The MGM Movie Legends Collection
5 Beach Movies, 1 Ski Sequel, and 2 Racing Spin-offs = 8 Movies
As a Disney fan, I have to shamefully admit that I had never seen even one of the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach movies, until I recently purchased this box set. So I gamely embarked on a movie binge to see what all the fun was about. And was it fun?
My wife, Karen, gave up 30 minutes into the first movie. But I swam on, determined to add these classic(?) movies to my viewing list and Disney-related knowledge. For me, as an admitted King of Cheese, it was worth it!
Let’s look at the movies in order:
PLOT: An anthropologist, Professor Robert Orville Sutwell is secretly studying the “wild mating habits” of Southern California teenagers who hang out at the beach and use strange surfing jargon. After he temporarily paralyzes Eric Von Zipper, the leader of the local outlaw motorcycle gang, who was making unwanted advances on Dolores, a.k.a. Dee Dee (Annette), she develops a crush on the Professor. Her surfing boyfriend Frankie (Frankie Avalon) becomes jealous and begins flirting with Ava, a Hungarian waitress. Meanwhile, Sutwell’s assistant Marianne further develops her crush on the Professor. Von Zipper and his gang plot to bring down Sutwell, only to be thwarted in the end by the surfing teenagers.
PLOT: Frankie (Frankie Avalon), Dee Dee (Annette), and the beach party gang hit Malibu Beach for another summer of surfing and no jobs only to find their secret surfing spot threatened by a gang of bodybuilders, led by the dim-witted coach Jack Fanny. All the while, a bored Italian Countess is trying to steal Frankie from Dee Dee and, much to everyone’s surprise, he seems more than happy to go along with it. She’s going to turn him into a teen idol, not unlike Frankie Avalon’s real-life persona. Fortunately, due to some razzing from his former surfing buddies and sage advice from wealthy S.Z. Matts, Frankie sees the error of his ways and goes back to his American beach bunny, Dee Dee.
PLOT: School is out and the teenagers head for the beach. All is well until millionaire Harvey Huntington Honeywagon III comes around, convinced that the beachgoers are so senselessly obsessed with sex that their mentality is below that of a primate – especially Honeywagon’s wunderkind pet chimp Clyde, who can surf, drive, and watusi better than anyone on the beach. With the teenagers demoralized and discredited, Honeywagon plans to turn Bikini Beach into a senior citizens retirement home. Meanwhile, foppish British rocker and drag racer Peter Royce Bentley, better known as “The Potato Bug” (played by Frankie Avalon in a dual role), has taken up residence on Bikini Beach. Annoyed by Frankie’s (Frankie Avalon) reluctance to start their relationship towards marriage, Dee Dee (Annette) becomes receptive to Potato Bug’s advances. In a jealous rage, Frankie challenges The Potato Bug to a drag race, in hopes of winning Dee Dee back.
PLOT: A singer, Sugar Kane, is unwittingly being used for publicity stunts for her latest album by her agent, for example, faking a skydiving stunt, actually performed by Bonnie. Meanwhile, Frankie (Frankie Avalon), (duped into thinking he rescued Sugar Kane), takes up skydiving at Bonnie’s prompting; she secretly wants to make her boyfriend Steve jealous. This, of course, prompts Dee Dee (Annette) to also try free-falling. Eric Von Zipper and his Malibu Rat Pack bikers also show up, with Von Zipper falling madly in love with Sugar Kane. To top all this, Bonehead falls in love with a mermaid. Eventually, Von Zipper “puts the snatch” on Sugar Kane. The film takes a The Perils of Pauline-like twist, with the evil South Dakota Slim kidnapping Sugar and tying her to a buzz-saw.
PLOT: The story begins with Frankie (Frankie Avalon) going to Tahiti on Naval Reserve duty. While cavorting with local girls, Frankie realizes that Dee Dee (Annette) might be disloyal to him. When Frankie seeks help from a witch doctor, the witch doctor sends a sea beauty, Cassandra, to lure Ricky, an advertising exec, away from Dee Dee. Upon Cassandra’s arrival, the beach turns upside down, as all the surfers fall for her, an executive wants to make her a model, and Eric Von Zipper and his motorcycle gang add to the trouble.
Got all of that? You probably noticed that the movies don’t stray far from the formula and are filled with enough silliness to make even, well… ME, go “What?”
Now I’d like to treat you to a list of things you may not know about these beach movies:
- Annette’s Navel. It’s legend now that Annette (still under contract with Disney) was not allowed to show her belly button. But she did wear a bikini, and in quite a few scenes throughout the series, she did show the offending body part. If you’re wondering, it’s an Innie.
- Annette’s Singing. When recording for Disney, they used a dual-track system, where Annette would sing the song twice and the tracks would be layered over each other, giving her signature echo sound. But in these beach movies, this trick was not used, and unfortunately, we can hear that Annette was not that great a vocalist.
- Giving the Finger! Yes, long before ‘flipping the bird’ was considered a not-so friendly way of saying ‘Howdy’, the guys and gals of the Beach Party set were always giving each other the finger. Of course, it was usually Von Zipper who got it, and ‘it’ was a paralysing press against the temple, with, yes… the finger. Still, it was weird to hear a main character say “Stand still, I’m going to give you the finger!”
