The Beach Party Film: A Short Appreciation of One of the Oddest Subgenres in Film History

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.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent:
Hear the Beach Boys’ Angel­ic Vocal Har­monies in Four Iso­lat­ed Tracks from Pet Sounds: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows,” “Sloop John B” & “Good Vibra­tions”
A Super­cut of Buster Keaton’s Most Amaz­ing Stunts–and Keaton’s 5 Rules of Com­ic Sto­ry­telling

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 and/or watch his films here.

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