I mentioned during my Gidget review that I was set to watch Beach Blanket Bingo in an effort to compare the two seminal “beach” movies. If you haven’t read my review of 1959’s Gidget do so here and then come back. I mentioned in the previous review that I didn’t expect the story to enter such dark territory, I expected a wholesome, light family film. Well if that’s truly what you’re looking for then you’ll do well with the Beach Blanket Bingo, the fourth entry in the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello Beach Party films. Now, I haven’t seen the previous three entries but in just watching this on its own…boy is it bad. It’s boring, convoluted, the acting is cheap, and at times I didn’t truly understand what this series said about women but it certainly isn’t praising them. I stand by my assertion that Gidget is the way to go if you’re looking for summer fun!
During a day of summer fun, a loveable group of teens led by Frankie (Frankie Avalon) and Dee Dee (Annette Funicello), meet a rising singer known as Sugar Kane (Linda Evans) who is performing at the beach. As Sugar Kane turns heads resident idiot Bonehead (Jody McCrea) falls in love with a mermaid, the teens decide to learn how to skydive, and biker Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) decides to kidnap Sugar for himself.
I haven’t done a review where I truly rail on a film so if you enjoy the Beach Party films, or this film in particular, let me war you I plan to be vicious! To start, do any of those plot lines sound interesting on their own? Or do they seem to connect to each other or to the beach in any way? No, no they don’t! Beach Blanket Bingo is 98 minutes and I honestly believe the screenwriters wrote a sixty minute film and realized they had to make it longer. The plot with Sugar Kane’s arrival and the establishment of Frankie and Dee Dee appears to be the core narrative, at least it is for the first 45 minutes of the film. After that we’re introduced to a motley assortment of characters who hijack the film and run off with it for the remaining runtime. There’s the story of Bonehead and his mermaid love, the biker gang beatnicks who plan to kidnap Sugar (and really that comes within the last 15 minutes of the movie), a love quadrangle between Frankie, Dee Dee, and two skydiving instructors (Deborah Walley and John Ashley), oh and don’t forget attempted murder! Yes, the last 10 minutes includes an attempted murder that is meant to be…funny….romantic….both?
Compared to this, Gidget is a masterpiece. I mentioned in that review that the film isn’t necessarily about surfing but about a teenage girl coming into her own, discovering her identity and her sexuality. With the 1960s and the idea that teens were doing too many dirty things, the Beach Party movies are meant to present a chaste world where a kiss is as good as it gets and nothing can’t be solved by dancing on the beach, I get that! That doesn’t mean that the plot has to be stupid. There’s 18 different threads in this movie and instead of trying to connect them, and not make them all stand out like sore thumbs, the film just shoves them in. Sure the characters all know each other but these various plots seem to be contained to their own universe. Don Rickles character Big Drop and Buster Keaton (oh Buster, really?) chasing a girl in a fur bikini is never discussed or focused on and yet the characters keep showing up at events. Who are they in relation to the others? Not to mention the absurdity of some of these plots is just mindboggling. If you’re going to throw in the ridiculous, introduce the world a bit better. Mermaids apparently show up, there’s Germans in fur bikinis, how are they all linked? Better question, where the hell are we because I could believe mermaids in Southern California.
As mentioned above, I’ve not seen the other Beach Party movies and for the most part, I understood who was who so there’s really no need to see the other movies if you don’t want to. The biggest issue I had was with the biker gang. Can someone tell me if they’re recurring players in the series? Frankie and Dee Dee mention they know them so I’m assuming their recurring but man are they annoying. They’re beatnik, T-Bird wannabes led by Eric Von Zipper, a man with the vocabulary of about ten words limited to “I do adore her” and saying cycle like sickle. I had to agree with Paul Lynde‘s press agent character Bullets when he tells Sugar “stay away from him, he’s a carrier!” Well said Paul.
I did really enjoy Paul Lynde in this, he’s the only character who seems honest in this film. He’s a sleazebag sure but he’s a press man so obviously he wants to exploit his client (when he introduces Sugar to the group he tells her to change into “something tight”). When he’s not trying to get Sugar to sell her soul for a record deal he’s putting down Frankie (which I loved because Frankie is a total tool in this film). Bullets telling Frankie “aren’t you getting shorter” is one of the best put-downs I’ve heard. Seriously I think IMDB is lying about Avalon being 5’8.” Let’s see, other characters I enjoyed. Buster Keaton steals scenes throughout the movie, specifically during Sugar Kane’s performance at the Pavilion. I can cross “see Buster Keaton dance” off my bucket list because his dancing in this is hilarious. He also gets in a lot of physical comedy during this scene and you can tell he’s still got it!
