The 1963 film Palm Springs Weekend asks the question, “When is a beach film not a beach film?”
When it takes place in the freaking desert!
That’s right, Palm Springs Weekend takes place in the middle of the California desert. There’s no ocean in sight nor are there any beaches on which to frolic. Instead, there’s just a cheap motel and a swimming pool. That said, Palm Springs Weekend pretty much follows the same formula as all of the beach films that were released in the early 60s. A group of college students hop on a bus and head off for the weekend. One student is wacky. One student is rich, wild, and dangerous to know. And, of course, one student is clean-cut, responsible, boring, asexual, and studious and all about doing the right thing.
Troy Donahue, the blandest teen idol of all time, plays the clean-cut student. His name is Jim and he’s a college basketball star. Even when he’s on the bus traveling to Palm Springs, he’s still got a book to study. Jim’s the type who wears a suit and a tie to the pool. He ends up falling in love with Bunny Dixon (Stefanie Powers) and the two of them spend a lot of time talking about sex in the most chaste way possible. Bunny’s father (played by Andrew Duggan) is the chief of police and he doesn’t want any crazy college kids causing trouble in his town! Well, it’s a pretty good thing that all he has to worry about is Troy Donaue asking his daughter if she wants to take a moonlight stroll in the middle of the desert.
(Trust me. I’ve spent enough time in the desert to know that the last thing you want to do when you live near rattlesnakes is take a moonlight stroll.)
Jim’s best friend is Biff (Jerry Van Dyke). Biff is the wacky college student, which means that he plays the ukulele and he gets all the comedic moments. In this film, that amounts to getting babysitting an annoying boy and, at one point, falling into an extremely sudsy pool. Luckily, Jim’s there to deliver CPR, which leads to soap bubbles floating out of Biff’s mouth and …. you know what? I’m tired of writing about Biff.
Anyway, Biff and Jim really aren’t that important. The entire film pretty much belongs to Robert Conrad and Connie Stevens, largely because they’re the only two actors who are allowed to break out of the trap of always either being bumbling and innocent or dramatic and self-righteous. Robert Conrad plays Eric Dean, who is a spoiled rich kid who owns an expensive and fast car and who is basically a fun-loving sociopath. Meanwhile, Connie Stevens plays Gail, who is a high senior and who is pretending to be a college student. And while the film insists that we should somehow be disappointed in Gail because she’s acting wild and breaking curfew and doing more than just talking about whether or not it’s appropriate to kiss on the first date, she’s actually the most compelling character in the film because, at the very least, she’s actually setting her own rules and making her own decisions. Since Palm Springs Weekend was made in 1963, it ultimately feels the need to try to punish Gail for thinking for herself but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s still a far more interesting character than the blandly innocent Bunny. Gail’s a rebel. Gail’s the future. All hail Gail!
Anyway, Palm Springs Weekend is pretty forgettable and it’s never as much fun as any of AIP’s old Beach Party films. That said, I’d still recommend it if you’re a history nerd like me. It’s definitely a film of its time, a time capsule of an era.