In the second of American International Pictures’ (AIP’s) “Beach Party” flicks, Frankie and Annette lead their posse of hip guys and gals to the surf and sand, are opposed by muscle heads, Frankie is swayed by a glamorous foreigner, Annette gets jealous and Frankie ends up going back to her. In a nutshell, that’s the hot dog eating, wave-catching shenanigans of MUSCLE BEACH PARTY, now arriving on Blu-ray looking better than ever, courtesy of Olive Films.
In their old fashioned convertible, joyfully performing an uplifting duet (“Surfer’s Holiday”), Frankie (Frankie Avalon, THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR) and Dee Dee (Annette Funicello, FIREBALL 500) arrive to the sandy shore with their beach bum friends; surfboards, musical instruments and all. Staying at a beach house where the boys are separated from the girls by some flimsily hanging blankets, they soon discover their precious beach has been infiltrated by a string of boneheaded male bodybuilders as coached by the dopey Jack Fanny (Don Rickles, X - THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES). The “kids” and the Charles Atlas wannabes do not start out on good terms, and soon they encounter more invaders to their turf. The beautiful and wealthy Italian Contessa Juliana (Luciana Paluzzi, THE GREEN SLIME) has spotted one of Fanny’s muscle men on the cover of a magazine, instantly falling in love with him and demanding to seek him out for her own. Along with her money-handling manager S.Z. Matts (Buddy Hackett, THE LOVE BUG), they arrive on the beach (from her private ocean liner) and make a contract deal with Jack Fanny for the acquisition of the one she desires: “Mr. Galaxy” Flex Martian (Rock Stevens, aka Peter Lupus from the “Mission Impossible” series).
After the end of a chaperoned evening with the narcissistic Flex, Juliana spots Frankie (who constantly breaks the fourth wall) on the beach singing a love ballad. She quickly turns her attentions from empty-headed brawn to the smooth charms of a crooner, and with Frankie on the outs with Dee Dee (his surfing obsessions and failure to commit to marriage don’t help) they quickly become an item, much to the chagrin of S.Z. who has already drawn up the contract for Flex to become her private property. Juliana promises Frankie his own record deal, but his friends turn their back on him for his selling out and for his mistreatment of Dee Dee. Flex, Jack Fanny and their gorillas also get steamed at Frankie, as well as at Juliana and S.Z. for reneging on their deal; a fight then breaks out in the beach hangout where all the music acts perform. There’s a moral to be learned though, with Frankie seeing the error of his ways and eventually going back to Dee Dee. But you knew that would happen since Frankie and Annette would continue the series for a few more entries. Surprisingly, since he’s introduced as being a money-hungry wheeler dealer, it’s Hackett’s S.Z. who shows Juliana what a spoiled brat and man-manipulator she really is, and he wisely intervenes to prevent Frankie and his comrades from further hurt.
MUSCLE BEACH PARTY followed AIP’s highly successful BEACH PARTY (also directed by William Asher) by bringing back its two stars (Avalon and Funicello) as well as a number of the supporting characters (although Funicello was known as Dolores in the first film, here she’s called Dee Dee). While BEACH PARTY had a subplot with top-billed Robert Cummings and Dorothy Malone studying the sex habits of teenagers, MUSCLE BEACH PARTY follows the formula of just concentrating on the attractive youngsters and their antics and letting the “adult” characters be seen as bumbling idiots, cause for slapstick or providing authoritative rivalry. One thing missing from MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (but present in the previous film and all the “official” Beach Party films to follow) is the presence of Harvey Lembeck as Eric Von Zipper and his biker gang, which brought a level of charming absurdity to the series. Instead we get the mundane muscle men as opposition to our favorite characters, and they don’t do much but flex and grunt, offering way too much beefcake for those not looking for it (it would have helped if they at least put Paluzzi in a two-piece or even one-piece bathing suit at any point during the film). As the leader of these brawny fellows, Peter Lupus used the stage name “Rock Stevens” as he did when he starred in some of the later Italian “sword and sandal” epics including CHALLENGE OF THE GLADIATOR SPARTACUS, GOLIATH AT THE CONQUEST OF DAMASCUS and HERCULES AND THE TYRANTS OF BABYLON (all three of these released to television by AIP-TV). One of the other muscle men is played by Dan Haggerty, here unrecognizable from his later appearances in biker films or as his star-making turn as the bearded and rugged “Grizzly Adams” in film and television.
Aside from Frankie and Annette (who of course both sing several songs, several of them with written involvement by the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson), the film has a number of the Beach Party cast fixtures including John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Mike Nader and Candy Johnson who shakes up a go-go dancing storm. Surf guitar legend Dick Dale (and his fabulous Del-Tones) appear in the film and do several numbers, with Dale singing a duet with Donna Loren (on “Muscle Buscle”) and the group backing up Little Stevie Wonder (in his film debut) on “Happy Street” which he reprises during the end credits next to the ever-shaking Candy Johnson. Other “adult” stars include Morey Amsterdam reprising his BEACH PARTY role as madcap club owner Cappy, and Peter Turgeon (AIRPORT) as the idiot lawyer Theodore. Best of all is a surprise guest appearance by Peter Lorre as the strongest man in the world who happens to be Jack Fanny’s silent partner and Flex’s papa (always conscious of their horror cycle, AIP also cast Vincent Price and Boris Karloff in similar surprise cameos in other Beach movies). The end credits promise that Lorre will appear in the upcoming BIKINI BEACH, the next installment, but it was not to be as the actor died in March, 1964. The zany music score is provided by AIP’s in-house composer, Les Baxter.
Olive Films has licensed MUSCLE BEACH PARTY from MGM for its Blu-ray arrival, showcasing the film in full 1080p HD in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The transfer is a solid one, clean and attractive with natural-looking skin tones. Colors are spot-on and quite striking, with clear blue skies being a noticeable example, and the image boasts good depth and excellent detail. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is quite strong, offering good reproduction of dialogue, sound effects and Baxter’s score, which are all cleanly and clearly presented. There are no subtitle options or extras on the Blu-ray. (George R. Reis)
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