In terms of major characters I found Annette Funicello’s character Dee Dee to be a woman of interesting contradictions. Okay she bordered on being a hypocrite by the end but she started out really well. I’ve only see Funicello in a few episodes of the Mickey Mouse Club so this is the first time I’m seeing her cinematic acting skills and she does have them. She’s cute and sweet on par with a Sandra Dee or Hailey Mills and yet I was surprised by how fierce a character Dee Dee is. She walks and carries herself like a dainty princess (her walk with hands up kept reminding me of how Amy Adams walked in Enchanted) but she won’t back down from calling Frankie an idiot. Oddly enough, it seems the entire relationship between our stars is based on the fact that Frankie is a dick to Dee Dee and Dee Dee tells Frankie he’s a moron. Love people, ain’t it grand! I mean, let’s talk the relationship between Frankie and Dee Dee (is there a reason they just didn’t let her keep her name too?). The two are supposedly in love, they even sing a song about it, and yet Frankie continuously tells Dee Dee what she should be doing. When she wants to go skydiving he says that “women’s jobs are in the kitchen.” Rightfully, Dee Dee gets pissed and sarcastically says that women have rights, “we can even vote.” As if dude isn’t already a total dickwad he replies that’s a “true American tragedy!” This is 1965 people, right in the middle of the second wave of feminism and we’re still churning out dudes like this? And the problem just continues as Frankie continues to be rude to the women of the group. It doesn’t help that the female characters, who all seem to hate Frankie and continually rag on him, still hang out with him. In the end, Frankie and Dee Dee live happily ever after…until it’s time for Dee Dee to cook him dinner!
As you can probably tell I don’t care for Frankie Avalon or his character in this film. I do like Frankie Avalon, I mean I spent the film’s runtime singing “Beauty School Dropout” (I made a Grease reference with Gidget too…weird). I just didn’t like his character in this for all the reasons mentioned above. Frankie is such a chauvinist bastard that at one point he instigates a fight with skydiver Steve (John Ashley) whose easily a foot taller than Avalon (IMDB doesn’t list Ashley’s height). I really wanted Steve to just wipe the floor with Frankie; it wouldn’t have been difficult. Dee Dee gets another great jab in at Frankie’s expense when she tells him he’s “not stubborn, you’re stupid.”
Let’s look at some more questions Beach Blanket Bingo left me with. Why is Bonehead, the requisite village idiot, the ONLY character with a Southern twang? Are we pulling out the old “Southern people are stupid” trope here? It would really help if I knew, again, where the hell we were. Jody McCrea’s yokel character didn’t bother me till the end when it becomes all about his mermaid girlfriend. Splash this was not! Another query, how does Annette not get helmet hair in this film? Her hair is an architectural wonder! It never moves (aside from one lock in her face), never gets wet, and when she takes the skydiving helmet off it’s perfect! That must be some industrial strength mousse.
We can’t leave this review without discussing Linda Evans’ character Sugar Kane (was that the go-to name for anyone meant to be sexy in the 50s-60s?). I’ve only seen Evans during her 80s heyday so it was surprising to see how beautiful she is in this film, and not like an otherworldly gorgeous or something, she’s natural. Her character isn’t given much outside of being a singer (Evans is dubbed) so I was a bit sad we didn’t hear about the harsh life of being a pop star. Nancy Sinatra was meant to make her film debut in this role, obviously she would have sung, but due to the kidnapping plot at the film’s end Sinatra dropped out as it hit too close to home after the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr. Evans is cute in the role, it’s not much for her although she does get the one true chuckle I made during this movie. There’s a moment where her and Bonehead are walking down the beach and she’s bit by Bonehead’s mermaid girlfriend. Sugar immediately looks at the bite and says “it’s a people bite!” Wow, “people bite.” The screenwriter couldn’t write “a person bit me.” And Sugar never follows up on it so I guess she’s used to people biting her in the ocean. Her character gets the more ridiculous end of the plot as she’s kidnapped by Eric Von Zipper. Zipper’s only two female accomplices are apparently so in love with him (can’t imagine why. Must be the way he says sickle.) that they decide to kill Sugar. Yes, two women conspire to murder another for a man! And yet instead of doing something quick and painless and…not stupid…the women find some weird date rapist to tie Sugar to a log heading for a saw a la Dudley Do-Right. The women are obviously going to get caught if this goes down, and why include it in the last ten minutes of the film? The last ten minute devolve into a bunch of men chasing after Sugar and the murderer and falling down a hole. Sugar is saved sure, but what’s her prize? Freaking Bonehead….yay.
I don’t care how catchy the title song is, Beach Blanket Bingo annoyed the crap out of me. I can take some zany hijinks but place them somewhat in the realm of possibility. The script is a mess of plotlines, there’s far too many sexist stereotypes, and all of the characters are annoying caricatures of what you’d expect to find on a beach…in Hell! If you’re going to watch a beach movie go see Gidget. The plot is stronger, the character are endearing, and at least the men in Gidget respected her (except for that one guy who tried to molest her via surfboard but I’ll let that pass as he wasn’t a main player).