I’m a little ashamed at how much I enjoyed watching Beach Party (dir. William Asher, 1963), which is credited as being the original surf-and-sex teeny-bopper comedy, released by American International Pictures, the production company managed by James Nicholson and Samuel Arkoff that churned out an endless stream of drive-in fare in the early ’60s. (These included the legendary Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by Roger Corman, starring Vincent Price—who incidentally has a cameo in Beach Party.) As annoying as Frankie and Annette may be here, I’ll admit that Robert Cummings’ performance as a wonky (and presumably virginal) anthropologist inspires genuine laughter; watching him, it occurred to me that the writers of Wet Hot American Summer (2001) may have had him in mind in creating David Hyde Pierce’s part for that film. And Beach Party’s color palette is so gorgeously pop (just look at the screen grab above) that it almost makes one wish that today’s crappy teen comedies at least bothered to, you know, look pretty. There’s a wonderful sense of innocent dumbness in this movie—it’s uncomplicatedly happy about the simple juvenile pleasures it touts, and there’s not a whiff of cynicism to be found here.
Speaking of guilty pleasures, I’ll be writing about many more this summer as I continue working my way chronologically up to present-day cinema. I should warn readers that in addition to weighing in on “legitimate” classics of the 1960s and ’70s (think All the President’s Men, Eric Rohmer’s Perceval, etc.) I’ll be putting particular emphasis on all manner of cinematic trash (think everyone from Russ Meyer and George Kuchar to Flesh Gordon and Caligula). The late 1960s and 1970s, commonly considered the Golden Age of American cinema, were also a Golden Age of cult, camp, and exploitation films, and they’ll be well represented here this summer. I’m looking forward to it!