Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Sea, Feet, and Boards Between

It's summertime, folks, so it's time once again to ponder the unfathomable mystery of teenagers on the beach. 1963's Beach Party introduced movie goers to the patron deities of the beach in the guises of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. At first foregrounded as though intended to be the main characters, they quickly recede to just beyond the grasp of the film's true protagonist, the unrelentingly idiosyncratic Professor Sutwell (Bob Cummings). The adult filmmakers invite teenagers to enjoy the goofy yet impossibly skilled grownup who is fascinated by their every move in this entertaining musical.

The only halfway memorable song is also the only one Avalon and Funicello peform together, in the film's opening, "Beach Party To-night", as their characters Frankie and Dolores drive to the beach. He's hoping to be alone with her but becomes somewhat alarmingly enraged when he finds she's invited the whole gang to stay with them at the beach house.

This begins a drama that continues throughout the film where he tries to make her jealous by giving his attentions to Marilyn Monroe look-alike Eve Six and Dolores meanwhile makes time with Professor Sutwell (Bob Cummings).

Sutwell, in his cabin, watches the kids through telescopes and records their conversations with special equipment. His beard and glasses, which prompt constant mockery, are accompanied by carefully calculated bizarre wardrobe.

He's supposed to be ridiculous and yet his totally out there dogi was given to him by the chief of the Tokyo fire department. He's been all over the world, he can fly a plane, he almost instantly becomes an expert surfer, and he's able, with a light touch of a finger, to paralyse a greaser who was trying to molest Dolores.

This greaser (Harvey Lembeck), the leader of a gang, is dressed like Brando but spends the movie doing a Lou Costello impression. And, unlike Sutwell, he's a complete failure at everything he attempts. Really, kids, every one of your subcultures just can't measure up to your elders. But any teen girl with her heart set on Sutwell would have to compete with his assistant played by Dorothy Malone who could've used more screen time in this film. For her brief moments she's a delightfully sharp foil.

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