Muscle Beach Party (1964)

No one sits down (or should sit down) to a Beach Party film expecting anything high-brow or even challenging. These are the epitome of fluff, corniness and escapism. Title credits play out over a kooky, mildly amusing drawing of various caricatures soaking up the sun and sand then the stars of the film (Avalon and Funicello) and their cronies are shown en route to the beach. Immediately, it’s clear how times have changed as the teens are crammed into old-time convertibles with more than a few of the kids hanging onto the sides or backs of the vehicles with nary a seatbelt in sight! Without even stopping off to the bathroom to brush their teeth, the kids set up their patchwork of sleeping bags on the floor of the hacienda (with a couple of hanging blankets separating the girls from the boys!) As the gaggle of kids begins to surf and sun themselves into heaven, a parade of beefy, tan, oily bodybuilders comes out to strut their stuff. When the coach (Rickles) steps on one of the beach bums’ towels, a rivalry is kicked off with one of the teens (Ashley) unwillingly providing the demarcation line of the beach with his behind! From a fancy yacht anchored offshore, heiress Paluzzi sets her sights on the most prime slab of body-building beef (Lupus) and enlists her helper (Hackett) to secure him for her. Before she can even recover from an evening in the considerable arms of Lupus, however, she’s already moved on to scrawny, but cute Avalon, much to Funicello’s dismay. From here, things get increasingly complicated (and silly) as the film builds to an all-out fracas at Amsterdam’s night club. Naturally, it all works out in the end with everyone winding up happy. Interspersed with the shenanigans are several musical numbers, some better than others. Various songs come out of people’s mouths while their sitting on the wide open beach, yet they sound like they were recorded in the bottom of a steel barrel. Avalon is as tan and boyishly handsome as ever, even if his character can sometimes be a real lout. Funicello has a few amusingly indignant moments as she lays into Paluzzi for stealing her man. Oh, and her hair moves once or twice during the course of the film, too. Paluzzi (at about the 12 minute mark on her 15 minutes of fame) gets to wear a few fun 60’s get-ups and tries to inject a little feeling into her man-eating role. Fans of Rickles and Hackett may derive some pleasure out of seeing them in action. Rickles seems to get more opportunities to mug here than Hackett. There’s a lot of eye candy for both men and women. Lupus and his muscular friends are often seen in TIGHT satin shorts and Ashley is always cute. Funicello wears a mesh two piece that shows why IL’ Walt Disney was nervous to let her be seen in a bikini. No one anywhere, ever, danced like Johnson. She goes bananas in a couple of fringed outfits. The camera lingers occasionally on some healthy, nubile young bodies in motion. These films can provide some real surprises now that a little time has passed. For one thing, everyone assumes that these flicks are squeaky clean, and they are, but Avalon is shown smoking (Smoking!) Also, the lily white cast really tears into Paluzzi with all sorts of slurs towards her Italian background, continuously referring to pasta and pizza where she’s concerned.

Then there’s the ungodly product placement, which many people feel is a more modern hazard of the cinema. Every other frame has someone drinking or standing next to Dr. Pepper! As for the music, Wonder does an admirable job in his first film appearance, but everything that comes out of Dale’s mouth is worthless. He can’t sing and has no charisma at all. Future celebs Nader and Haggarty can be glimpsed in the beach and bodybuilder scenes, respectively. Lorre had intended to appear in the next Beach Party sequel but died before he could do so.