Dallas, TX cinephile Andrew Saladino has a fabulous film critique channel called The Royal Ocean Film Society, which he’s been operating since 2016, following in the footsteps of Every Frame a Painting (RIP) and Press Play (RIP). In this recent essay, he turns his eye to the mostly forgotten and never particularly good “dead genre” known as the Beach Party film.
You’ve probably seen one, or at least a parody of one, somewhere along the way--formulaic and harmless surf’n’fun films sold to teens, set in a world with very few adults, and most probably starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello as the central will-they-or-won't-they romantic couple. These weren’t troubled juvenile delinquents like ones played by Marlon Brando or James Dean--these were squeaky clean kids. These weren’t movies *about* teens like John Hughes films, he points out, but they were sold to teens.
The Beach Party genre drew from two early films--Gidget (1959) and Where the Boys Are (1960)--and dumbed them down into pure formula. And hell yes they were successful after the premiere of the first Frankie and Annette team-up, Beach Party (1963).
Saladino uses his essay to make a case for the films not as great cinema--his greatest compliment is “they’re not evil”--but as the beginning of modern marketing practices in Hollywood. And if you take a glance at the superhero and YA dystopian fantasy genres still filling up our multiplexes, these marketing ideas are still with us. Especially in how a good idea is copied over and over until audiences stop coming.
It was American International Pictures, home to filmmakers Roger Corman (now considered an indie film legend), James Nicholson, and Samuel Z. Arkoff, that started it all. Cheaply made, these films would start with a cool poster, raise funds based on the promise of the artwork, and only then would they write a script. (If you don’t think that happens anymore, check out Snakes on a Plane.)
Of interest to the casual viewer these days are the various cameos of older stars in some of these films as comic relief. Vincent Price stars in the original Beach Party. Buster Keaton, Don Rickles, and Paul Lynde appear in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965).
One can also watch these for the musical acts: surf guitarist Dick Dale appears in Beach Party:
And Stevie Wonder pops up in Muscle Beach Party:
The original AIP run of beach party films topped out at seven, but in total Saladino counts over 30 films from various indie companies that finally ran aground in 1967 with the execrable (and Mystery Science Theater 3000/em> favorite) Catalina Caper, which features an allegedly very coked out Little Richard. Then it was on to another fad--outlaw racing films apparently.
Andrew Saladino has many other essays worth checking out on his site, and he funds it all through a Patreon account, so do check him out.
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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.