Summer's here and young surfers Frankie (Frankie Avalon) and his girlfriend Dolores (Annette Funicello) are driving up to the beach house they have rented, where Frankie is looking forward to getting Dolores alone. However, when they arrive and Frankie strolls into the house, he is dismayed to trip over his friend Deadhead (Jody McCrea), and he's not the only one there as Dolores has invited all their mates along to make the vacation more of a party. Frankie is deeply annoyed as he hoped he would be getting pretty far with Dolores over the next few days, yet Dolores wants him to take her seriously, even considering marriage, and they fall out. So how can they make each other jealous enough to want to take each other back?
Well, the real life surfers didn't like it, but Beach Party was the first in a line of big successes for budget film studio American International, successes that pretty much evaporated before the decade was even over. Written by co-producer Lou Russoff, it set out the template for the following films, with teen idol singer Frankie and Disney icon Annette's on-off-on again romance at the heart of them, and various older stars (I hesitate to call them has-beens) to provide celebrity wattage. Here, those older stars are Robert Cummings as Professor Sutwell and Dorothy Malone as his assistant Marianne, crowbarred into the plot as the professor is conducting a survey on the sex lives of young people, observing them through a telescope from his own beach house.
If this sounds more like an eighties sex comedy along the lines of Porky's, then rest assured that the tone is kept entirely innocent, innocent to the point of idiocy in fact. Both Frankie and Dolores must have a character to make their partner jealous, so Frankie is awarded voluptuous Hungarian waitress Ava (Eva Six), guaranteed to have Dolores grumpily pouting, and Dolores is awarded, erm, Professor Sutwell. She is impressed with his good manners, unaware that he is only interested in conducting research, so when he saves her from over-amorous biker Eric Von Zipper (series regular Harvey Lembeck, then - and perhaps now - best known for being Sergeant Bilko's right hand man) with "time suspension" techniques, she is happy to spend time with him. Which is guaranteed to have Frankie scowling.
Setting out a pattern, the most tiresome aspect of these films is the way that the two leads never seem to get on until the last act, which makes you wonder what they ever see in each other until you realise that they're counterparts in personality. What is more entertaining is the way that the film appropriates various aspects of youth culture of the time and puts them to good use: there's the just-out-of-fashion beatniks led by Cappy (Morey Amsterdam), the cartoonish Hell's Angels led by Von Zipper (catchphrase: "You stoopid!"), and of course the surfers, although the surfing we see them take part in is on the world's smallest waves and not only that, but plainly performed by doubles. The back projection utilised here won't fool anyone that Avalon is riding his board, but in a way, that's part of the campy appeal. You could take the message of this to be honest with your girlfriend or boyfriend, but from the Professor's angle you could also take it that you can't expect to observe without becoming part of the culture you're examining. All this and Dick Dale too! Music by Les Baxter. And wait around to hear "Big Daddy" speak.