- Fake Surfing. Yes, there was a lot of that! But there was also a lot of real surfing, although, it wasn’t usually competition-quality stuff. Just filler to justify the beach scene and pad the movie.
- Sex. Yup. SEX! These movies talk about it a lot. Actually, they say the word a lot. But no one has it. Or even comes close to having it. But apparently, every adult in the movies think the young teens are only alive to engage in it. It was nice to see Annette remind Frankie that she wasn’t interested in sex until he married her! Yup, the guys in these movies got no more than a kiss and a tame cuddle.
- Bikinis. Not that I’m complaining, but not one girl in this entire series owned a one piece! What are the odds? An entire school of girls with bikini bodies and zero body-image issues? Yup, only in the movies!
- Weird Characters. With names like Eric Von Zipper, The Potato Bug, Harvey Huntington Honeywagon III, and Jack Fanny, you just know you’re going to see engaging characters. Actually, no! Some of these characters were painful to watch.
I could go on, but better that you watch these movies yourselves. Why should I be the only one to suffer for research?
The series had only 5 ‘official’ movies, all starring Frankie and Annette, but other entries did star one or the other of them with some regulars from the series. This last entry, kind of a sequel to the series, was an attempt to transplant the beach formula to the slopes:
PLOT: Todd Armstrong (Frankie Avalon) and Craig Gamble are California college undergraduates who unsuccessfully date co-eds Linda Hughes and Barbara Norris. Arrogant, handsome, athletic classmate Freddie has no such problems and chooses not to fight off all the women chasing after him. As president of the Ski Club, Freddie organizes a midterm vacation trip to ski country (in gorgeous Sawtooth National Forest) in Idaho. Although they know nothing about skiing, Todd and Craig follow Linda and Barbara on this bus trip, to try to learn “the secret of Freddie’s technique”. Once at the rustic ski resort, Todd and Craig pose as frumpy, non-threatening, young English women, Jane and Nora, with terrible accents. When not interrupted by a mysterious ice skating, yodeling polar bear, or toying with psychologically-imbalanced and lederhosen-clad lodge manager Mr. Pevney, they observe the girls in their group up close, to learn how to succeed with women, and figure out how they have gone wrong. Finally, the whole group and Pevney, end up at Todd’s parents’ beachfront house (back to the beach). There the two couples share their true feelings and the boys surprise the girls with their ruse.
After this, Frankie and Annette starred in a racing movie called Fireball 500 with Fabian and then Annette starred with Fabian in another racing movie. These were basically spin-offs from the beach movies, using many of the same actors.
And that rounds out my 8-movie box set. So have you watched any of these movies? What did you think? Do you think all self-respecting Disney fans should follow Annette to the second step of her career? Or just skip this period and jump right to the Skippy peanut butter commercials?
Just in case you haven’t had enough, there was a revival movie called Back to the Beach:
PLOT: Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are husband and wife living in Ohio — far from the surf and sand of their earlier lives together. Frankie is a stressed out car salesman and former “Big Kahuna” of the surf scene in California while Annette bottles her own sense of angst up in a bevy of shopping, and they are both raising a son, Bobby, who is in the throes of rebellion against his seemingly square folks. One day, the family decides to take a vacation to Hawaii, deciding to stop in California to visit their daughter Sandi. Frankie and Annette are appalled to learn that she has been making time with surfer Michael throughout her time there. The family misses their flight to Hawaii, and ultimately end up staying in California, much to the chagrin of Frankie. Frankie and Annette get caught up with the lives of their old friends and their old beach, and thus their last beach adventure begins. Along the way, Frankie must work together with a new generation of younger surfers while nearly ruining his marriage by dallying with Connie Stevens. In the end The Big Kahuna overcomes his own fears and proves that he is still the king of surfers, as he takes back his title and saves the beach from a gang of beach punks.
And also a fantastic parody version called Teen Beach Movie, that just may be the best entry in the series:
PLOT: Brady (Ross Lynch) and McKenzie “Mack” (Maia Mitchell), are surfing together at a beach near McKenzie’s grandfather’s hut. Mack oversees her grandfather and Brady watching their favorite film, where bikers and surfers battle for which gang gets the privilege to hang out at Big Momma’s, a local diner and hangout. Brady later learns that Mack made a promise to her aunt that after her mother died she would attend a private school and they were to leave the next day. Mack asserts that although going is her choice, she feels it is what she has to do, since it’s what her mom would want. She sadly tells Brady they will have to break up since they will be too far away to maintain their relationship. Before Mack leaves, she decides to surf a 40-foot wave that is about to hit the beach. Alarmed, Brady gets on a jet ski and goes after Mack, who is still in the ocean. Mack and Brady end up getting swept away and eventually end up on another beach. They soon realize they have been swept inside Brady’s favorite movie “Wet Side Story”.
If you see only two of these movies, watch Beach Party (because it’s the original) and Teen Beach Movie (because it’s the best!)
And if you’ve managed to make it to the end of this post: I SALUTE YOU!