powered by AFI
Make no mistake, Winter a-Go-Go (1965) bears a title that could only have appeared in the 1960s. The Columbia Pictures release arrived mid-decade, as one of the spin-offs of the popular "Beach Party" genre of youth musicals. By 1965, the form - popularized by American-International Pictures' famed Frankie (Avalon) and Annette (Funicello) series - was winding down as other studios, other young leads, and even locations other than the beach were coming into play. If anything, these later examples of the cycle emphasized the outlandish and exploitive even more than did their predecessors. As Thomas Lisanti writes (in Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave 1959-1969, McFarland & Company, Inc. 2005), "...of all the beach party films, this is the campiest with its scantily clad dancing Winter a-Go-Go girls, to James Stacy singing 'Hip Square Dance' in his pajamas to the bitchy barbs thrown out by ambiguous gay Roger to an impromptu wedding finale."
While other winter-based Beach Party offshoots have at least a token scene set on the beach, Winter a-Go-Go heads for the slopes almost immediately. The pre-credits sequence offers the viewer an indication of the level of sophistication that can be expected for the following 88 minutes, as slide-whistle sound effects accompany shots of sexy-legged young women reporting to an interview in a Los Angeles office building. The ladies wish to join the staff at the Snow Mountain Lodge at Heavenly Valley. Jeff Forrester (William Wellman Jr.) has inherited the lodge and intends to reopen it with his friend Danny Frazer (James Stacy). Jeff and Danny make no bones about hiring the girls strictly for their looks; the qualifications they inquire about don't extend beyond measurements and dancing ability. The scene then shifts to the snow-covered location under the opening credits and catchy title tune, performed by The Hondells (sloppily misspelled as "Hondell's" during the end credits). There is precious little plot beyond the credits: the lodge is in disrepair so the gang (including such fan-favorite 60s starlets as Beverly Adams, Jill Donohue and Julie Parrish) spruce it up, Jeff and Danny hire an Asian cook named "Cholly" (H. T. Tsiang, whose half-witted giggles and antics make Mickey Rooney's performance in Breakfast at Tiffany's  seem restrained), and ski bums Burt (John Anthony Hayes) and Will (Buck Holland) turn up to sabotage the lodge on behalf of a crooked mortgage holder. The majority of the running time is not hindered by plot, instead highlighting skiing scenes, music acts, and many shots of girls dancing in bikinis, girls dancing in ski outfits, and girls dancing in skimpy Santa suits.
Winter a-Go-Go came about because Mike Frankovich of Columbia Pictures had seen producer Reno Carell's independent release A Swingin' Summer (1965) and told Carell that Columbia would distribute a follow-up featuring the same stars, James Stacy and William Wellman, Jr. While it did not end up as a sequel, the working title of Winter a-Go-Go was, in fact, A Swingin' Winter. The female leads cast opposite Stacy and Wellman were drawn from the ranks of Columbia Pictures contract players. Julie Parrish commented on the film (in an interview in Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema, McFarland & Company, Inc. 2001), saying, "The only thing I didn't like about making this movie was that it was filmed during the winter in Lake Tahoe and we had outdoor bikini scenes. We would be shaking and turning blue with blankets draped on us waiting for the shot to be set up. But when the director yelled action, I'd forget I was freezing and really pretend it was warm. It was amazing!"
Winter a-Go-Go is highlighted by some gorgeous location and ski footage, shot in Heavenly Valley on Lake Tahoe, and in the Eldorado National Forest. Wellman was one among several of the major cast members who did not know how to ski. The producers gave him two weeks of ski instruction prior to shooting, but as he told Lisanti, "those were the days of the big long skis and snowplow turns. I practically took out an entire ski class coming down the hill one time - crashed right into them. Luckily no one including me got hurt. At that point we decided that I didn't have enough time to learn to ski so they hired Loren Janes, who was Steve McQueen's stunt man for 22 years, to double for me in those scenes and a portion of the fight scenes."
Domenic Priore, writing in Marshall Crenshaw's Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock 'n' Roll in the Movies, calls Winter a-Go-Go "...perhaps the most incidental of all of the Beach Party-inspired films," but he notes that an appearance of the rarely-revived film on television "...can still cause a buzz." He adds, "plenty of cool-lookin' go-go dancers in red ski bikinis jiggle to Hal Blaine's drum beat. (This carries the film)." Priore refers here to Los Angeles-based session drummer Hal Blaine, part of the fabled "Wrecking Crew" of session guys who played on a huge percentage of hits that came out of the L.A. sound from producers like Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. Aside from The Hondells, the soundtrack for Winter a-Go-Go is sadly lacking in familiar names. The Nooney Rickett Four (who also appeared in Bikini Beach, 1964) show up to perform "Ski City", written by Howard Greenfield and Jack Keller, who also penned the title track and "King of the Mountain" - a ballad performed by Joni Lyman. Lyman is introduced in the film as the "newest Colgems artist"; Colgems being the record label and music publishing arm of Screen Gems-Columbia Pictures. Two young songwriters working in the Colgems stable were Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who contribute to two snappy numbers in the film, both performed by James Stacy: "Do the Ski (with Me)" and "Hip Square Dance".
Winter a-Go-Go did well at the box office but earned only lukewarm reviews at best. Writing in The Hollywood Reporter, James Powers noted that "the action in Winter a-Go-Go is about equally divided between twisting at the hotel and ski action on the nearby slopes. [Producer] Carell is... addicted to what might be called the revolving butt shot, a close-up, from the rear. It's kind of funny once, but gets tiresome the forth or fifth time." Writing for the New York Herald Tribune, Robert Salmaggi noted that "all they seem to do is dance (in bathing suits or ski attire), flirt, sing, ski, listen to combos, and sit around gulping down Cokes and cocoa by the carload. Never saw so many Coked-up kids - not a real drinker in the house."
The reviewer for Variety had few good words for the film, calling Winter a-Go-Go "...a disappointing teenpic despite some occasional comic touches, good ski-country lensing, and talent glimmers among the younger players. [The] Reno Carell production is not up to the standards of his earlier A Swingin' Summer..." Frances Herridge of the New York Post was even harsher, writing, "Winter a-Go-Go is strictly youth-formula as before, with a bunch of monkey-dancing chicks going to work at a ski lodge..."
The Beach Party cycle was winding down with the release of Winter a-Go-Go. In a sure sign that change was in the air, just as the film was being released in late 1965 songwriters Boyce and Hart were penning tunes for the pilot episode of a new TV series produced by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider called The Monkees; the Boyce/Hart duo would be responsible for several Monkees hits on the Colgems label in the next few years as the tastes of the teen market shifted toward new sights and sounds.
Producer: Reno Carell
Director: Richard Benedict
Screenplay: Bob Kanter (screenplay); Reno Carell (story)
Cinematography: Jacques Marquette
Art Direction: Walter Holscher
Music: Harry Betts
Film Editing: Irving Berlin
Cast: James Stacy (Danny Frazer), William Wellman Jr. (Jeff Forrester), Beverly Adams (Jo Ann Wallace), John Anthony Hayes (Burt), Jill Donohue (Janine), Tom Nardini (Frankie), Duke Hobbie (Bob), Julie Parrish (Dee Dee), Buck Holland (Will), Linda Rogers (Penny)
By John M. Miller