Party with Frankie & Annette: The 7 Official Beach Party Movies

molchanovdmitry/iStock via Getty Images
molchanovdmitry/iStock via Getty Images

In the 1960s, a unique genre of movies came into the world: the "beach party movies." The inevitable ingredients included several "teenagers" (using that term loosely), surfing, the beach, a few token adults thrown in, and, of course, a wafer-thin plot line.

The basic premise was fairly simple: a very innocent boy and girl are in love (in a wholesome way) only to encounter some threat from the outside (of the beach) world, either an adult villain, a handsome young fellow who tries to attract the girl away from the guy, or a hot-looking young chick who tries to attract the guy away from the girl.

The plot line is played out, a few songs by '60s artists are thrown in, add some slapstick gags, and a nice, simple resolution in which, above all, the guy and the girl realize that nothing can ever come between them. As simplistic and formulaic as it all sounds, the low-budget beach party movies were tremendously popular in the early to mid-1960s. Teenagers all over America flocked to see the surfing, the mildly amusing jokes and gags, and—let's be honest here—the very healthy young people in their extremely well-fitting swim suits. (The films were usually filmed in Paradise Cove in Malibu, CA, in the dead of winter to fit their future release schedule dates. The poor actors and actresses had to frolic on the beach in swimsuits, freezing in the cold weather.)

Although there were many spin-offs and rip-offs (movie makers never miss a chance to cash in on another's successful formula), the "classic" beach party films were the ones made by American-International Studios and usually directed by William Asher, a total of seven films.

1. BEACH PARTY (1963)

In 1963, Beach Party, the first official "beach party" movie, was released and became a box-office smash. It starred the most popular beach party couple: Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. (Oddly, Frankie always played a character named "Frankie," but Annette was inevitable dubbed either "Didi" or "Dolores.") Frankie was already well into his twenties when the film was made, but played a "teen" for the next several years. Annette was fresh from her days as a Mouseketeer on The Mickey Mouse Club with Walt Disney and became the epitome of the sweet, wholesome beach girl. According to Annette, old Walt was severely against her even donning a bikini, as he thought it would tarnish her image, as well as Disney's. (I can't neglect to point out the fact that Annette's bikini is hardly "skimpy;" it is hilariously big and full, almost a one-piece swimsuit with an inch or two sliced out of the middle.)

Nonetheless, the fact is that Annette, more than any other single figure, made the bikini acceptable and popular with American women and untold women and girls all over the world. From its introduction in 1946 to when Annette began donning bikinis in the beach party movies, bikini sales in America actually rose an incredible 3000 percent. The films also helped generate a huge spike in the mid-'60s in the sale of surfboards to guys.

2. MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (1964)

Beach Party was followed quickly by three more beach party films in 1964: Muscle Beach Party, Pajama Party. The first two were pretty much just more formula films starring Frankie and Annette. The main claim to fame for Muscle Beach Party is that it was the official big screen debut of "little" Stevie Wonder. The beach party films became showcases for other music legends, too, such as the Beach Boys, Little Richard, the Animals, and the Supremes.

3. BIKINI BEACH (1964)

The third movie, Bikini Beach, has a slight (very uneasy) twist: Frankie plays dual roles, that of "Frankie" and also a bizarre "rock star" known as "The Potato Bug." Obviously a take-off of the new musical sensations, The Beatles (beetles, potato bug... get the gag?), Frankie's "Potato Bug" had a mustache, glasses, and a very cheesy British accent. In the end, of course, Frankie's charm triumph's over the "threat" of "The Potato Bug" stealing Annette away.

One indispensable figure of almost all the beach party films, including Bikini Beach, was Harvey Lembeck in his memorable role as Eric Von Zipper. Lembeck, a marvelous character actor, played Von Zipper as a middle-aged satire of Marlon Brando's motorcycle-riding hood in black leather from his classic movie The Wild One (1953). As Von Zipper, Lembeck played the teens' adult nemesis, a bumbling clown who always got the worst of it in the end. He gave the films their single most memorable sight gag with "the finger," a paralyzing index finger being forced against his temple, which left him completely immobile.

