Party (AIP, 1963) – Director: William Asher.
Writer: Lou Rusoff (s/p and story). Stars: Robert Cummnigs, Dorothy
Malone, Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Morey Amsterdam, Harvey
Lembeck, Eva Six, John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Dick Dale, Andy Romano,
Jerry Brutsche, Bob Harvey, John Macchia, Alberta Nelson, Valora
Noland & Candy Johnson. Color, 101 minutes.
revolution has arrived. Accompanied by the sound of Dick Dale on the
bongos, we are given an overhead view of Malibu Beach while the
opening titles flash before us in vibrant color. Cut to a Piper Cub
making its way to a landing on the beach. Being as this is American
International, any view from a plane must be accompanied by the sight
of the actual plane itself. As we shall soon learn, the plane is an
important plot point.
quick cut and we see a bright yellow Ford Model A tooling down the
highway. In the front seat are Frankie and Annette, who break into
the title song:
got a early start,
gonna have a ball,
gonna ride the surf,
that ain’t all.
is greater than the sand, surf, and the salt air,
our boards just as soon as we get there,
‘em in the sand while they’re breakin’ just right,
we’re surfing all day and we’re swinging all night,
is here, beach party tonight!
if we were expecting anything else.
scored and performed, the piece, while not rock n’ roll, is upbeat
and bouncy enough to let us know this is a different sort of
the car pulls into the beach at Paradise Cove and parks in front of a
nice-looking beach house, we learn that Frankie and his girlfriend
Dolores (Funicello) have rented this bungalow for a surfing vacation.
Just the two of them, alone. Dolores remarks that it will be just
like being married. Frankie nods, for there’s one thing on his
mind. But when he carries her over the threshold, he discovers that
they’re not alone. Far from it. Dolores has invited the whole gang
to stay. Frankie is taken back, horrified by Dolores’ deceit.
Dolores tells Frankie she invited the whole gang of friends because
she “doesn’t trust herself” to be alone with him. A rift forms
and it brings into play a theme repeated in all the sequels: Frankie
and Annette quarrel over something or other, try to make each other
jealous, and end up happily reconciling.
the gang hits the beach we see they’re being watched by a pair of
eyes looking through a telescope and using a listening device. The
eyes belong to R.O. (Robert Orwell) Sutwell (Cummings, complete with
bushy beard), an anthropology professor who has rented an adjoining
beach house and is observing the language and mating habits of the
beach-going teenagers for an upcoming book. He is soon joined by his
assistant, Marianne (Malone), who before she ascends the stairs to
his home, makes sure to kick the tires of his plane and allow us to
make the connection.
Marianne looks over Sutwell’s impressive display of early ‘60s
spying equipment, she makes some remarks about the depth of his
interest in the teens’ sex lives. Sutwell doesn’t realize she’s
joking and explains that his book, which he plans on calling The
Behavior Pattern of the Young Adult and Its Relation to Primitive
Tribes, could be his best to date. Marianne suggests an
alternative title, “Teenage Sex,” which horrifies Robert, lest
she get the wrong idea. He’s serious: “They’re a true
subculture. They live in a society as primitive as the aborigines of
he’s traveled the world and knows about many things, what Sutwell
doesn’t understand is love. He is naive to the point of being
painfully square. Marianne, though romantically starved (she’s
obviously in love with Robert), agrees to help him with his book, but
also gives him a piece of advice: “After you write this book on sex
... read it.”
at the beach, Dolores’ friend, Rhonda (Noland), shows her how easy
it is to knock the boys off their surfboards by just wiggling and
jiggling. Dolores isn’t impressed, telling Rhonda that Frankie has
her in the deep freeze. Rhoda tells her it’s because she turned a
weekend alone into “a teenage flophouse.” Dolores admits to
getting cold feet, but tells Rhonda there’s more than just sex,
such as love and marriage, and that’s what she’s holding out for
the initial beach scenes (composed of some great stock surfing
footage), Dick Dale appears in the sand with his Stratocaster,
and jumps into “Secret Surfin’ Spot,” a surf
lingo-filled uptempo dance piece. The song is vintage Dale, and
the kids jump up to start dancing as Sutwell observes, comparing the
dancing to “the Haitian Voodoo ceremony, the Samoan puberty dance,
and the mating dance of the whooping crane.”
