Sep 16, 2016

Beach Movies 1: The Beefcake

The beach movie crazy began with Beach Party (1963), and lasted through Catalina Caper (1967).  During that 4 year period, American International Pictures churned out a dozen beach movies, starring former teen idol Frankie Avalon and former Mousketeer Annette Funicello, or if they were too busy, Dwayne Hickman, Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley, and Yvonne Craig.  Other studios churned out their own teen-idols-in-Speedos movies, starring Bobby Vinton, Fabian, James Darren, Tab Hunter, and when they ran out of teen idols, Rod Lauren, Frankie Randall, Michael Callan, James Stacy, and Edd "Kookie" Burns.

The plot of the beach movie is the same in every installment: a gang of teenagers arrives in Malibu for a summer vacation.  Frankie and Annette (or their stand-ins) argue: she insists that they plan for marriage, the next step in embracing their heterosexual destiny, but he is too happy surfing, skydiving, and drag racing.

That is, he refuses to give up his homoerotic buddy-bonding with gay-vague chums.They separate, flirt with others, complain about each other to their friends, snipe at each other at the teen hangout, and walk forlornly on the beach.

Meanwhile a greedy corporation hopes to exploit the teenagers, or else salt-peter their heterosexual passions.  Maybe some juvenile delinquents cause trouble.  The climax comes in the form of a cartoonish teenagers vs. adults or delinquents brawl or car chase.  Frankie and Annette save the day, reconcile without resolving their disagreement, and head for home.

The teens are staggeringly affluent, white, and free from parental intervention of any sort.  They have all of the freedom of adulthood and none of the responsibilities.  They are living in their own surreal world of spies and saboteurs, drag races and skydiving contests, musclemen hanging from helicopters, gorillas riding surfboards.  There are Martians, mermaids, witch doctors, dime store Indians, bumbling crooks, and a girl whose gyrating hips cause volcanoes to erupt.

Every now and then Frankie mugs at the camera and asks "Can you believe this?"

And there is endless beefcake.  There are many girls in bikinis, but the beach is crowded with swimsuit boys; bulges are displayed as prominently as cleavage.  Jody McCrea's bulge makes a regular appearance.

John Ashley is dragged along the beach, the camera zooming in to capture the curve of his thighs, the tight muscles of his legs and calves, and even his frontside.

Tommy Kirk (left) wears a purple swimsuit so revealing that one can't imagine how it passed the sensors (not this photo).

Frankie doesn't bulge, but he is constantly shirtless, bedding down among his chums or standing tall and iconic beside his surfboard, his smooth, toned body preternaturally bright.

 In Fireball 500 (1966), which doesn't have a beach scene and only counts as a beach movie because it stars Frankie and Annette, Frankie spends a long scene shirtless, being interrogated by the police in his hotel room.  He never thinks to get dressed, though the officers stare at him, and one cheekily inserts his business card under Frankie's pendant, against his bare chest, like someone might insert a card into a woman's bosom.

Too bad the Disney Channel's Teen Beach Movie (2013) doesn't fare as well.

Next: The Duds

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