In the steamy summers as a kid, I would often pass the time in the muggy Kansas heat at my grandparents’ houses. When I needed a break from the lake or the community pool or my uncle’s baseball games and yet that sweet bombpop barely satiated with a few sticky bites- it was the perfect time to come inside to the cool A/C and enjoy a beach party movie.
With the popularity of Sandra Dee, Frankie and Annette, Elvis, and cameos from many classic actors discovering a career resurgence in their later years- the 1960s introduced a wave of films with the beach party theme. These movies were the ultimate in campy fare, showcasing sex-starved teenagers and reflecting the latest trends in fashion, music and even slang terms of pop culture.
They say the bikini was invented in 1946 by French designer Louis Reard but didn’t really hit the American scene until the late 50s/early 60s. Ursula Andress made a splash in DR. NO (1962) in her sultry bikini, designed by Tessa Welborn. After this Bond film was released, bikini swimwear sales skyrocketed. But it was Sandra Dee in GIDGET (1959) that kicked off the bikini fashion sensation for the ‘teen California surf’ craze.
American International Pictures jumped on this popular phenomenon with a series of beach party films, starting with BEACH PARTY in 1963. A total of seven films were made from 1963 to 1966. Other films were made by various studios who piled on during this fad- often with the same low-budget, that highlighted trendy music, and were light on plot, but heavy on silly comedic nonsense with frequent opportunities for attractive young ladies posing in bikinis. There was also a cross-over into campy horror and creature-feature themes in a few, to capitalize on the drive-in experience.
As vibrantly displayed in all of these teen-exploit beach films, the colors were very bright (in shades like yellow, orange and prints like daisy) and the bikinis were skimpy (for that day’s standards certainly) yet usually structured. Annette Funicello seemed to wear the more modest (thanks in part to uncle Walt’s requests in her tasteful transition as a mousketeer) and most structured swim suits and beach wear (because with her healthy wealth of curves, she needed it).
With a quirky cast of characters, the fashions were not always limited to California surfer swimsuits and beachwear. They include: Eric Von Zipper’s gang of the biker leather look (influence from the teen rebellion films as seen in James Dean and Marlon Brando films), occasional Tiki masks, beatniks in black turtlenecks and berets spouting poetry, greased up muscle-building guys wearing not much else than a skivvy metallic bottom, and the drag racing popularity managed to squeeze in with striped racing jackets. [I can personally attest to the racing craze, as I was born in 1966 and found an old pic of my mother, my father and I as a toddler- we’re all wearing matching racing jackets.] To respond to the British invasion of the swinging sixties, we see a couple of Brit characters pop in including our own Frankie Avalon taking on an over-the-top Brit characterization, complete with a Terry Thomas look. Basically, if there was a trend going on, these movies found a way to pull it in, whether it fit in any way into what little of a plot was present or not.
If Frankie Avalon or Annette Funicello were in it, you were guaranteed to hear them sing- sometimes solos, sometimes duets together. Frankie and Annette utilized the success of these films to launch the soundtracks and other similar themed albums to further their singing careers.
But Frankie and Annette weren’t the only ones. Just like the latest fashions, trending music acts of the day managed to find a spot in these surfer slapsticks, as well. Other musicians/singers/musical groups (i.e. The Pyramids, Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, the Supremes, “little” Stevie Wonder, Nancy Sinatra…) were showcased in not only the main AIP seven but other beach/teen-focused romps to promote their music. Here are just a few…
Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, “Swingin’ And Surfin'” in Beach Party (1963)
The Beach Boys, “Little Honda” in The Girls On The Beach (1965)
James Brown & the Famous Flames, “I Feel Good” in Ski Party (1965)
The Animals, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” in It’s a Bikini World (1967)
Donna Loren, “It Only Hurts When I Cry” in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
“Little” Stevie Wonder, “Happy Street” in Muscle Beach Party (1964)| “C’Mon Everybody” and “Happy Feelin’ Dance and Shout” in Bikini Beach (1964)
To review all of the musical scores and performers in vivid detail, I highly recommend the Music Of The Beach Party Movies site. It’s everything you’d ever want to know plus so much more on this subject- and so fun!
*It should be noted that in the case of many of the soundtracks for the seven AIP beach party films, the music and lyrics were often written by a talented teaming of lyricists and composers for film and TV such as Guy Hemric, Gary Usher, Jerry Styner, Roger Christain, and Brian Wilson (yes THAT Brian Wilson).
For a list of characters from the best beach flicks, check out this handy reference list of “Beach Party Movies A to Z” on movie fanfare.com, authored by my fellow blogging pal Rick from Classic Film and TV Cafe. (Check out these sites for all sorts of great stuff!)… http://www.moviefanfare.com/movie-list/the-beach-party-movies-a-to-z/
Other Notables: Blue Hawaii (1961), Get Yourself A College Girl (1964), The Horror Of Party Beach (1964), Ride The Wild Surf (1964), Ski Party (1965), Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine (1965), Beachball (1965), A Swingin’ Summer (1965), The Beach Girls And The Monster (1965), The Girls On The Beach (1965), Fireball 500 (1966), It’s A Bikini World (1967), The Fat Spy (1966)
the slang, Daddy-o:
To translate words and expressions inspired by the surfer/beatnik movements as often heard in these beach party films, I included an excerpt from TheCoolestWords.com of the Top 12 Slang Terms of the 60s. I also provided a link HERE for an even more in-depth list, in alpha order !
Drag – Used to express disappointment in someone of something. “That night was such a drag.”
Cruising – This slang was used to describe a pass time of teenagers in the 60’s to cruise up and down a singular street in their car to find car races, girls, guys or other forms of entertainment. I.e. “Jenny and I went cruising with the boys last Friday night.”
Gimme Some Skin – This 60’s slang term was used to ask to shake hands in hello, goodbye or as a way of arranging a deal. I.e. “Hey man, how’s it going… gimme some skin.”
Hang Loose – A term used to describe relaxing, taking it easy, etc. I.e. “I decided to just hang loose today instead of going out on the town.”
Jam/Let’s Jam – This 60’s term was used in two different ways: 1) to describe a group of musicians playing music together or 2) to describe leaving a place very quickly. I.e. 1) “I was jamming with The Beatles in the music studio today.” 2) “That’s the cops, let’s jam!”
Keen – Used to describe being excited about something or to describe a person who is great, awesome, etc. I.e. “That Lucy was pretty keen, wasn’t she?”
Outta Sight – This slang term was used when someone wanted to express amazement, excitement, etc. I.e. “This new car is outta sight, man!”
Primo – The 60’s slang word was used when someone wanted to say that something or someone was the best, awesome, first class, high quality, etc. I.e. “That new song from the Beach Boys was primo!”
Going Steady – As a slang term, this was used to describe two people who were dating exclusively. I.e. “Mary and Johnny are going steady.”
Lay It On Me – This slang term from the 60’s was used to ask someone to tell them something or to speak their peace. I.e. “I know you want to talk to me, so lay it on me.”
Split – This 60’s slang word was used to leave the scene or area, to cut out, etc. I.e. “As soon as they heard the cops coming they split.”