Wednesday January, 14 2015 at 09:30 AM
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American International Pictures' Pajama Party (1964) opens on a view screen of teens cavorting at an elaborate pool party. Watching the screen, a Martian named Big Bang (Don Rickles) turns to Socum, the Martian Leader (he is seated with his back to the camera), and the following exchange ensues:
Big Bang: I say let's call the whole invasion off - whatta we need with a crazy planet?
Socum: That's not it - we owe it to the universe - if those are Earth teenagers, they've got to cause intergalactic trouble when they grow up.
Big Bang: You picked the biggest goof-off of all Mars to be the advance man!
Socum: Naturally - he's so stupid that if he's captured, he'll confuse the enemy - that's part of our plan. Here he comes...
Big Bang: It's not that I don't like him - it's just that I can't stand 'im!
The rudimentary set is bathed in red, just to tell the viewer that the otherwise normal-looking people are supposed to be Martians. Undeniably, this scene sets the tone of the entire movie; it lets the viewer know instantly that they are not watching anything that will ever be confused with Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Instead, Pajama Party was the first of AIP's variations on the Beach Party (1963) theme, following that film and its two immediate sequels, Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach (both 1964).
The heavy fantasy element of Pajama Party also anticipated later entries in the Beach series. As the story continues, the Martians send Go Go (Tommy Kirk) to Earth as their advance man. He cruises down to the Malibu, California estate of Aunt Wendy (Elsa Lanchester). Wendy's nephew, Big Lunk (Jody McCrea), is being romanced by his girlfriend Connie (Annette Funicello), but the only thing on the dope's mind is volleyball and pool parties with their swimsuit-clad friends. Meanwhile, J. Sinister Hulk (Jesse White) next door is plotting to snatch money that he suspects Aunt Wendy has hidden in the mansion. He and his crony Fleegle (Ben Lessy) hatch a plot which involves using exotic beauty Helga (Bobbi Shaw) to get the location out of Big Lunk. Hulk's other assistant is a less-than-sure-footed Indian named Chief Rotten Eagle (Buster Keaton). Wendy thinks Go Go is merely a teenaged magician and gives him swimming trunks, and calls him 'George' so that he can associate with the other kids. Connie later confides in Wendy about her problems with Big Lunk, and Wendy hits on the idea of using George to make him jealous. Misunderstandings, chases, and high jinks ensue as Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his motorcycle gang have a run-in with Big Lunk and the other kids playing volleyball on the beach; Meanwhile Helga and Chief Rotten Eagle crash a fashion show at Wendy's fancy dress shop and Go Go is mistaken for Big Lunk by both the Chief and Von Zipper!
Tom Lisanti writes in his exhaustive Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969, "Pajama Party greatly differs from the previous beach party movies as most of the outdoor action moves poolside, volleyball replaces surfing as the teenagers' sport of choice and Tommy Kirk takes over from Frankie [Avalon] as Annette's love interest. Along with How to Stuff a Wild Bikini , it comes closest to being a musical in the truest sense of the word as most of the songs move the plot along and are not just interjected without any apparent reason."
Annette Funicello and Tommy Kirk had previously worked together for years at Disney - first on The Mickey Mouse Club TV series, and in the films The Shaggy Dog (1959) and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964). Annette handles most of the vocal duties in the film, although the always-appealing Donna Loren pops up to belt out the perkiest song, "Among the Young." Loren was one of the few actual teenagers among the headlining cast, and was well known to audiences at the time as "The Dr. Pepper Girl" in a series of soft drink commercials, as well as from her frequent appearances on the Shindig music show taped in Los Angeles.
Another distinct advantage that Pajama Party holds over the preceding beach movies are the quality of the dance sequences - AIP wisely hired David Winters, a veteran of TV's Hullabaloo music show and a number of Elvis movies, to choreograph. Among the many dancers visible in the lineup are Toni Basil and Teri Garr (billed here as 'Teri Hope'). Basil and Garr were the genuine article, having cut their teeth as go-go dancers at the many clubs along the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles; both can also be seen dancing on the essential live LA-based music roundup, The T.A.M.I. Show (1964). In Pajama Party Garr does the Twist in a fetching tennis outfit during the fashion show scene; Basil does the Swim in a bikini during the same sequence. The song in this scene, by the way, is an amusing bit by none other than Dorothy Lamour, who laments the passing of the slow-dancing era, singing "In my day we didn't do it that way/Where did I go wrong?"
Pajama Party was the first AIP film for soon-to-be standbys Susan Hart and Bobbi Shaw. Hart is frequently seen in the film doing a slow shimmy that makes flowers droop and volcanoes erupt; she also enjoyed favorable attention from her boss. As Lisanti writes, "James H. Nicholson discovered Hart who was co-starring in the Columbia Pictures beach movie Ride the Wild Surf (1964). He had noticed her while screening the film's dailies. He wanted to sign the brunette beauty to a contract but Mike Frankovitch, who was head of Columbia at the time, had high hopes for her as well and had Hart under a six-month option. During about the fifth month of her term with Columbia, Susan went over to AIP to meet with Nicholson. Not only did she land a contract with AIP, she eventually would wed the boss."
Also making his AIP debut in Pajama Party is silent screen comic Buster Keaton. Since his "rediscovery" beginning in the late 1940s, Keaton had been seen to best advantage through appearances on television, in stage shows, and in short industrial films and TV commercials. In his feature films up to that time he had been sidelined to brief cameos in large-cast epics such as Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1962). In Pajama Party, Keaton qualified for more than his "Guest Star" billing - he stole several scenes, and was able to execute several physical gags as well. Director Don Weis later said, "Here was a 65-year-old man doing all these physical things he shouldn't be doing. He couldn't use a stunt man because they were all funny gags that only he could do - the falls and things that were his kind of style." Even Keaton's throwaway sequences are worth mentioning - during the closing credits of Pajama Party Keaton dances in full Indian regalia alongside Lanchester and Hart, and he is a delight to watch. Keaton's popularity brought him back for three other movies at AIP: Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, and Sergeant Dead Head (all 1965).
The working title of Pajama Party was The Maid and the Martian, and true to the tradition of having a jaunty theme song climb the charts while a new teen movie is in release, Annette Funicello recorded a song by that title, written by Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner. Of course, the recording was cut following the last-minute title change, although it did find a home on the soundtrack album (released on Disneyland Records). The next variation of the Beach Party series would be the less successful Ski Party (1965).
Producers: Samuel Z. Arkoff, James H. Nicholson
Director: Don Weis
Screenplay: Louis M. Heyward
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Art Direction: Daniel Haller
Music: Les Baxter
Film Editing: Fred Feitshans, Eve Newman
Cast: Tommy Kirk (Go Go aka George), Annette Funicello (Connie), Elsa Lanchester (Aunt Wendy), Harvey Lembeck (Eric Von Zipper), Jesse White (J. Sinister Hulk), Jody McCrea (Big Lunk), Ben Lessy (Fleegle), Donna Loren (Vikki), Susan Hart (Jilda), Bobbi Shaw (Helga), Cheryl Sweeten (Francine), Luree Holmes (perfume girl).
by John M. Miller
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