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Beach Ball

The tag line for Beach Ball (1965) says it all: "Surf ridin', skin divin', sky jumpin', drag racin', beach bashin' boys and their bikini a blast of a beach brawl!" Pretty much everything audiences had come to expect from the wave of beach movies of the first half of the 1960s is packed into this, including a host of popular musical acts sure to draw its intended teen audience to theaters.

Edd Byrnes, whose bronze pompadour and ever-present comb made him a TV teen idol in the early 60's private eye series 77 Sunset Strip (he played the same character, Kookie Kookson, on two other private eye dramas, Hawaiian Eye and Surfside 6), stars as Dick Martin, manager of the musical group the Wigglers (Bango, Jack, and Bob). To come up with the $1,000 he owes for the band's instruments, Dick tells Susan, the credit union manager of the college they attend, that he needs the money to continue his research in African tribal rhythms. Susan and three other finance committee members, however, learn that Dick and the boys are actually no longer students at all but part of the freewheeling group of surfers and hot rodders hanging out daily at the beach in Malibu, so they tear up Dick's check. With the kind of logic only beach movies could lay claim to, the four women slip into bikinis and join the ongoing party to persuade the boys to return to school. In the meantime, the Wigglers dress in women's clothes and enter a music showcase competition in order to hide out from the police who have come to repossess their instruments. Okay, so now you can add cross dressin' to the beach bums' resumes and this movie's catalogue of fun-lovin' activities down at the ocean.

Apart from shapely young women in bikinis and a custom car show, the main attractions in Beach Ball are the performances by some of the day's biggest musical groups, including The Supremes, The Righteous Brothers, and The Four Seasons (singing their #1 hit "Dawn"), none of whom were remotely associated with the California surf scene prior to this. For good measure, then, the producers included the surf rock band The Hondells, who made a big splash (pun intended) the previous year with their Top Ten single "Little Honda," written by The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson and Mike Love. Here, they perform another Brian Wilson tune, "My Buddy Seat." Rounding out the line-up are pop group The Walker Brothers (who would have a #1 hit in the UK the year after Beach Ball with "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore") and The Nashville Teens, a British group whose big hit in 1964 was "Tobacco Road."

Beach party movies were born when American International Pictures co-founder Samuel Z. Arkoff polled exhibitors and found that teen audiences were the hottest demographic in the movie market. AIP's Beach Party (1963), with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, the Tracy and Hepburn of the sub-genre, got the ball rolling. The party reached its peak in 1965 with more than half a dozen beach movies in release (a yearly record) and a new television series based on the Gidget movies. Beach Ball, released at the end of September 1965, was the last of these to hit the theater that year, and although it fell outside the requisite summer season, its audience, now back in school, didn't seem to mind too much. If some fans -- and most critics -- were disappointed by the picture, it wasn't for lack of trying on AIP's part. The Wigglers (possible the worst name anyone ever came up with for a pop group, except perhaps Milli Vanilli) were put into just about every activity to be found in a beach movie in order to save their precious instruments.

None of the stars of Beach Ball went on to really big things, although many kept their careers going with an eclectic array of projects. At 32, Byrnes had pretty much outgrown his teen idol image by this point but kept working steadily in films and TV, making a memorable play on his image from this period as Dick Clark-like teen dance-show host Vince Fontaine in Grease (1978). Aron Kincaid, a semi-regular in this type of movie thanks to his blond good looks, eventually dropped out of acting to pursue his interests in art. His friend, author Armistead Maupin, named a character in the Tales of the City books for Kincaid's birth name, Norman Neale Williams. Fellow Wiggler Don Edmonds later wrote, directed, and/or produced soft-core sex comedies, among them a classic of its type, Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS (1975). Chris Noel, a shapely blonde who made several beach movie appearances, later became a popular USO performer and advocate for veterans. Robert Logan's career high points included his stint as star of the 1975 film The Adventures of the Wilderness Family and its two sequels, The Further Adventures of the Wilderness Family (1978) and Mountain Family Robinson (1979).

Director Lennie Weinrib was also a character actor and voiceover performer who started his career as a comic. Among his most notable credits: he was a writer for all episodes of the kids TV series H.R. Pufnstuf, in which he also voiced the title character; he was the original voice of Scrappy Doo in the Scooby Doo series; and the only person to be rescued three times in a single episode of the TV series Emergency.

Cinematographer Floyd Crosby, who made only two more films after this, was a veteran of several beach movies, but his best years in the business included an Academy Award for his work on the F.W. Murnau film, Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931), the last production for the highly respected director, and a Golden Globe award for the photography of the classic Western High Noon (1952).

Director: Lennie Weinrib
Producers: Gene Corman, Bart Patton
Screenplay: David Malcolm (aka Sam Locke), Paul Rapp (uncredited)
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Editing: Jack Woods
Art Direction: Ray Storey
Original Music: Frank Wilson
Cast: Edd Byrnes (Dick), Chris Noel (Susan), Robert Logan (Bango), Aron Kincaid (Jack), Mikki Jamison (Augusta), Don Edmonds (Bob).

by Rob Nixon



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