still seething over the trick Dolores played on him, discusses it
with the guys. Frankie hits on the idea of paying her back by
flirting with sexy waitress Ava (Six) at Big Daddy’s, the local
beer and music hangout. Deadhead (McCrea) says that Ava has
everything, to which Frankie replies, “Well, I’ll tell ya, if she
doesn’t it’s only because she hasn’t got room for it.”
owner/host at Big Daddy’s is Cappy Caplan (Amsterdam), a beatnik
type who recites lousy poetry, accompanied by Dick Dale and the
Deltones, who function as sort of a house band in the film. In the
corner is a man fast asleep in a chair. He will remain like that
until the end of the movie. That's the man the club is named for –
Big Daddy. Dale grabs his Stratocaster and jumps into “Swingin'
and Surfin’,” an upbeat number that of course immediately gets
the gang dancing. Dolores stews as Frankie flirts and later dances
with Ava. After Frankie finishes singing “Don’t Stop Now,” the
leather-jacketed Eric Von Zipper and his motorcycle gang enter the
cafe, much to the disgust of Cappy, who tells Eric he was hoping
they’d skip him this year.
miffed by Frankie’s behavior, gets up to leave, but trips into Von
Zipper’s lap. When he won’t let her go, Sutwell, who has been
listening and recording from the back, comes to her rescue,
temporarily paralyzing Von Zipper with a martial arts trick he picked
up in the Himalayas. He then asks Dolores if he can escort her home.
Her answer is an enthusiastic “yes,” to the annoyance of Frankie.
As he walks her home, they engage in a rather awkward conversation as
she thinks he’s after sex, when all he’s after is information.
When he tells her their conversation should be finished at his place,
she reluctantly agrees, but then he tells her, “so, tomorrow,
then?” She smiles and tells him how he knows when a girl shouldn’t
be rushed, as she goes into her bungalow blowing a last kiss at
next morning, Marianne comes by to drop off research texts. Sutwell
boasts to her that he made his first contact, “after only two
days!” When Dolores suddenly shows up in a bikini, Robert looks at
Marianne and suggests to Dolores that they continue this at the
beach. He’ll be right along. After she leaves, Marianne says, “No
wonder you feel old.” Robert objects that this is strictly
business, to which Marianne interjects, “Lolita business,” to an
abashed look from Robert.
the beach, Frankie’s friends Ken and Deadhead entice Robert to get
on the surfboard. He takes them up on it despite Dolores’
objections, and after a few spills, catches on nicely. Afterward,
Robert wanders off alone to visit Cappy at Big Daddy’s, where he’s
told Von Zipper is looking for him.
by Sutwell for advice on the kids, Cappy relies, “Boy you came to
the right cat. If there’s anything you want to know about these
kids I can tell you the whole thing in two words. They’re nuts.”
“They’re nuts?” “You see, you noticed it too. What do you
think they do all day? Run around the beach all day and they only got
one thing on their mind – each other. They need a reason, a cause.”
And that’s why he has Big Daddy there, to give them the reason, the
cause, the word. When Sutwell asks what the word is, Cappy doesn’t
know, but is sure Big Daddy will give it to them.
enters to have it out with Sutwell, accusing him of “brainwashing
her with his beard.” When Robert asks him if that’s the case,
then why is he running around with “that Hungarian goulash”?