4. PAJAMA PARTY (1964)

The third beach party movie of 1964, Pajama Party, is notable mainly because former Disney actor Tommy Kirk took over the "Frankie" role as Annette's boyfriend. Frankie makes only a few brief cameos, and Kirk is definitely a weak fill-in. As if poor Tommy Kirk didn't have a hard enough time fitting in, in Pajama Party he plays a Martian (!) who comes to Earth, interacts with the resident teens, and is justifiably confused. Oh, and look quickly to spot a teenaged Teri Garr as one of the girl dancers buried in the sand on the beach.

5. BEACH BLANKET BINGO (1965)

The beach party movie genre reached its apogee in 1965 with what is almost unanimously regarded as the finest beach party film, Beach Blanket Bingo. The film is both funny and, at times, quite touching. (I swear!) It features Frankie singing his best beach party song, "These are the Good Times," and also features a young Don Rickles with a glimpse of his famous insulting nightclub act. Paul Lynde acts as comedic relief and, believe it or not, the indomitable Buster Keaton is present to do a few brilliant pratfalls. (Keaton actually appeared in several of the beach party films and was, as always, brilliant and hilarious.) Also featured in the cast is a very young and drop dead gorgeous Linda Evans playing singing sensation Sugar Kane. Marta Kristen (of TV's Lost in Space) plays a mermaid named Lorelei who has a platonic romantic encounter with the beach party films' resident goofball, "Bonehead" (played by a likable Jody McCrea). Beach Blanket Bingo is a perfect time capsule of the pre-Beatles 1960s, although it premiered after their arrival in the U.S.

6. HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI (1965)

In 1965's How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Frankie appears for only 6 minutes. (He may have been getting bored; he was also growing a bit long in the tooth to play the perennial chipper "teenage" surfer boy.) In his place is Dwayne Hickman (of "Dobie Gillis" TV fame) but, like Tommy Kirk, Hickman just can't fill Frankie's shoes.

How to Stuff a Wild Bikini does give us the treat of seeing Mickey Rooney camp it up as "Peachy" Keane, an ad executive, with a very fetching Beverly Adams as his protege. According to Rooney, his agent gave him hell for accepting the role; he had been approached by American-International directly and his agent had no part of the deal. Rooney says he was paid well, hung out with a lot of fun kids, and got to listen to rock 'n' roll all day. The money he earned probably came in handy, too, as Rooney had recently declared bankruptcy.

7. GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI(1966)

The final classic beach party film was 1966's Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Though there was no Frankie, no Annette, no surfing, and no beaches, this very bizarre movie is still considered the last of the "beach party" films. Featuring the great Boris Karloff in one of his final roles, the movie is about a bikini-sporting ghost who is a guardian angel to the female lead, Deborah Walley. Walley and Tommy Kirk replace Frankie and Annette, who had, by this time, outgrown their "Frankie and Dolores" roles. This "golden turkey" is pleasant only for the lonely guys who want to stare at a gorgeous ghost running around in a bikini. (OK, guilty as charged.)

With Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, the end of the beach party movies had finally arrived.

Rewind Time With This Blockbuster-Themed Party Game

Amazon/Big Potato Games
Amazon/Big Potato Games

With only one Blockbuster location left in the world, the good old days of wandering video rental store aisles and getting chewed out for late fees are definitely a thing of the past—but like so many relics from the '90s, the pull of nostalgia has ensured that Blockbuster (or at least the brand) won't disappear for good. Now the video store is back in the form of a party game from Big Potato Games that is designed to test the movie knowledge of you and up to 11 friends.

Marketing itself as “a movie game for anyone who has ever seen a movie,” the Blockbuster party game consists of two parts. In part one, players from each team compete head-to-head to name as many movies as they can that fit under specific categories (e.g., movies with Tom Cruise, famous trilogies, movies with planes). In the second half, two teams face off against each other to test their skills at a game of movie-related charades. The catch? Players can only describe movies in one of three randomly chosen ways: acting out scenes, rattling off a famous quote, or describing the films with one word.

The real selling point of the whole package is that Big Potato fit all the game cards and buzzer into a box that is virtually identical to the old-school Blockbuster VHS rental cases, right down to its distinct color scheme and shape. All it's missing is the membership card. 

The Blockbuster board game costs $26 on Amazon and $20 at Target. That’s a fair price for getting the chance to rewind time.

