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The wave of youth-oriented films produced by American International Pictures, beginning with Beach Party (1963) starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, created a veritable tsunami of like-minded surf-and-turf extravaganzas. Recognizing the potential for profit, the major studios crashed the party, with Twentieth Century Fox contributing Surf Party (1964) with Bobby Vinton, Columbia offering Ride the Wild Surf (1964) with Fabian and Shelley Fabares and Paramount turning in The Girls on the Beach (1965), which boasted music from the Beach Boys, and Beach Ball (1965), which added The Supremes and the Righteous Brothers to its lineup of contractually obligated recording artists. Having fairly exhausted its possibilities by 1965, AIP branched off to find additional G-rated fun in other climes, setting Ski Party (1965) for the most part in a ski lodge in Idaho's Sun Valley. Not a proper sequel to the Beach Party films, Ski Party nevertheless marks the return of Frankie and Annette, albeit with Frankie playing a new character and Annette relegated to a peek-a-boo cameo as a college professor who advocates "Fun Without Sex" but is later seen necking with one of her students.
Dwayne Hickman had subbed for Avalon that same year in How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965), in which Avalon (in Dutch at the time with AIP over salary negotiations) was squeezed to one side of the action in a microscopic subplot set on a Pacific atoll. Avalon and Hickman share star status in Ski Party, as a Some Like It Hot (1959) pair of mischievous tearaways who pass themselves off as women to determine precisely why their prospective girlfriends (former big screen Gidget Deborah Walley and future Batgirl Yvonne Craig) prefer the company of Nordic lunkhead Aron Kincaid to theirs. The feature film debut of longtime TV director Alan Rafkin (who went from this to a triptych of Don Knotts comedies), Ski Party is for all its packed powder Beach Party boiler plate, down to the familiar faces (including "gang" members Mike Nader, Bobbi Shaw, Patti Chandler and Salli Sachse, as well as surfing phenom Mickey Dora), ill-fated schemes, and such chart-topping guest artists as James Brown, Lesley Gore and the Hondells.
Lacking the bare skin quotient of its surfside predecessors (apart from a brief poolside sing-a-long and a Malibu wrap-up, the cast spends most of the film wrapped in warm layers from mandible to Achilles tendon), Ski Party tries to curry the favor of horny teenagers by staging a slumber party and girl-on-girl pillow fight, to which dragged out stars Avalon and Hickman gain surreptitious access. Elsewhere, screenwriter Robert Kaufman labors to imbue the plot with topicality, name-dropping the newly funded Medicare program and the then-recent "Ban the Bomb" movement while alluding coyly to My Fair Lady and tossing a barb (in an early scene set at a drive-in movie showing a dubbed Italian film) at "that 35 year-old sexpot" - most likely Swedish film star Anita Ekberg. Arthur E. Arling's Panavision cinematography gives the locations of the Sawtooth National Forest true splendor, with the result being that Ski Party often resembles a German youth picture - specifically Joachim Hasler's Heier Sommer (Hot Summer, 1968), which similarly folded vacationing groups of boys and girls into its musical-comedy mix.
Shipped out for general release in October 1965 in tandem with the AIP service comedy Sergeant Deadhead (1965), also starring Avalon and Walley, Ski Party found little favor with the critics. Audience response was similarly cool - so much so that AIP and producers James Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff aborted plans for a seafaring follow up titled Cruise Party that they had felt bold enough to broach in Ski Party's closing credits. Columbia Pictures' near identical Winter-a-Go-Go (1965), which trailed Ski Party to the cinema by two weeks, likewise failed to spark a vogue for youth-oriented skiing films. The European Ski Fever (1966), a coproduction of West Germany, Czechoslovakia and the United States, directed in Austria by Curt Siodmak and starring ex-Route 66/future Adam-12 star Martin Milner, went unreleased in America until 1969 - the year Dick Barrymore's The Last of the Ski Bums attempted to become the alpine equivalent of Bruce Brown's classic surfumentary The Endless Summer (1966).
Producer: Gene Corman
Executive Producers: James H. Nicholson, Samuel Z. Arkoff
Director: Alan Rafkin
Writer: Robert Kaufman
Music: Gary Usher
Cinematographer: Arthur E. Arling
Cast: Frankie Avalon (Todd Armstrong), Dwayne Hickman (Craig Gamble), Deborah Walley (Linda Hughes), Yvonne Craig (Barbara Norris), Robert Q. Lewis (Mr. Pevney), Bobbi Shaw (Nita), Aron Kincaid (Freddy), Steve Rogers (Gene), Patti Chandler (Janet), Michael Nader (Bobby), Salli Sachse (Indian), Mickey Dora (Mickey), James Brown and the Famous Flames (Themselves), Lesley Gore (Herself), The Hondells (Themselves), Dick Miller (Cab Driver), Annette Funicello (Professor Sonya Roberts).
by Richard Harland Smith