Frankie admits that all the attention to Ava is to make Dolores
jealous. Before Robert leaves, Cappy poses a question: “Professor,
are you studying these kids’ sex lives or are you getting involved
later argues with Dolores at their bungalow over Sutwell, during the
course of which he admits to Dolores that he loves her. But their
embrace is broken up by Ava, who gets Dolores so angry that she
leaves in a huff.
the campfire get-together later that night on the beach, Robert shows
up in another outlandish outfit. As a joke, Ken sets fire to his hat
when he isn’t looking. Frankie, disgusted that Dolores is paying so
much attention to him, goes off with Ava as the group splits off to
make out. Dolores gets him to shave off his beard and compliments him
on how young he looks. When she mentions some eerie things happening
at the beach, such as a plane with red lights flying overhead, Robert
shows her his plane. She wants to take a ride and they agree to meet
later, at three in the morning. When he comes home he finds a note
from Marianne, whom he has delegated to listen in and take notes. The
note simply says “I’ve heard enough!” Sutwell is somewhat
amused that Marianne is jealous.
Von Zipper and his minions show up looking for Sutwell. Looking over
the bungalows, Von Zipper mistakenly chooses that of Frankie and his
gang. He gets a boost to get him through the window, but to his
horror he discovers that he’s landed in Dolores’ bedroom. She
screams as Von Zipper tries to find his way out. Sutwell, hearing her
screams, runs to her aid. He accidentally knocks Von Zipper silly
with a surfboard and enters through the window to see if Dolores is
all right. Frankie and the rest enter to find Dolores holding onto
Sutwell in a compromising, though innocent, position.
takes Dolores on a flight in his plane. He shows her evasive
maneuvers he taught during the war while she gets airsick. But he
notices that she is far too attracted to him for both their good. The
next day, he seeks Marianne’s help in deflecting the attentions of
Dolores. She’s a bit reluctant, but when he spots Dolores coming
from his window he grabs Marianne in a passionate embrace. Dolores
comes in to see them kissing and boils over. “You’ve traded in a
red beard and become a bluebeard!” she says as she stalks off.
she returns upset to the group’s bungalow, Frankie takes the gang
to take care of Robert. While there, they discover the manuscript of
his book and begin to read, growing angrier with each sentence. They
turn to confront him further, only to discover that he and Marianne
have taken a powder.
and Marianne have run to Cappy’s for sanctuary, followed by
Frankie, Annette and the rest. Robert settles everything between
Frankie and Dolores, but then Von Zipper and the gang enter looking
for Robert. Frankie and the gang form a protective circle and a fight
breaks out – a pie fight. While almost everyone in the cast catches
it with a pie, Robert applies his martial arts technique to members
of Von Zipper’s gang. As he sees his gang decimated, Von Zipper
calls a truce and asks Sutwell if they could be friends, to which
Sutwell says sure and shakes his hand. Von Zipper then says that
since they’re now friends, could he teach him the Himalayan
technique? Before Sutwell can answer, Von Zipper manages to paralyze
himself with his own finger.
the sitting figure of Big Daddy begins to come to life. He’s asked
by Cappy and Sutwell as to what the word is. Raising his hat he turns
out to be Vincent Price. The word? “The pit. Bring me my pendulum
kiddies, I feel like swinging.” An obvious plug for the Corman AIP
horror series based on Poe, in which Price stars.
the film ends, Frankie and Dolores are back together, Robert and
Marianne are together, and Von Zipper is taking off with Ava,
promising revenge on the gang.
Party was a movie that AIP wasn’t even planning on making.
According to Sam Arkoff’s autobiography, in the summer of 1962, he
and partner Jim Nicholson were watching films in Italy with an eye
towards purchasing some of them for U.S. release. They saw one about
a middle-aged man who falls in love with a young woman who spends all
her time at a beach resort. They didn’t care for the movie but
thought the setting was attractive and commissioned Lou Rusoff to
come up with a script. Their plans were to make a JD movie at the
beach. Rusoff dutifully presented them with a script about teens in
trouble with their parents.
then turned to director William Asher for help with the production.