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8 Festive Facts About Hallmark Channel Christmas Movies

The holiday season means gifts, lavish meals, stocking stuffers, and what appear to be literally hundreds of holiday-themed movies running in perpetuity on the Hallmark Channel, which has come to replace footage of a crackling fireplace as the background noise of choice for cozy evenings indoors. Last year, roughly 70 million people watched Hallmark's holiday scheduling block. If you’re curious how the network manages to assemble films like Check Inn to Christmas, Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays, and Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen with such efficiency—a total of 40 new films will debut this season on the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and Hallmark Movies Now—keep reading.

1. The Hallmark Channel Christmas movie tradition started with ABC.

The idea of unspooling a continuous run of holiday films started in the 1990s, when ABC offshoot network ABC Family started a "25 Days of Christmas" programming promotion that would go on to feature the likes of Joey Lawrence and Mario Lopez. The Hallmark Channel, which launched in 2001, didn’t fully embrace the concept until 2011, when ABC Family moved away from the concept in an effort to appeal to teen viewers.

2. Most Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are shot in Canada.

To maximize their $2 million budget, most Hallmark Channel holiday features are shot in Canada, where tax breaks can stretch the dollar. Wintry Vancouver is a popular destination, though films have also been shot in Montreal and Toronto. One film, 2018's Christmas at the Palace, was shot in Romania to take advantage of the country's castles.

3. Each Hallmark Channel Christmas movie only takes a couple of weeks to film.

If you’re wondering why a holiday movie on basic cable can regularly attract—and keep—a list of talent ranging from Candace Cameron Bure to Lacey Chabert, the answer is partly scheduling. Most Hallmark holiday movies take just two to three weeks to shoot, meaning actors don’t have to commit months out of the year to a project. Actors like Rachael Leigh Cook, who stars in this year's A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas, have also complimented the channel on giving them opportunities to be with their families while on location: Cook said that the production schedule allowed her time to FaceTime with family back home.

4. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies use a variety of tricks to create snow.

Even more pervasive than Dean Cain in the Hallmark Channel Christmas line-up is snow. Because some of the films shoot in the summer, it’s not always possible to achieve that powder naturally. Producers use a variety of tricks to simulate snowfall, including snow blankets that mimic the real thing when laid out; foam; commercial replica snow; crushed limestone; and ice shavings. Actors might also get covered with soapy bubbles for close-ups. The typical budget for snow per movie is around $50,000.

5. There’s a psychological reason why Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are so addictive.

Like a drug, Hallmark Channel Christmas movies provide a neurological reward. Speaking with CNBC in 2019, Pamela Rutledge, behavioral scientist, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, and a faculty member in the Media Psychology department at Fielding Graduate University, explained that the formulaic plots and predictability of the films is rewarding, especially when viewers are trying to unwind from the stress of the holiday season. “The lack of reality at all levels, from plot to production, signals that the movies are meant to be escapism entertainment,” Rutledge said. “The genre is well-defined, and our expectations follow. This enables us to suspend disbelief.”

6. Hallmark Channel Christmas movie fans now have their own convention.

Call it the Comic-Con of holiday cheer. This year, fans of Hallmark Channel’s Christmas programming got to attend ChristmasCon, a celebration of all things Hallmark in Edison, New Jersey. Throngs of people gathered to attend panels with movie actors and writers, scoop up merchandise, and vie for prizes during an ugly sweater competition. The first wave of $50 admission tickets sold out instantly. Hallmark Channel USA was the official sponsor.

7. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are helping keep cable afloat.

Actors Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas are pictured in a publicity still from the 2017 Hallmark Channel original movie 'Miss Christmas'
Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas in Miss Christmas (2017).
Hallmark Channel

In an era of cord-cutting and streaming apps, more and more people are turning away from cable television, preferring to queue up programming when they want it. But viewers of Hallmark Channel’s holiday offerings often tune in as the movie is airing. In 2016, 4 million viewers watched the line-up “live.” One reason might be the communal nature of the films. People tend to watch holiday-oriented programming in groups, tuning in as they air. The result? For the fourth quarter of 2018, the Hallmark Channel was the most-watched cable network among women 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, even outpacing broadcast network programming on Saturday nights.

8. You can get paid to watch Hallmark Channel Christmas movies.

If you think you have the constitution to make it through 24 Hallmark Channel holiday films in 12 days, you might want to consider applying for the Hallmark Movie Dream Job contest, which is sponsored by Internet Service Partners and will pay $1000 to the winning entrant who seems most capable of binging the two dozen films and making wry comments about them on social media. You can enter though December 6 here.

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