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Cult Movie Picks - July 2013
Remind Me
,It's a Bikini World

It's a Bikini World

Timing is all-important for the success of a motion picture dependant on current tastes in music, fads, and popular culture, so it should be no surprise that It's a Bikini World failed at the box office; it was shot in the Winter of 1965, but was not released until Spring of 1967. The Pop Surf Culture of Los Angeles, California evolved at hyper-speed in the mid-1960s, and this fun-loving beach movie must have seemed like a museum piece to the few that stumbled upon it at the drive-in or on the bottom half of a double-bill during the early days of the psychedelic era.

It's a Bikini World was co-written and directed by Roger Corman protégé Stephanie Rothman; as might be expected, her take on a beachfront battle-of-the-sexes differs a bit from similar plotlines in beach films written and directed by men. Delilah Dawes (Deborah Walley) is the new girl on the beach at Malibu - her best girlfriend is the ditzy blonde Pebbles (Suzie Kaye). Pebbles' boyfriend Woody (Bob Pickett) is roommates with Mike Samson (Tommy Kirk), who fancies himself God's gift to surfer girls. Mike makes a play for Delilah but she shuts him down. Woody and Mike spy on the girls and overhear Delilah say that she prefers quiet, intelligent boys. Mike decides to don glasses and a square outfit and pretend to be "Herbert" Samson, Mike's bookish brother. Meanwhile, publisher Harvey Pulp (Jack Bernardi) plans to start a new magazine called "Teen Scream" and joins forces with "Daddy" (Sid Haig), surfboard and skateboard customizer and the owner of the local music club, to publicize the venture. Pulp and Daddy organize a series of contests, and Delilah practices her skateboarding, skiing, and swimming, determined to show up Mike.

Jay Schwartz wrote in Marshall Crenshaw's Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock'n'Roll in the Movies, "So, another flimsy-plot-with-rock-bands-doing-songs movie? Yep, but look at the lineup of musical talent..." Indeed, the film boasts terrific clips of some otherwise unheralded 1960s bands at their peak. The Castaways appear performing their only hit, the garage-band favorite "Liar, Liar" (which was featured in the famous "Nuggets" garage band collection); Frat-rockers The Gentrys show up to perform "Spread It on Thick" (their big hit was "Keep on Dancing" - they had already broken up by the time the movie was released); and Eric Burden and The Animals look great performing "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." Schwartz also points out that "the great Mike Curb-penned main title theme is a pounding, reverby surf instrumental (oddly rare in beach movies) and much beloved by aficionados of the genre." Curb, of course, was a mainstay in the L.A. music scene as an executive at MGM Records, and would go on to become the Lieutenant Governor of California from 1978 to 1982.

Filling in for "Daddy's Dungeon" in the film is a famed Hollywood Boulevard club called "The Haunted House," notable for its stage set in the mouth of a giant fanged monster, steam billowing from its flared nostrils. (The club also turns up as the main setting in Ted V. Mikels' Go-Go exploitation favorite Girl in Gold Boots [1968]).

As "Daddy" (not "Big Daddy" as might be expected), Sid Haig lends the non-musical segments of the film some much-needed credibility, and he is wonderfully convincing as a road-tested older hipster mentor to the younger cast members, tossing off lines like (to the asexual-acting oddball photographer from "Teen Scream" magazine), "No photographs, Baby - not without my shades." Haig was only one year beyond his formative, unforgettable role as the mentally defective "Ralph" in Jack Hill's Spider Baby (filmed in 1964 but not released until 1968), but he already comes across in It's a Bikini World like a seasoned character actor dabbling for fun in the camp excesses of low-budget cameos.

Tom Lisanti writes in his exhaustive Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969, "it was very novel in 1965 to feature in a film aimed at teenagers a determined independent-thinking heroine. This was years before the Women's Liberation movement and this feminist slant shows that Stephanie Rothman was a director and screenwriter ahead of her time. ...Rothman keeps the pace moving briskly but lets the end competition sequences run on much too long dragging down the movie. Everything from skateboarding to camel racing is thrown in. Though hampered by the limited budget, she adds some surreal touches to the film." These touches include the opening titles, as well as several transition shots, that are done in a Pop Art comic book style, complete with word balloons. Also, the beach pad shared by Mike and Woody is replete with a well-thought-out design featuring suspended steps, a hanging day bed, Mod chairs, and comic strip art hung on the walls (namely, a cool panel from Milton Caniff's "Terry and the Pirates" strip featuring the Dragon Lady). These Pop Art touches would have been novel in late 1965, but by the film's release in 1967 they would be already dated, and imitative of the look of TV's Batman series, which debuted in 1966.

The Bob Pickett listed in the cast is, as any 1960s music aficionado might surmise, actually Bobby "Boris" Pickett, the songwriter/ performer behind the smash hit single, "Monster Mash", from 1962. Pickett auditioned for the "best friend" role when it was turned down by Aron Kincaid. Pickett avoided the Bobby/Boris billing because, as he told Lisanti, "I was aspiring to be like Richard Chamberlain - someone people would take seriously as an actor."

A female director was unusual in the 1960s, but by all accounts Stephanie Rothman was treated with nothing but respect by cast and crew alike. Supporting bikini girl Suzie Kaye said that "It was nice being directed by a woman - it felt more comfortable. I was awestruck because to me it was magical to have a female director. The film was still exploitation but Rothman did it in a more wholesome form - I didn't do anything embarrassing." Pickett concurred, saying, "Stephanie was very pleasant, easy to get along with and very smart. ...Everybody toed the line with her. She wore riding pants a lot and looked like a female Cecil B. DeMille."

Producer: Charles S. Swartz
Director: Stephanie Rothman
Screenplay: Stephanie Rothman, Charles S. Swartz
Cinematography: Alan Stensvold
Music: Mike Curb, Bob Summers
Film Editing: Leo Shreve
Cast: Deborah Walley (Delilah Dawes), Tommy Kirk (Mike/Herbert Samson), Bob Pickett (Woody), Suzie Kaye (Pebbles), Jack Bernardi (Harvey Pulp), William O'Connell (McSnigg), Jim Begg (Boy), Lori Williams (Girl), Pat McGee (Cindy), Sid Haig (Daddy), The Animals (Themselves, Rock Group), The Toys (Themselves, Rock Group), The Gentrys (Themselves, Rock Group), The Castaways (Themselves, Rock Group), Pat Vegas (Himself), Lolly Vegas (Himself)

by John M. Miller