Asher reads the script and suggests that instead of making just
another JD feature they should make one about kids not in
trouble; maybe about kids at the beach having fun. As the talks
progressed, Asher, who surfed as a hobby, suggested surfing as the
was then suggested that songs be put into the film, as with the
popular Elvis vehicles: light comedy interspersed with music. It was
a break from what AIP was doing before, musicals with pretentious
dramatic storylines with said music almost always coming from a
soundstage or recording studio.
and Nicholson gave Asher the go-ahead, so he re-wrote the script with
Robert Dillon. Arkoff asked them not to take credit; to leave it for
Rusoff, who was dying of brain cancer. They agreed, and Rusoff, who
died in June 1963 before the film came out, has sole credit.
this led to a whole new genre and a big moneymaker for the studio.
was the only choice to play Dolores. As she was under contract to
Walt Disney at the time it took a lot of palavering on Arkoff’s
part to secure her services. Part of Disney’s demand was that
Annette not appear in anything too skimpy, and although she did wear
a bikini, it was quite conservative. Fabian was the original choice
for her co-star, but as he was under contract to 20th Century Fox,
Frankie Avalon was signed instead.
Cummings and Dorothy Malone were selected for the main adult roles,
that of a naive anthropology professor and his assistant. For
Cummings and Malone, AIP was a landing place after
their careers had gone cold. John Ashley, who had made
a number of movies for American International, was cast to play Ken,
Frankie’s best friend, and Jody McCrea was cast in the role of the
goofy member of the gang, “Deadhead.” (Later changed to
“Bonehead” in the sequels.) The rest of the cast was quickly put
together from actors Asher knew and had worked with in earlier
first thing we notice, besides the bongos of Dick Dale and the
panorama of the beach, is the bright yellow Ford Model A Frankie and
Annette are driving to the beach. Though it’s only on screen for a
few minutes, it represents AIP’s break with its JD hot car racing
past. Cars are now made to be seen rather than raced and are
wonderful for carrying surfboards to the beach. They are also
immaculately styled, not beaten down jalopies, as in the past. The
car was also chosen for its look, as Beach Party was
shot in color.
anthropologist Robert Orville Sutwell, Cummings walks off with the
movie. (The “Robert Orville” is taken from his given name of
Charles Clarence Robert Orville Cummings.) His beach house contains
all the latest electronic equipment with which to snoop on the
beachgoers. His naiveté provides much of the comedy, especially when
he tries to communicate with the kids, whose lingo he doesn’t
of the comedy is centered around Sutwell’s relationship with
Dolores, which began when he rescued her from the clutches of Von
Zipper at Big Daddy’s. Big Daddy’s is a parody of sorts on the
Southern California coffeehouse scene, in particular, Cafe
Frankenstein, where beatniks would recite poetry over cups of java. A
further added bit is the presence of uncredited Sharon Garrett and
Yvette Vickers as Cappy’s yoga girls. They remain in the lotus
position throughout the film, deep in meditation (or asleep).
Sutwell, Dolores is just another source of research. But she sees it
differently; for her he’s a knight in shining armor and she falls
madly for him, beard and all. Frankie, for his part, is pretending in
be interested in Ava to pay Dolores back and get her jealous. But her
interest in Robert is so strong that he can’t really keep up the
pretense. He’s the one who becomes jealous, calling Sutwell “old
pig bristles” among other things.
relationship with Dolores throughout the film is awkward, as he
struggles to communicate for research purposes while she has stars in
her eyes. Their dialogue illustrates the gap, as she teaches him surf
lingo and criticizes his choice of bathing attire, including a
Japanese bathrobe and an old-fashioned bathing suit with a small
skirt, which Frankie’s friends have a good laugh over. Later in the
film, she gets him to shave off his “pig bristles,” revealing a
much younger man underneath all the thatch.
