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Beach Party (1963)

Since the mid-‘50s, independent studio American International Pictures (AIP) had specialized in movies for the drive-in market, which mostly consisted of teenagers. Juvenile delinquent dramas and horror films were among their specialties, and many of them included musical numbers. When writer and future producer Lou Rusoff decided to mix the two genres and play it for laughs in Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959), an idea was born. Why not do a teen musical and let it laugh at itself? The result was a hit that spawned an eponymous subgenre—the beach party film—with six follow-ups at AIP over the next two years.

In Beach Party, written and co-produced by Rusoff, three divergent groups collide. Frankie (Frankie Avalon), Dolores (Annette Funicello), and their friends just want to hang out at the beach and have fun. Anthropologist Professor Sutwell (Bob Cummings) and his colleague (Dorothy Malone) want to study the teens’ mating habits. And Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his motorcycle gang, the Ratz and the Mice, want to get in on the action. They lock horns, change partners (mostly to make their true loves jealous, so nothing really happens), surf, and frequently break out in song.

The film set the pattern for later beach movies, with young stars like Avalon and Funicello mixing it up with established stars like Cumming and Malone and comics like Lembeck and Morey Amsterdam, who runs the kids’ favorite hangout. Landing Funicello, on loan from Disney, was a coup that also helped shape the films. Uncle Walt insisted the script eschew overt sex and violence (a rumor persists that he wouldn’t even let them show her navel). But that gave the series an innocent charm that still draws audiences.

d. William Asher, 98 minutes, Digital

Courtesy of MGM and Park Circus LLC


Arrive early for a special themed book signing, with Beach Party-themed collectibles available, and to enjoy a free wine tasting courtesy of the TCM Wine Club (must be 21 or over).