee-Dee from talking to herself.
Deadhead is now Bonehead.
Mike Nader finally gets a speaking part, promoted to Frankie's new side-kick, Butch.
John Ashley plays sky-diving instructor Steve. No one notices that Steve looks exactly like their friend Johnny, who is curiously absent. It's really quite creepy.
That whole "Frankie is accused of rape/Bonehead is suspected of murder" thing is really way out of tone with the rest of the films.
Von Zipper's Mice finally get names. Puss and 'N Boots. Yes, really.
How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, 1965
Frankie is off on a tropical island, doing a stint with the Coast Guard Reserves. While he's there, he's busy making time with a native girl, but he wants to be sure that Dee-Dee isn't doing the exact thing he's doing while she's alone back home. The local witch doctor whips up a spirit, Cassandra, to keep the boys occupied, but unfortunately she shows up at the beach at the same time as a couple of ad executives, "Peachy" Keene and his junior associate Ricky, played by Dobie Gillis himself, Dwayne Hickman, looking for the perfect girl to be part of their new ad campaign to improve the image of motorcycle riders. Ricky is far more interested in Dee-Dee, relishing the challenge she represents, as opposed to Cassandra who rather throws herself at him. Von Zipper gets involved, due to his crush on Cassandra, and he employs his newest henchman North Dakota Pete, first to try to get Ricky out of the picture and then to cheat in a motorcycle race to determine whether the Von Zipper/Cassandra team or the Ricky/Dee-Dee team will represent the ideal "couple next door" image of motorcyclists. In the end, Frankie gets Dee-Dee back and everyone else ends up with, well, nothing.
It's formally established that Dee-Dee is short for Delores. Because "Delores" has two Ds in it, I guess.
Marianne Gaba is our Animal this time around. That makes four Animals in five films.
Johnny, Butch and Bonehead don't get to do much this time around than lip-sync to songs.
It should seem surprising that a series of forty year old, cheaply made teen sex exploitation comedies should easily rank as amongst my favorite films of all time. I'm not one to romanticise the sixties; for any one who wasn't a straight white heterosexual male Protestant of middle class or better they were a pretty lousy time to try and get by, and the social changes that made improvements for anyone who didn't fit that description couldn't get there fast enough, but the pop culture, and even the fringe culture, of the early half of that decade have an unselfconscious, unironic naivete that's very appealing. There's also a certain sly subversion that bubbles up here and there. The physique magazines claimed to be about healthy exercise, but if you're in on the gag, you know better. The same is true of pop songs of the era, which sound innocent enough, so long as you don't actually think about the lyrics. And then there's the exploitation films of American International pictures. Oh, sure, it looks like these are just movies about the romantic hi jinx of all-American kids having fun at the beach...and then you notice that the plot of each film is essentially Frankie trying to get into Dee-Dee's pants.
There's more to recommend the films, to be certain. There's plenty of eye candy for horny teen boys, in the shape of all those pretty girls in bikinis running around. Not to mention the frequent appearance of Candy Johnson and her perpetually shimmying dresses...
For myself, there's the not inconsiderable male eye-candy as well. Chiefly, there's Jody McCrea, but the other fit young men populating the beach movies aren't too bad to look at either. Frankie's okay, and no one can smarm his way through a film quite like him, but there's something faintly unconvincing about his casting as Alpha Male of the surf pack. I can't quite explain the appeal of McCrea. In most of the films that loosely make up the Beach Party series he's given the thankless task of playing the comic relief, Frankie's dopey girl-crazy side-kick that's perpetually unaware of just how stupid he is. But he's infinitely more engaging as an actor than John Ashley, as Frankie's other side-kick whose name the producers could never quite settle on, or Mike Nader as "extra who occasionally gets to say a line", the only other male actors to regularly put in appearances as surfers in the films. To go back to my earlier statements, it's the unironic performance, coupled with a genuine charisma, that makes it work.
There's the pop music, of course. While the films, by necessity, tend to focus on early surf music, notably with the appearance of Dick Dale in the first few films, a significant amount of branching out occurs. There's Donna Loren, of course, belting out a number from time to time, a Dr. Pepper bottle usually conspicuous somewhere in the shot, and Little Stevie Wonder puts in some time as well. There's also, of course, almost obligatory songs from Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.
