Welcome back to Drive-In Saturday Night! Summer’s here, and the time is right for a double dose of American-International teen flicks, so pull in, pull up a speaker to hang on your car window, and enjoy our first feature, 1964’s BIKINI BEACH, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello:
BIKINI BEACH is the third of AIP’s ‘Beach Party’ movies, and this one’s a typical hodgepodge of music, comedy, and the usual teenage shenanigans. The gang’s all here, heading to the beach on spring break for surfing and swinging. This time around, there’s a newcomer on the sand, British rock star The Potato Bug, with Frankie playing a dual role. Potato Bug is an obvious spoof of the big Beatlemania fever sweeping the country, with all the beach chicks (or “birds”, as he calls ’em) screaming whenever PB starts singing one of his songs, complete with Lennon/McCartney-esque “Wooos” and “Yeah, yeah, yeahs”…
Mike Gable (Lee Majors) is the angriest cop in Galveston, famous for tossing people out of windows. Jake (Don Rickles!) is Gable’s partner, who seems to be too old to still be on the force. Gable’s best friend is Keaton (Abe Vigoda), a retired mobster who now lives in a nursery home. When it becomes apparent that someone has put a hit out on Keaton, Gable and Jake are sent to investigate. A shoot out at the nursery home leads to Jake’s death. Another shoot out at a hotel leads to the death of several other cops. Gable can either toss Keaton out a window or he can team up with him to solve the murders. Imagine 48 Hours with Lee Majors replacing Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy stepping aside for Abe Vigoda.
In the style of both 48 Hours and Midnight Run, Keaton’s Cop tries to combine comedy with action but the comedy is too lame to be funny and the action is too brutal to be light-hearted. For some reason, Don Rickles plays his role completely straight while Abe Vigoda mostly just looks happy to have the chance to play a leading role for once. Lee Majors is believable as an angry cop, mostly because he appears to be pissed off about having to appear in Keaton’s Cop. It can’t be easy to go from being the Six Million Dollar Man to a movie like this.
You’d think by the fourth entry in American-International’s ‘Beach Party’ series, 1965’s BEACH BLANKET BINGO, the formula would be wearing a bit thin. Frankie and Annette are still trying to make each other jealous, Eric Von Zipper and his Rats are still comic menaces, and the gang’s into yet another new kick (skydiving this time around). But thanks to a top-notch supporting cast of characters, a sweet subplot involving a mermaid, and the genius of comedy legend Buster Keaton , BEACH BLANKET BINGO is loads of fun!
Aspiring singer Sugar Kane skydives from a plan into the middle of the ocean and is “rescued” by surfer Frankie. But not really… it’s all been a publicity stunt by her PR agent ‘Bullets’. Sugar is played by lovely Linda Evans, right before she landed on TV’s THE BIG VALLEY, and ‘Bullets’ is none other than the fantastically sarcastic Paul Lynde. But wait… Eric Von Zipper…
“Mr. Warmth”, the great Don Rickles, died yesterday at age 90. He was outrageous, rude, definitely non-PC, and hysterically funny. Rickles threw his verbal brickbats at everybody regardless of race, creed, national origin, or political persuasion, and it was all in good-spirited fun. There will never be another stand-up comic quite like Don Rickles, especially in today’s “safe space” world, and it’s a pity, because if we can’t all laugh at ourselves, if we can’t take a joke, then it’s time to pack it in.
Something I didn’t know about Don Rickles is he didn’t start out to be “The Merchant of Venom”. He intended to become a serious actor, studying at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. Frustrated with his lack of acting jobs, Don began doing stand-up as a way to gain exposure. When he was heckled by some audience members, he heckled ’em right back…
Remember when they used to show old episodes of Saturday Night Live on Comedy Central? I once watched an episode from 1984. The host was Don Rickles. His opening monologue was pure Don Rickles, which is to say that he insulted everyone in the audience. It didn’t matter who the person was, Rickles was going to insult them. He insulted John Madden. He insulted Brandon Tartikoff, the president of the NBC. He insulted the people who had just come in from off the street. I don’t remember much about the specific insults. The main thing that I remember is that the audience absolutely loved it. Even before Rickles thanked them all for being good sports, the audience was eating out of his hand.
Don Rickles was the King of Insult Comedy. His nickname was Mr. Warmth. The nickname was not as ironic as you might think. Off-stage, Rickles was reportedly a kind and generous man. And, on-stage, Rickles may have insulted the audience but he did it with a twinkle in his eye and he always thanked him at the end. His humor may have been built on insults but it was also built on self-depreciation. The only person he made fun of more than the guy sitting in front row of the audience was himself. Going to one of his shows might lead to you being called a “hockey puck,” but Rickles’s ultimate message was always that we’re all in this together.
As funny as Rickles was, he was also lucky enough to start his career in the 1950s. (Reportedly, he got his big break when he saw Frank Sinatra in the audience, said, “Make yourself at home, Frank. Hit somebody!” and insulted his work in his last movie. Sinatra loved it.) If Don Rickles had started his career this century, his politically incorrect humor would have gotten him banned from most clubs and Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham would have led a twitter campaign to have him incarcerated. Don Rickles was lucky enough to by funny at a time when comedians were actually rewarded for making us laugh.
What was your favorite Don Rickles role? He always said that his grandkids only liked him because he voiced Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story films. Rickles also had a rare dramatic role in Martin Scorsese’s Casino, more than holding his own against heavyweight actors like Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci.
Don Rickles died today at the age of 90. I would say rest in peace but I don’t think Don Rickles would have appreciated the “in peace” part. I will just say goodbye, Mr. Rickles and thank you for the laughter.
For tonight’s excursion into the world of televised horror, we have the 10th episode of the 2nd season of Tales From The Crypt! This episode, which originally aired on June 5th, 1990, is called The Ventriloquist’s Dummy!
Who doesn’t love a creepy ventriloquist story? And this is certainly a creepy one, with an ending that you’ll either love or hate.
This episode was directed by Richard Donner and written by future Shawshank Redemption director and Walking Dead showrunner, Frank Darabont!
The “Beach Party ” gang’s back and so’s the familiar formula in MUSCLE BEACH PARTY, second in the American-International series. It’s Easter vacation and Frankie Avalon is still horny, Annette Funicello’s still waiting for marriage, and a beautiful foreign woman is again coming between them. This time it’s Lucianna Paluzzi as Countess Julie, a rich heiress who wants to make Frankie a singing star and her personal property.
Eric Von Zipper and his Rats aren’t around this time, replaced by a bunch of bodybuilders led by trainer Jack Fanny (the inimitable Don Rickles). Julie first sets her sights on “Mr. Galaxy” Flex Martian, but dumps him when she spies Frankie. This leads to war between the surfers and the musclemen, with the inevitable slapstick melee. Flex is played by Rock Stevens, a real-life bodybuilder who muscled his way through a few Italian peplum films before reverting to his real name of Peter Lupus and…