Beach Blanket Bummers: SURF PARTY and WILD ON THE BEACH

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American International Pictures created a whole new film genre with the release of BEACH PARTY (1964). The formula was simple: take a group of attractive youngsters and put them on a beach with plenty of sand, surfing, and singing. Add in some romance and comedy. Sprinkle with veteran character actors and the latest pop idols and voila! Hollywood took notice of AIP’s success and studios big and small grabbed their surfboards trying to ride the box-office waves. 20th Century Fox was the first to jump on the hodad-wagon with SURF PARTY (1964), followed quickly by WILD ON THE BEACH (1965).

SURF PARTY begins with beautiful coeds Terry, Sylvia, and Junior arriving from Arizona to the California coast for some summertime fun. Terry (Patricia Morrow of PEYTON PLACE fame) has a brother named Skeet who heads a local gang of surfers called The Lodge. The girls meet surfing instructor Len (pop crooner Bobby Vinton) who gives them lessons and falls for Terry. Lodge wannabe Milo tries to run the pier, despite warnings from police Sgt. Neal (Richard Crane, TV’s ROCKY JONES SPACE RANGER). Neal threatens to close the beach to surfers if these dangerous antics continue. Milo busts his shoulder crashing into a pylon, but sympathetic Junior (singer Jackie DeShannon) sticks by his side. The gang hangs out at Casey’s Surfer, where bands The Routers and The Astronauts play Ventures rip-offs. Sylvia (Lory Patrick, best known as Disney star Dean Jones’s wife) has eyes for Skeet. He throws a party which ends up in a fight between him and Len. Skeet eventually gets his comeuppance, and the girls go back to Arizona supposedly older but wiser.

The problem with SURF PARTY is the film takes itself waaay too seriously. It plays like a throwback to the old 50s hot rod movies, with surfing replacing cars. The black and white cinematography doesn’t do much for the California background, but the music’s okay, with Vinton in especially fine voice on “If I Were An Artist”.

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While SURF PARTY strives to be dramatic, WILD ON THE BEACH thinks it’s funny. It’s not. To call the humor ‘strained’ is like saying Andre the Giant was kinda tall. Also photographed in black and white, this one focuses on the antics of Adam (minor singer Frankie Randall) and his pals when they’re forced to share a beach house with Lee (Sherry Jackson of MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY) and her friends because of a housing shortage in their seaside college town. Dean Parker is suspicious of “‘hanky-panky” going on at the house and sends his bumbling assistant Terwilliger to investigate. Living next door is record producer Shep Kirby (character actor Russ Bender, who even sings a country ditty called “Yellow Haired Woman”). When Shep hears a recording of The Astronauts (yep, they’re back), he’s eager to sign them up. Then the dean and his sidekick pull an early morning raid and catch the coeds cohabitating. Expulsions are threatened, but Shep saves the kids by offering his pad to the guys, and the girls can stay at the beach house. Everybody’s happy and dance away to The Astronauts tune “Little Speedy Gonzales”.

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The only thing notable about this turkey is the screen debut of Sonny & Cher singing “It’s Gonna Rain”. Otherwise WILD ON THE BEACH is completely forgettable. Both films were directed by Maury Dexter, a low-budget hack whose only interesting movie was THE MINI-SKIRT MOB, about a gang of female biker on the loose. The two flicks have all the trappings of the AIP beach epics, but none of the charm. Where’s Frankie and Annette when we need them? Not to mention the great Eric Von Zipper!!!

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