It seems a little bit strange that today was, for many people, the first day of Spring Break.
First off, it was cold and rainy today and, whenever I found myself glancing out a window and being confronted by the gray weather, it was very hard for me to imagine having any fun on a beach.
Secondly, for reasons that I never quite understood, the University of North Texas’s Spring Break was always a week after everyone else’s. As a result, I’ve been conditioned to think of Spring Break as starting during the third week of March.
I always looked forward to Spring Break, despite the fact that we always got out a week late. In fact, it was kind of nice to know that, when my friends and I got down to that year’s beach, the most obnoxious of the alcoholic frat boys would already be back in Oklahoma. I’ve always loved the beach, which is odd because I’m scared of drowning. Fortunately, you don’t have to swim to look good in a bikini.
Now, of course, I’m an adult and I don’t get a Spring Break. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t relive the fun of it all by spending the next few days watching and reviewing beach movies!
For instance, earlier today, I discovered that the 1963 film Beach Party was available on Netflix. I watched the first 40 minutes during my lunch and then, as the day progressed, I watched the rest of it in bits and pieces until finally, nearly 8 hours after starting the film, I finished it. Needless to say, this is absolutely the worst way to watch a film like Beach Party. Beach Party was designed to be a film to be enjoyed but not thought about. It’s the cinematic equivalent of fast food. Watching Beach Party in increments of 2 or 3 minutes at a time is a bit like buying a Wendy’s bacon cheeseburger and not eating it until the next day.
(Or so I assume. I would never do that because, seriously, Wendy’s makes the best bacon cheeseburgers!)
It feels kind of silly to try to describe the plot of something like Beach Party but here goes: Frankie (Frankie Avalon) and Delores (Annette Funicello) are two teenagers in love. Or, at the very least, Delores is in love. Frankie, however, has a hard time saying it. Frankie and Delores are planning on spending the weekend at a beach house where, Frankie tells her, it will be just like they’re married. Though it’s never explicitly stated (like many films from the early 60s, Beach Party is all about the euphemisms), Frankie is obviously expecting that he and Delores will finally be having sex in that beach house. However, Delores had the same idea so she invited all of their friends to stay at the beach house as well, specifically to keep her from giving in during a moment of weakness.
Meanwhile, Prof. Robert Sutwell (Robert Cummings) is also hanging out on the beach. He’s an anthropologist who has a rather prominent beard. He’s studying the sex lives of teenagers. Since they’re adults, Robert and his assistant Marianne (Dorothy Malone) are actually allowed to say the word “sex.”
Speaking of which, that’s one thing that nobody on the beach seems to be doing. Robert is too obsessed with his work, Marianne is too frustrated with his lack of interest, Frankie is too busy surfing and singing, and Delores says she’s not interesting in “being a woman” until she’s married. There’s constant flirting going on, of course but, for the most part, these teenagers make the spring breakers from From Justin To Kelly look wild. (One can only guess what would happen if any of them ever ran into the spring breakers from Spring Breakers….)
That said, I do think that I did spot Frankie and his friends passing around a joint during one scene. According to some comments at the imdb, it was probably meant to be a cigarette that Frankie was sharing with his friends Ken (John Ashley) and Deadhead (Jody McCrea) but it sure looked like a joint to me. Plus, Frankie was listening to beatnik poetry at the time and we all know those crazy kids loved the poetry and loved the marijuana.
Oh! And did I mention that there’s a motorcycle gang in this film? Because there so totally is. The Rat Pack is led by a guy named Erich Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and they pretty much show up whenever the film starts to run out of ideas…
Now, it may sound like I’m being pretty critical of Beach Party but actually, I thought it was fun in a time capsule sort of way. This is one of those films that is so obviously a product of the time in which it was made that watching it is a bit like getting to take a ride in a time machine. Everything about this film — from the dialogue to the cultural attitudes to the clean-cut teenagers to the music to the bizarrely modest bikinis — practically screams 1963. As a secret history nerd, I loved the part of Beach Party.
Add to that, Vincent Price has a cameo! That’s always fun.
Anyway, Beach Party is currently available to be watched on Netflix and Hulu. If you can’t get to the beach this year, you can always watch Frankie Avalon getting high in Beach Party.