Considering American International Pictures managed to churn out numerous beach films after this one, the answers to those questions should be obvious. However, plot has never been the strong suit of this series; instead, the joy lies in watching Disney idol Annette and chipper pop favorite Frankie strut their stuff with any colorful personalities available for a day or two of work under the AIP banner. Thus the viewer is treated to an oddball assortment of characters including kiddie actress Candy Johnson, underrated vocalist Donna Loren, some pop groups including the Exciters and the Pyramids, future Filipino horror icon John Ashley, future head-trip case Timothy Carey, a typically manic Don Rickles as the teen's sole "old generation" advocate, a rousing third-act appearance by "Little Stevie" Wonder, and even a cameo by Boris Karloff who would later have much more prominent roles in the series.
The talent behind the scenes is no less eclectic and is quite impressive, in its own fashion for drive-in fans. Director William Asher (a TV veteran best known for his pioneering work with Karl Freund on I Love Lucy) keeps everything bouncy and well-composed with the aid of cinematographer Floyd Crosby (who was simultaneously doing far more artful work on Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe/Vincent Price films), lounge legend Les Baxter strings everything along with a few choice music interludes, and one of AIP's greatest technical assets, production/art designer Daniel Haller (later a director in his own right), concocts a series of eye-catching locations straight out of a pop art dream. By this point after Beach Party (1963) and the somewhat lesser Muscle Beach Party (1964), the entire team had become a well-oiled machine capable of generating a couple of similar romps every year (or three in this particular case of 1964).
For Annette fans in particular, Bikini Beach represents a fascinating peek at the sexier side of the former Mickey Mouse Club star. Though Walt Disney had requested on her first beach film that she not expose her navel on-camera (which she happily complied with throughout the series), she turns up the heat a bit here with two different Frankies vying for her affections. Oddly, as she admits in her autobiography, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes, Annette regards the films with affection but never grew fond of the main setting itself. "I'd always hated the beach. The sea air made my hair frizzy, and as for surfing-forget it. In almost every picture, the director would call for a shot of me running down the beach, board tucked under my arm, then leaping gracefully into the surf and paddling out. But back then boards were over six feet long and weighed upward of twenty-five pounds. I tried several times, but the most they ever got out of it was a totally winded Annette gasping in the sand, my board lying several feet behind me."
Most Frankie-and-Annette fans cherish Bikini Beach for one standout song, "Because You're You" (later a solo standard for the latter), with other tunes including the title number, "Love's a Secret Weapon," "Gimme Your Love," and "How About That!" Meanwhile, fans of AIP's '60s output will thrill to the drag-racing scenes, among the strongest they ever filmed. Perhaps most interesting is the film's mocking attitude towards the Beatles (and, by extension, all of those upstart British rock-and-rollers); the Fab Four were commonly attacked with snide remarks (even by their own countryman James Bond in the previous year's Goldfinger), and the gentle (and amusingly inaccurate) ribbing seen here is a fascinating encapsulation of one country's entrenched status quo clashing head-on with the shape (and sound) of things to come.
Producer: Samuel Z. Arkoff, Anthony Carras, James H. Nicholson
Director: William Asher
Screenplay: William Asher, Robert Dillon, Leo Townsend
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Film Editing: Fred Feitshans, Eve Newman
Art Direction: Daniel Haller
Music: Les Baxter
Cast: Frankie Avalon (Frankie & Potato Bug), Annette Funicello (Dee Dee), Martha Hyer (Vivian Clements), Don Rickles (Big Drag), Harvey Lembeck (Eric Von Zipper), John Ashley (Johnny).
by Nathaniel Thompson