MGM Studios DVD presents
Beach Party (1963)
Marianne: "Oh, come on, Professor. These are just normal American kids."
Professor: "American, yes. Normal, no. Marianne, they're a true subculture."
Stars: Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Bob Cummings
Other Stars: Harvey Lembeck, Eva Six, Morey Amsterdam
Director: William Asher
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild sexual references)
Run Time: 01h:37m:40s
Release Date: 2000-09-05
DVD ReviewIn 1963, American-International Pictures pioneered the "beach movie" genre with Beach Party, the first of a series of light teen sex comedies starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. The thin plot sends Frankie and Annette on a romantic beach getaway, where Frankie's seductive intentions are disrupted by "the gang." Meanwhile, anthropologist Professor Robert O. Sutwell (Bob Cummings) and his wistful love-starved assistant Marianne (Dorothy Malone) are studying the youth culture with a scientific eye. Romantic rivalries develop as Frankie takes on the buxom Ava (Eva Six) and Annette dallies with Professor Sutwell, while biker Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his nitwit associates provide comic relief. A climactic pie fight helps everyone come to their senses, and a good time is had by all.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Beach Party without surfboards, sex, rather modest bikinis, and swingin' tunes, provided in abundance by Frankie, Annette and the visibly aging Dick Dale and His Del Tones. The songs are harmless and brief enough, and the sexual elements are treated lightly and far from explicitly. The "beach movie" genre conventions were clearly established in this first outing, though Annette remains modestly dressed in one-piece swimsuits; Walt Disney was reportedly very upset that his former star was appearing in a "sex movie," though she had clearly outgrown her mouse ears by this time. The film's brass-and-bongos score by Les Baxter evokes the period well, and the dialogue is filled with words like hooting, stoked, and oogling that helped establish the American youth culture (and market) as a distinct entity.
The performances suit the material with a definite early-60's sitcom flavor about them. Harvey Lembeck's comic Eric Von Zipper was created for this film as a lampoon of the Marlon Brando Wild One mystique and became a recurring character in a number of other AIP films, including the Dr. Goldfoot movies. Bob Cummings is an appealingly nice, nerdy professor who gets caught up in the youth culture (with absolutely no intentions to "put an end to their monkey business" as the keepcase copy erroneously states). Morey Amsterdam has fun as Cappy, a pseudo-beatnik bar manager; Eva Six is appealingly sexy in Marilyn Monroe mode; and the only really annoying character is Jody McCrea's Deadhead, an incredibly dull-witted surfer whose lines are among the worst in the movie. Vincent Price makes a fan-friendly cameo appearance as Big Daddy, a mysterious, charismatic waterfront figure whose only line is a gag reference to the Edgar Allen Poe movies he made with Roger Corman: "The Pit! Bring me my Pendulum, kiddies, I feel like swingin'!"
Samuel Z. Arkoff's American-International Pictures was never shy about promotion, and there are several self-referential moments in the movie—Marianne suggests that the studio might pick up the movie rights for the Professor's book on teenage sex, an AIP record label is prominently displayed, and the credits feature a "coming soon" blurb for another Vincent Price movie, The Haunted Palace (actually based on an H.P. Lovecraft story but billed as a Poe film in keeping with the series). And maybe that's what's most fun about Beach Party—it's designed to sell, pandering shamelessly to its teen audience and never claiming to be anything more than what it is. It's refreshingly air-headed, tuneful, teasing and adolescent, with none of the "culturally conscious" baggage that would become standard in later teen films. Turn off your brain, turn back the clock and enjoy!
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen||1.33:1 - P&S|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes||no|
Image Transfer Review: MGM presents Beach Party with a stunningly colorful, sharp anamorphic transfer, preserving the film's original Panavision 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The source print has some dirt flecking, reel-change markers and a few scratched segments, but color is brilliant (in the slightly-oversaturated 60's manner) and detail is very solid (the film is brightly lit throughout, so shadow detail isn't a major issue.) Many of the American-International pictures have "gone pink" and deteriorated physically due to cheap film stock, but Beach Party exhibits no such problems. I spotted a few minor compression artifacts on thin, bright edges, but I felt like I was seeing the film on the drive-in circuit back in 1963. (The disc's flipside features a full-frame pan-and-scan transfer, with the expected composition damage and missing performers/reactions.)
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Beach Party features a Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic presentation of its original soundtrack, sounding surprisingly crisp given the film's age. There's a little bit of background hiss, a few brief audio dropouts, and some pops here and there, but it sounds better than some more recent and more well-respected films I've heard. Frequency range is solid, though low-end bass is almost nonexistent, and the surfin' tunes and clear dialogue sound just fine.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: MGM doesn't bring much to the Beach Party, not even those pickled cocktail weenies that nobody likes—just 32 picture-menu chapter stops and the original theatrical trailer. The trailer earns some bonus points for its old-fashioned stars and songs approach and the classic American-International Pictures exploitation line, "Ten thousand kids meet on five thousand beach blankets!" The trailer is nicely presented with a solid 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, though it looks softer than the main attraction and has a bit of damage.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsBeach Party is a cute, nostalgic bit of Frankie-and-Annette surfin' fluff that established a genre and retains a simple charm today. MGM presents the film with an excellent DVD transfer, though supplements are limited. Historically interesting, and a fun "retro night" rental.
Dale Dobson 2000-09-09