Beach Party Movies

Daytona Beach Weekend poster

Ah, sweet summers of the 60’s. What could be more carefree than hanging out with Frankie, Annette, Fabian, Tab, and the rest of the gang on a sunny southern California beach with great rock and roll blasting in the background and, of course, a plethora of bikinis and muscular, bare-chested surfers…

Lord knows that there was enough pain, stress, and unrest in the decade to make your head spin. But beach movies provided us with an escape to a world where the biggest problem you might face would be trying to get the cute blonde with the groovy dance moves to notice you.

The beach movie era began with 1959’s Gidget. Sandra Dee’s character, Frances, learns to surf under the tutelage of one Moondoggie, played by James Darren. He is a dreamboat, and Gidget has her challenges ahead of her to get him to notice her as something other than a prodigy on a surfboard. Cliff Robertson plays the Big Kahuna, and Tom Laughlin, who would gain future fame as Billy Jack, had a bit part as well.

The movie was a smash, and another film involving lots of nubile young bodies clad in skimpy swim attire was released the following year.

In 1960, the phenomenon of the Fort Lauderdale college spring break was explored with Where the Boys Are, starring the lovely, sweet-voiced Connie Francis and George Hamilton. It too cleaned up at the box office.

Wild on the Beach poster

These two films, while serving as the harbingers of the beach movie phenomenon, achieved critical acclaim as well. That was not to be the case with the flood of beach party movies that would follow. But still, it was all lightweight fun to take our minds off of things like assassinations, war, and crosses in flames. In that sense, the movies scored a perfect ten.

Beginning in 1963, the movies that came pouring out of Hollywood included Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Muscle Beach Party, Ride the Wild Surf, Beach Blanket Bingo, The Girls on the Beach, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Endless Summer, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (which featured aging horror stars Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone), It’s a Bikini World, and 1968’s The Sweet Ride, the last of an era.

The films had nice lightweight plots involving surf competitions, girls who just can’t get noticed by the cute guys, bikinis, extremely square dim-witted authority figures, bikinis, space aliens, hot rods, bikinis, dance contests, ghosts, and, of course, bikinis.

Top-forty hits were heard blasting in the background, and there would frequently be appearances by bands, whether put together just for the film, or established groups in their own right. These included Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, the Animals, the Castaways, the Pyramids, the Toys, the Beau Brummels, and the Kingsmen. Little Stevie Wonder was also a frequent musical guest. And the stars usually crooned a song or two apiece as well.

Beach Blanket Bingo poster

The movies had an astonishing variety of familiar names in them. Besides Frankie, Annette, Fabian, and Tab, these included Linda Evans, Deborah Walley, Jody McCrea, Tommy Kirk, Nancy Sinatra, Toni Basil, Shelley Fabares, Jackie DeShannon, Morey Amsterdam, Beau Bridges, Ronnie Howard, and Bobby “Boris” Pickett, who would score a Top Forty hit with Monster Mash. Token squares were played by Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Elsa Lanchester, and Buster Keaton, among others.

Peter Lupus, who would go on to fame in Mission: Impossible, used his sculpted Mr.Hercules body to great effect in Muscle Beach Party, which also featured pre-steroid-era bodybuilders Dan Haggerty (aka Grizzly Adams), Chet Yorton, and Larry Scott.

The beach movie era was basically over by the Summer of Love. No comeback ever took place, which is just as well. The innocent free-for-all spirit of the lightweight classics could never happen in the 21st century. The sex that was so barely and carefully alluded to would now be depicted in its full unimaginative glory. The male lead would be coming to terms with his feelings of repressed homosexuality. The female would be dealing with having been raised in an abusive household. The bodybuilders would be suffering the effects of long-term steroid abuse. And the RIAA would sue anyone who dared to download any of the hit songs.

So here’s to the era of the beach party movie: a time of innocence that was seen in the movie theater that now seems as strange to us as the concept of filling up a car for five bucks.

3D of the 50’s

It Came from Outer Space, in 3D!

The neighborhood movie theater was a welcome spot for rainy and/or swelteringly hot summer afternoons in the 50’s. The drive-in theater was likewise a fond destination that many of us remember. One of the most amazing innovations that were enjoyed by the older members of the Boomer generation were 3D movies and comic books.

Man has always sought greater realism in the representations of the world which he has generated. It goes back to the day when a caveman would blow pigment over his hand placed on a rock wall in order to add a realistic, human touch to the mastodons and mammoths that he had drawn. By 1838, stereoscopic photography had been invented, bringing astonishing realism to tiny images viewed through a special device.

L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, filmed in 1895 by the Lumière brothers, is credited as being the first 3D film. Audiences would scream in terror as a speeding train appeared to head straight for them.

Except that the film wasn’t really 3D. it shocked the world with its realism, but it was just a simple two-dimensional film.

In 1915, three short films were shown in New York that were filmed using the anaglyphic process. Two camera lenses filmed two separate scenes from 2 1/2″ apart. When developed, the films were given treatment which overemphasized the colors so that viewing the finished film through red and green glasses would create a seamless three-dimensional image.

That same technology was called upon 37 years later by nervous Hollywood producers who saw the future of motion pictures seriously threatened by television. Thus, in 1952, Bwana Devil was released in 3D. The low-budget film created a sensation, and soon theaters all over the US were scrambling to add the ability to show three-dimensional films.

1950’s audience enjoying 3D

The next year, 27 more 3D films were released, including Vincent Price’s chilling House of Wax, considered one of Hollywood’s greatest horror films. 1954 saw the release of the 3D Creature from the Black Lagoon, another great scary flick.

The 3D movie craze came and went in a flurry. By 1955, only a solitary 3D movie was released. Thereafter, films would come out in 3D on an occasional basis. One of them was Ghosts of the Abyss, which my wife and I watched on a rainy Florida afternoon in 2003. I liked it, she didn’t.

Movies weren’t the only source of 1950’s 3D entertainment. Three Dimension Comics made its debut in 1953. The single issue, documenting the adventures of Mighty Mouse, sold over a million copies. Soon, 3D comic books were all over the newsstands, with the obligatory red/green glasses included as part of the package. Harvey, Archie, EC, DC, and practically all of the other major comic book publishers released three-dimensional versions of their familiar lines.

3D comics died out even sooner than films, the last one being published in 1954. Again, they have appeared off and on since then, but never in the 1950’s quantities.

Nowadays, we have, for the most part, given up on the idea of ubiquitous three-dimensional media. Instead, many of us have opted for HDTV’s. Perhaps not as exciting as seeing bright red blood fly three-dimensionally as many of us witnessed way back in 1953, but hey, it’s nice not messing with those darned glasses!