Ah, Annette. The first, last and only Mousketeer to ever have anything remotely like talent. She occupies a strange place in the Beach Party films. Simultaneously the object of lust and the enforcer of strict social norms. It's Annette's Dee-Dee character who utters the frequent mantra of no sex before marriage, turning each entry in the series into essentially what Jay Presson Allen once referred to as a "delayed fuck" film. But she really is the heart and soul of the films. She's that sweet, innocent core, that bedrock foundation of "traditional values" that allows the debauchery to go on. Without Annette there to remind us of what a good girl looks, acts and sounds like, we might stop and realize that those teenagers are...*gasp-shock-horror* BALLING!
Plus, she sings kind of purty.
But it's not all horny teenagers. The cameo and recurring comedy bits are added value. If nothing else, the producers of the Beach Party films deserve credit for keeping food on Buster Keaton's table. Oh, sure, you've got your Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre walk-ons, and the featured appearances of Don Rickles, Morey Amsterdam, Buddy Hackett and Paul Lynde. But you've also got the greatest comedy villain of all time. Harvey Lembeck as the low-rent Marlon Brando, Eric Von Zipper.
Only missing out on one of the Beach Party films, Eric Von Zipper sets the standard for incompetent menace. From ambitious plots to kidnap pop princesses, to the far more mundane goals of simply, finally, getting one over on those surf-bums for once, Von Zipper is the villain that can never quite catch a break, more of a risk to himself than anyone else, and in deadly danger from getting poked in the forehead with a finger. The Beach Party films just wouldn't be the same without the misplaced optimism of his mantra, "I am my ideal." A few decades later, that phrase would reek of pop psychology bluster, but here it's a mark of just how disconnected from reality Von Zipper is.
All these details add up. The films, as a whole, work on a variety of levels; time capsule, subversive cinema, unintentional social commentary, and slightly naughty yet ultimately wholesome fun. In that light, it's pretty much a necessity that a Beach Party Week exists.
Apparently The Dark Knight was a cleverly disguised pro-Bush polemic: There seems to me no question that the Batman film "The Dark Knight," currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.
I can see what he's getting at. I mean, just like Bush's policies are creating more terrorists, Batman is creating more criminals. And just like Bush's violations of civil rights, Batman's are viewed with repugnance by moral observers. Or were we not supposed to extend the metaphor that far?
As we're coming to the end of the series, I've decided to switch up the format a little. Think of it, if you like, as the Doctor Who reviews from a parallel universe. That's thematically appropriate, at least.
Catherine Tate's performance is very nuanced. Her "Donna that never met the Doctor" is still recognizably Donna, but the distinctions let us see how much the character has progressed since her first appearance.
Yes, Rose is back. Luckily for us, this is the Rose we saw in Rose, the one we liked, the one who brought the Doctor back from the black place he was in after the Time War.
The notion of the Doctor as "the man who makes people better" is hammered home here, to the point of exhaustion. We didn't need a somewhat tacky Godwinism about England's government to get the point.
This is a very continuity-heavy episode. I lost track of the characters and plot threads from the last four season, Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood that are referenced here. If you haven't been watching those other shows you may be lost at one or two points.
I'd like to say that this is the episode that puts to rest the nagging Who fans who can only seem to complain about Russell T. Davies's writing for the show, but Who fans just wouldn't be Who fans if they weren't complaining about something. Which is a shame, because while the nuttier aspects of Who fandom are out there complaining about "the gay agenda" being shoved down our throats because of an off-hand line from one character, or the fact that money was saved on the effects budget by never actually showing the monster, it means they're missing out on one of the best episodes not only of the current season, but of both the original and current series as well. With Midnight Davies has written a truly dread-inspiring horror tale touching upon the fragile nature of identity and self, along with an inspired take on the old sci-fi chestnut "and humanity turned out to be the real monster all along."
David Tennant gives his best performance of the season in this claustrophobic little number, especially in the scenes that drive home the ways in which the Doctor needs a companion, not only to ground him, but to humanize him while he's trying to help others. A companion less Doctor doesn't quite work, and the near disastrous consequences of the Doctor going off on this adventure without Donna spell that out: his alien nature makes him as much of a threat to the scared as the real menace. Lesley Sharp makes the most of a role that doesn't require much of her for most of the episode, which is a shame, as the scenes where Sky is still Sky make for an intriguing character study, and Rakie Ayola gives another nice performance as a character who manages, in a few carefully chosen words and deeds, to exemplify both the best and worst natures of human beings.
