Sunday 14 January 2007

Bikini Beach (1964)

While William Asher wasn't directing dubious yet fascinating science fiction films like The 27th Day, it seems he was making things like this for American International. They were the one of the more important low budget studios to make movies quickly and cheaply, that capitalised on whatever trend happened to have leapt out at the time. Apparently the mid sixties were the right time for beach movies and there were naturally a huge amount of them, possibly all of which were varying degrees of awful.

I've seen one of them, Beach Blanket Bingo, which was frankly terrible. Stars Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello may have been the in thing at the time but they're certainly nothing beyond laughable now to anyone who isn't wallowing in the nostalgia of it. The only decent thing in it was Buster Keaton showing up every now and again to show the kids how it was really done. This is better by virtue of being such an awful train wreck that it's impossible not to watch it. There's also some hidden influence here that makes it far more important than it really has any right to be.

This one was made a year earlier, still with both Frankie and Annette (and most of the supporting cast), but Frankie gets a second role as Potato Bug, a horrendously stereotyped English singer and drag racer that surely must have been a major influence on Mike Myers when he came up with Austin Powers. It all has to be seen to be believed, especially as Austin Powers was an intentional joke. Then there's Harvey Lembeck, as Erich von Zipper, a Brando-esque biker who runs a gang called the Rats and Mice, where the guys are rats and the girls are mice. He's a complete moron and is almost as much of a train wreck as the Potato Bug. There's Don Rickles, a modern artist called Big Drag who has a talking falcon, which is as ludicrous as it sounds, and who also runs both the local teen hangout bar and the local drag strip too. Busy man, huh?

Then there are the guests, who steal plenty of the movie. This time there's Keenan Wynn as millionaire Harvey Huntington Honeywagon III, who wants to prove that his pet chimp is just as bright as the kids on the beach, and especially Janos Prohaska as Clyde the Ape himself. Yep, Clyde, who dances and surfs and drives and breaks the world speed record in drag racing. About the only thing he doesn't do is make right turns. There's Candy Johnson, playing Candy and thus presumably herself, as a go go dancer who can knock people down from a distance with the swish of her hips.

There's Timothy Carey as pool player South Dakota Slim, who hangs out in a joint with Adolf Hitler on the wall and Val Warren in the corner, playing a quote Teenage Werewolf Monster unquote. There's art dealer Boris Karloff, who doesn't speaks or turn his face to the camera until the very end of the film and then only to throw a couple of jokes our way that explain his entire presence. There's even Little Stevie Wonder, before he stopped being little.

It's atrocious, pure and simple, but somehow I couldn't stop watching, and this is certainly far more watchable than Beach Blanket Bingo. It isn't boring though, in the slightest. It has about everything you could imagine from mid sixties pop culture, even a music score by Les Baxter and Candy Johnson teaching go go dancing to some old woman while the end credits roll. It's a riot, for all the good and bad that implies.

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