Almost everyone has a vague awareness of the Beach Party series, but few have actually taken the time to watch these movies. If you’re looking for a new way to escape the frigid winter cold, it might be a time to finally take the plunge. Rather than start at the top, your best bet is to go straight to Beach Blanket Bingo, the franchise’s fifth entry, which is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. (As a fan of surfing monkeys and Beatles parody, I have a mild preference for Bikini Beach, but Beach Blanket Bingo is the series’ most highly regarded and/or tolerated entry.) It may seem, strange to start so late in the series, but teen movies were far more disposable in the ‘60s, resulting in one of the most confusing franchises of all time. From one film to the next, character names change, friends become strangers, and all previous history is forgotten. So no, you don’t have to get caught up first.
 

 
Surfing takes a backseat this time around, but just about every other possibility is explored: mermaids, bikers, skydiving, kidnapping, and much more. More importantly, the songs are consistently worthwhile—even Harvey Lembeck gets an amusingly ironic musical number—and the pacing never lags, suggesting that director William Asher (I Love Lucy, Bewitched) finally mastered the Beach Party formula.
 
However, modern viewers are likely to find unintended humour in the bizarre, dysfunctional romance between Frankie (Frankie Avalon) and Dee Dee (Annette Funicello). Throughout this series, just about every woman Frankie meets falls instantly, inexplicably in love—and he rarely lets his relationship with Dee Dee get in the way. This apparent infidelity is somewhat risqué for a square teen comedy, but Frankie’s mistresses act as audience surrogates, reassuring young viewers that Avalon is always available.
 
To be honest, Dee Dee’s enthusiasm for this relationship is far more puzzling than Frankie’s wandering eye. While they are supposed to be teenagers, they behave more like a pair of retirees, enjoying long, humourless walks on the beach. Series regular Don Rickles makes light of this dynamic in one sequence, offering roasty cracks about Frankie’s age (while he was 25 at the time, Rickles jokes that he’s 40) and singing abilities. This is particularly jarring and memorable because it seems he’s speaking to the real Frankie—who is definitely not amused. Unfortunately, Rickles revises his opinion about Avalon’s singing, resulting in the film’s one undeniable musical misfire, a preemptively nostalgic crooner ode to fleeting youth that sounds like something a father might sing at a Bat Mitzvah.
 

 
The humour in the film is simultaneously creaky and refreshingly different from today’s prevailing comic sensibilities. In addition to Lembeck and Rickles, comic guests include Paul Lynde, the legendary Buster Keaton—sacrificing his dignity to play a dirty old man who chases women on the beach—and cult character actor Timothy Carey, who delivers arguably the weirdest performance of his career. But nothing could be weirder than the ramblings of a mermaid-obsessed Bonehead (formerly Deadhead). Example: “I’d like to see her slip out of something tight and into something more comfortable… like my arms.”
 
The only extra on this disc is the trailer, but if you want to dig a little deeper, Olive Films has also released Muscle Beach Party on Blu-ray. The second entry (and probably third best) in the series features some of the same staples as Beach Blanket Bingo (the irrepressible Frankie is once again on the prowl), but it meanders more and entertains less. Fortunately, even a lesser Beach Party movie has no shortage of novelty value, including appearances by surf guitar legend Dick Dale, a 14-year-old Stevie Wonder, and Candy Johnson, a woman with the power to knock people off their surfboards… with her dance moves.
 
Beach Blanket Bingo
 


 
Muscle Beach Party