other highlight of the film is the music, especially Dick Dale. He’s
not called “the king of the surf guitar” for nothing, as he
proves amply in this movie. (Dale ranks 74th on Rolling
Stone's list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All
Time.”) Both his two songs, “Swingin' and a-Surfin” and “Secret
Surfing Spot,” were written by the team of Gary Usher and Roger
Christian. Both had previously worked with Brian Wilson, leader of
the Beach Boys and the chief source of the California sound that
would compete with the British Invasion for the ears of American
youth. Usher and Christian can also be spotted in the background of
beach scenes in the film as well. But it’s not only his two rocking
songs that move the film, but also his work on the bongos. With a big
earring in his left ear, emphasizing his beatnik creds, Dale serves
as sort of a minstrel for the beachgoers, whether the sand, at Big
Daddy’s, or later on the beach during the campfire scene. He was
able to parley the success of this film into an appearance on The
Ed Sullivan Show on October 6, 1963, two months after the
mentioned before, Frankie’s turn at singing is the rocker “Don’t
Stop Now,” by Bob Marcucci and Russ Faith. It’s not the greatest
song, but the piece is entertaining enough because of the
choreography. Frankie starts out dancing with Ava, moves on to that
perpetual motion machine Candy Johnson before dancing with a group of
women, eventually getting the whole gang up and dancing. (At
the end of the movie, Frankie does a more rocking version of the
title song, to the accompaniment of Johnson and her wonderfully
also gets her chance for a solo with the ballad, “Treat Him
Nicely.” Regretting her “loss” of Frankie to Ava, Annette sings
one of the best ballads of the entire series to her
reflection in a mirror. As shot by Asher, it’s a slow,
beautifully orchestrated piece, redolent of the era, with Annette
herself adding a restrained but emotional vocal. The scene also
benefits greatly from some wonderful camerawork on the part of Kay
Norton. (She would later reprise the song on Dick Clark’s TV
special, Dick Clark's Celebrity Party, in November
1963.) Later we hear Dorothy Malone singing along to a recording
of Annette singing “Promise Me Anything” (with a close-up shot of
the American-International label on the LP) while she spies on Robert
and Dolores. Annette’s songs were written by Guy Hemric and Jerry
Party really takes off after the introduction of one of the
great comic characters in the history of psychotronic films: the
bungling, totally inept motorcycle gang leader Eric Von Zipper,
beautifully realized by Harvey Lembeck. A parody of Marlon Brando
in The Wild One, Von Zipper is the leader of the Rats, a
leather-clad club with the word “Rats” on the back of their
jackets and a picture of a rat underneath the word. The women’s
auxiliary, as it were, is called the Mice. Von Zipper can’t even
dismount from his motorcycle cleanly; as he does it gets away from
him and we hear it crash. His gestures are exaggerated for the
benefit of his gang and perhaps to prove his leadership to himself.
Assisting him is his right-hand man, JD (Romano), which Von Zipper
later explains to Sutwell, is short for “juvenile delinquent.”
Throughout the film, Von Zipper’s actions backfire on him,
especially in regard to Sutwell, for whom Von Zipper is no match.
After the pie fight in the finale, Von Zipper and his gang take off
with Ava in tow as they swear revenge. As he starts his motorcycle,
it once again gets away from him, the final insult.
Cummings and Malone are top-billed, the real charm of Beach
Party is the combination of Frankie Avalon and Annette
Funicello. Bonafide teen idols by the time the picture began
shooting, they each possessed individual charm, but when teamed
together they were unstoppable. They were also one of the most
dysfunctional screen couples in film history. They established
the pattern in the first film that would be repeated in each sequel:
Dolores wants Frankie to marry her and raise a family. In short, she
wants him to get off his surfboard and take life seriously. But
Frankie, for his part, just wants to get laid. Thus, they would get
into a misunderstanding at the beginning, play games with each other
to get the other jealous, and reunite at the end of the film. It was
the chaste and sweet Annette versus the charming and droll Frankie,
who often broke the fourth wall when things went awry. Twice in Beach
Party he turns to the camera and asks the audience, “Where
did I go wrong?” They are the essence of summer fun in the sun.
more than any other single actress, model or designer, made the
bikini acceptable and popular with American women. Beach
Party and its sequels also helped generate a huge spike in
the sale of surfboards.
essence of Beach Party is sex. Although William
Asher would be later quoted in interviews as saying it was “all in
good clean fun with lots of flesh but no sex,” the picture was
loaded with innuendo. From the opening dispute between Frankie and
Annette over sex to the giggling of the bikini-clad women to Candy
Johnson’s suggestive wriggling, Beach Party is
dripping with sex; it was the first film aimed specifically at teens
that exploited sexual innuendos. The only question for Asher and the
producers was how to sell sex but at the same time make it G
rated. What they came up with wasn’t subtle, but neither was
it pornographic. With the subtext of sex in every scene, it was up to
the kids in the audience to read between the lines. Those still
innocent enough not to know what they were seeing could merely
believe they were just kissing and holding hands. A prime example
occurs in the campfire scene, where the kids pair off to canoodle.
