Back to the Beach: MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (AIP 1964)

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The “Beach Party ” gang’s back and so’s the familiar formula in MUSCLE BEACH PARTY, second in the American-International series. It’s Easter vacation and Frankie Avalon is still horny, Annette Funicello’s still waiting for marriage, and a beautiful foreign woman is again coming between them. This time it’s Lucianna Paluzzi as Countess Julie, a rich heiress who wants to make Frankie a singing star and her personal property.

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Eric Von Zipper and his Rats aren’t around this time, replaced by a bunch of bodybuilders led by trainer Jack Fanny (the inimitable Don Rickles). Julie first sets her sights on “Mr. Galaxy” Flex Martian, but dumps him when she spies Frankie. This leads to war between the surfers and the musclemen, with the inevitable slapstick melee. Flex is played by Rock Stevens, a real-life bodybuilder who muscled his way through a few Italian peplum films before reverting to his real name of Peter Lupus and co-starring in the long-running TV series MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.

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The gang’s all here: John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Candy Johnson, Valora Noland, and Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. Alberta Nelson, usually one of Von Zipper’s Mice, is cast as one of the muscle girls. Newcomer Donna Loren makes her series debut singing “Muscle Bustle” with Dale and company. Miss Loren was spokesperson for Dr. Pepper soda, and the soft drink is prominently featured in some scenes… coincidence? I think not!

Rickles made his first of four series appearances as Fanny, although always in different roles. He’s Big Drag in BIKINI BEACH, Big Bang in PAJAMA PARTY, and Big Drop in BEACH BLANKET BINGO. Morey Amsterdam returns as Cappy, owner of the gang’s hangout. Comic Buddy Hackett is Julie’s business manager S.Z., and Peter Turgeon, primarily a stage actor who once played Dr. Woodward on DARK SHADOWS, is her hapless lawyer Theodore. 13-year-old Stevie Wonder makes his film debut jamming with Dick Dale and the Del-Tones on “Happy Street”:

There’s some fun with Frankie Avalon constantly breaking the Forth Wall, California surf artist Michael Dormer’s opening cartoon credits, and plenty of cool surfing footage. Beach Boy Brian Wilson co-wrote six of the tunes to add some authenticity. The most fun for film buffs is undoubtably the surprise cameo by Peter Lorre as Mr. Strangdour,  the silent partner of Jack Fanny’s  bodybuilders (“he bends things”), at the movie’s conclusion. A tag line at the end touts Lorre’s next appearance in BIKINI BEACH, but alas it wasn’t to be. After making Jerry Lewis’ THE PATSY, Lorre died on March 23, 1964, ending a great screen career.

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MUSCLE BEACH PARTY isn’t as good as BEACH PARTY, but sequels rarely top the originals. The formula was already in place for the series, and would continue right up to GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, the final film. While certainly not high cinematic art, the “Beach Party” series are goofball drive-in flicks designed for viewers to shut off their brains for an hour and a half and enjoy a few summertime laughs. And honestly, what more can you ask for out of a drive-in flick than that?

Something Funny Going On: IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (United Artists 1963)

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If I was forced to make a list of Top Ten favorite movies, IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD would definitely make the cut. Featuring a veritable Who’s Who of comedy, this film (like The Dirty Dozen) has been often imitated, but never duplicated. TCM ran it in prime time last night, and after watching the horrors unfolding in Paris on the news channels, I figured I could use a good laugh. IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD never fails to disappoint in that department!

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The plot is simple: a car goes flying off the road and crashes. Four parties get out of their vehicles to inspect the scene. The dying driver, Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) tells them about $350,000 in cash buried in Santa Rosita Park “under the Big W”, then kicks the bucket (literally). The four parties decide to find the dough and split it, but greed gets the best of them and the race is on! Unbeknownst to them all is they’re being watched by Captain Culpepper (Spencer Tracy), who has reasons of his own to find the hidden loot. From there, we go to a series of comedic incidents as each seperate party gets caught in slapstick situations on their way to claim the money for themselves:

Title: IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD ¥ Pers: ADAMS, EDIE / CAESAR, SID / ADAMS, EDIE / CAESAR, SID ¥ Year: 1963 ¥ Dir: KRAMER, STANLEY ¥ Ref: ITS003BP ¥ Credit: [ UNITED ARTISTS / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]
Title: IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD ¥ Pers: ADAMS, EDIE / CAESAR, SID / ADAMS, EDIE / CAESAR, SID ¥ Year: 1963 ¥ Dir: KRAMER, STANLEY ¥ Ref: ITS003BP ¥ Credit: [ UNITED ARTISTS / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]
Dentist Melville Crump and wife Monica (Sid Caesar, Edie Adams) take a harrowing ride on a dilapidated bi-plane to get ahead of the game. They get themselves locked in a hardware store basement while trying to get picks and shovels, and wind up having to blast their way out with “a little” dynamite.

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Buddies Benji and Dingy (Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney), having been beaten to the plane rental by the Crumps, make their way to an airport and rent a ride from a drunken millionaire (Jim Backus) who promptly passes out, causing the pair to learn to pilot the plane on the fly, with help from tower control veteran Colonel Wilberforce (Paul Ford).

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J. Russel Finch (Milton Berle), travelling with his wife Emmaline (Dorothy Provine) and shrewish mother-in-law Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman), after their car is totalled by trucker Pike (Jonathan Winters), hook up with Englishman Algernon Hawthorne (Terry-Thomas). After the loudmouthed Mrs. Marcus is “assaulted” and stranded by Finch and Hawthorne, she calls in her son, dimwitted surfer and all around mama’s boy Sylvester (Dick Shawn).

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Pike is forced to ride down the highway on “a girl’s bike”, until he comes across Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers).  Meyer leaves the hulking Pike stranded after learning about the treasure, and when Pike catches up to him at a gas station, Meyer tells the attendants (Arnold Stang, Marvin Kaplan) Pike’s an escaped lunatic. The proprietors attempt to restrain Pike, who angrily demolishes their gas station!

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Meanwhile, Meyer gets stuck in a ravine after giving an Indian a lift. His car destroyed, he flags down a driver (Don Knotts) and tells the man he’s a spy on the run, stealing his car in the process.

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Everyone makes it to the park and search for the Big W, including a couple of cab drivers (Peter Falk, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson). Pike chases after the conniving Meyer, and spots the Big W (a cluster of four curved palm trees). The group digs, digs, digs, finally hitting upon Smiler’s stolen money. Culpepper shows up and tells the group he’s confiscating the cash, urging them all to turn themselves in. They agree, but when Culpepper takes a turn off the route to the police station, they realize he’s grabbing the ill-gotten gains for himself, and the chase is on again!

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Spencer Tracy mugs it up with the best of the comics as Culpepper. All of these seasoned pros are on their game, but for me Ethel Merman steals the show as the obnoxious Mrs. Marcus. Producer/Director Stanley Kramer pulled out all the stops for this zany epic, and hired the best of Hollywood’s funnymen in small roles and cameos. (I’ll list a few at the end of this post). IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD is just what the doctor ordered to take away a case of the blues, for three hours anyway. As for me, I’m off to a stage performance of DRACULA tonight, but will return tomorrow to look at a darker cinematic gem: 1947’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY.

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