I find it nearly impossible to say anything negative about the Superman books now that both Krypto and Steve Lombard are appearing at least semi-regularly in them.
There is a very simple way I can tell that Geoff Johns is a very good writer of super-hero comics: he got me to read Green Lantern comics starring Hal Jordan.
I'm buying Avengers/Invaders pretty much just for the Steve Sadowski art, so I'm happy with the book, but I really wish that either Marvel or Dynamite had hired an inker, as this "colors over pencils" approach looks wrong to me.
The current Zorro series from Dynamite is testing my love for the character and my appreciation for Matt Wagner with this long origin story told in flash-back.
The Dresden Files comic is very good and a fitting tie-in to the novels. The Doctor Who comic has been quite painful to look at, with art that makes it difficult to read.
I really want to like Caliber, as the notion of a cowboy retelling of the Arthurian legends appeals to me, but there is something about the art style that simply isn't working for me, pretty though it is.
The first issue of Madame Xanadu was very, very good looking.
I find myself enjoying Vinyl Underground a lot more than Young Liars. VU reads like a John Connolly or Phil Rickman comic. YL reads like, well, an attempt to create a Vertigo book.
The space opera stuff Starlin has been doing at DC, most recently in Rann/Thanagar: Holy War, and the Abnett/Lanning Guardians of the Galaxy at Marvel, are the best super-heroes in space comics put out since the 1970s.
That being said, Narcopolis is the best sci-fi comic of the decade. It features the best use of language as a world-building tool that I've seen since Burgess.
Huntress: Year One is much better than I think anyone expected it to be.
Blue Beetle and Manhunter are still very, very good.
Number of the Beast is a great way to bring an end to a super-hero universe. Unfortunately, it's acting as a spring-board to a reboot of the Wildstorm status quo. Yes, another one. It's a good comic, but I find myself wishing it really were final.
I think the thing I like about Dreamwar the most is that the DC characters are being portrayed fairly strongly as the bad guys. It's a welcome change from the moralistic, anti-Wildstorm tone of most previous cross-overs.
Every issue of Morrison's Batman makes me giddy as a school-girl.
The latest volume of Reborn takes a surprisingly dark turn for a series about a toddler assassin. I'm still not quite sure what to make of it.
What I said after reading Gantz: "The hell?" That actually is a good reaction for a comic to give me.
Cat Eyed Boy is completely bug-fuck insane.
Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and MPD Psycho are so, so very good they make me slightly worried that they might be warping my fragile little brain.
Buy me drinks when you see me in public, and I may explain my "manga is the new Silver age" theory to you
Poster. Seriously. If I'm asking for a poster of an Alex Ross cover, it must clearly be his finest work ever.
Del Rey is releasing a manga tie-in to the Phoenix Wright video games. I suspect this will fall into my "where were you two years ago when I still had people asking for Phoenix Wright manga" category when I do the manga order...
Oh, I hope that's not the actual cover...
While I wait, ever so patiently, for the latest Pogo reprint series to begin, I suppose I will have to content myself with a collection of fairly uncommon Walt Kelly comics material...
Actual thoughts that go into ordering manga:
"Legend of Zelda comics! Finally! After years and years and years of constantly being asked for the damn things, we'll finally be able to sell some! "... "Oh, crap, it's manga, not the Acclaim comics. Oh well. One copy for the shelf it is, then. The people who keep asking for it wouldn't be caught dead buying manga."
The Classic Marvel Figurine Collection has four different figures solicited this month. I've yet to be tempted to buy any of the figures. I would, however, almost certainly buy the whole series of DC figures. That is, if Diamond bothered to carry them.
I don't recommend putting this on your desk at work.
"Hey Bob..." "Yeah Stu?" "You know what the single most annoying thing about gamers is?" "The smell?" "Apart from that." "Their tendency to speak in nothing but Monty Python quotes?" "Yeah. Think there's any way to profit off that?"
So, this ad:
As if a hand-job reference wasn't cringe-inducing enough:
This is the follow-up:
Free panties with DVD purchase...way to pander to the worst aspects of anime fandom there, guys...