Ava wants Frankie to make love to her, but he’s more interested in
what Dolores is up to with Sutwell. Finally Ava raises from behind
the surfboards and says she’s never been so frustrated in her
life. Those reading between the lines were hip enough to know that
Frankie couldn’t get it up. Today’s audience may find the film
laughable and rather lame, but let’s place it into its historical
timeline. It was released just as the popular culture of the time was
beginning to segue into the sexual revolution. Seen in this
regard, Beach Party was groundbreaking.
a point of trivia, sex wasn’t the only thing going on. As Dick Dale
performs “Swingin' and Surfin’,” look closely and you’ll see
Frankie passing what looks like a joint to Deadhead.
with the vast majority of AIP productions, Beach Party was
a fast and efficient shoot, with primary filming completed in just
over three weeks at a cost of about $300,000. As it was shot in March
and April at Newport, Balboa, Laguna and Malibu Beach, the producers
and the cast had to deal with the weather. It may have been shot in
Southern California, but the weather in March is still chilly. In
Gary A. Smith’s informative book, American International
Pictures: The Golden Years (Bear Manor 2013), John Ashley
recalled that everyone had to wear body make-up because no one had a
tan. (Almost no one, that is. In the liner notes to one
of his albums, Dick Dale noted that he was the only one on the set
with a genuine tan.) Ashley goes on: “One day Frankie and I had
some dialogue to do on our way to the water with our surfboards. It
was colder than hell that day and the water was freezing. We had our
backs to the camera and Frankie said, 'Man, can you believe us? Two
thirty-year old guys in body make-up playing teenagers.'”
real surfers (including Mickey Dora, who doubled for Cummings in long
shots, although in reality Cummings was an accomplished surfer) were
employed as doubles and extras. Sharp-eyed viewers can spot Bobbi
Shaw, Meredith MacRae, Brian Wilson and Peter Falk (as one of The
Rats) among the cast. In a hint of things to come, AIP regular
Vincent Price also makes a memorable cameo plugging AIP’s upcoming
film, The Haunted Palace.
Party was the highest grossing film AIP had made to that
date, earning more its opening weekend than any of its competition,
including Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor and
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. It spawned not only a
host of sequels but also a host of imitators, including Surf
Party, Ride the Wild Surf, and For Those Who
Think Young (all 1964); A Swingin’
Summer and Beach Ball (both 1965);
and Catalina Caper and It’s a Bikini
World in 1967. At one point, there was talk of a Beach
Party TV series but it failed to get off the ground.
Beach Party is
an entertaining movie with several laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a
time capsule of its era, a cultural crossroads between rock 'n' roll,
skimpy swimwear, surfing, motorcycles, Mad Magazine, and
Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth and the car culture, all brought to audiences
through the good offices of American International Pictures. To watch
it is like going back to the early ‘60s, and therein lies its fun.
Just don’t take it seriously.
I can see the headlines now: “Famed anthropologist Dr. R.O. Sutwell
arrested as a Peeping Tom.”
dear young woman, at this moment I’m concentration on developmental
biology in human beings.
what I mean.
this book will be my triumph.
you’ll never get it through the mail. But hang on to the picture
rights. American International will snap it up in a minute.
explains to Cappy why he grew his beard)
how our lives parallel. I mean, you got the, uh ... and ... you know
how I happened to raise this? I got a dimple in my chin and I didn’t
want anyone mistaking me for Kirk Douglas.
you don’t look anything like Kirk Douglas.