Beach Blanket Bingo plays at the Trylon Cinema from Friday, February 9th, through Sunday, February 11th. Visit trylon.org for tickets and more information.
Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) is on my list of movies I want to watch before I die. It’s on page two, between Splendor in the Grass (1961) and Avanti (1972). I do not remember why I put Beach Blanket Bingo on my list, but it’s there and has been for a long time now. When I saw Trylon was showing Bingo as part of its “Surf’s Up” series, I jumped at the chance to check it out and to tell other people about my findings.
I also do not remember what the plot of Bingo is supposed to be. I turn to the Internet in search of answers. Among my initial results is this gem from Divicast:
In the coming of the Frankie and Annette beach party pictures, singing celebrity Sugar Kane managed by Bullets, who hires skydiving surfers Steve and Bonnie is kidnapped by a motorcycle gang. With the usual gang of also a mermaid and children called Lorelei.1
I think something got lost in translation there. What can the Internet Movie Database tell me instead?
Frankie, DeeDee, and the gang meet singing sensation Sugar Kane in a publicity stunt; they all get introduced to skydiving and get caught up in love.2
Grammatically, that makes more sense, but I somehow feel like it tells me less. I have no choice but to dive in. I decide to chronicle my journey through Bingo as I watch to make sense of it for myself and for anyone similarly confused by the descriptions of it online.
00:30. I don’t know any of the characters’ names yet. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello have run out of the ocean and sat down on a beach blanket. After smooching, Avalon turns to the camera and says, “Bingo.” Roll the credits. I don’t need to see any more. All my questions are answered.
00:40. Never mind, I have more questions, specifically what this leather daddy is doing watching the surfers from afar with a telescope.
01:43. Those are some very Hanna-Barbera sound effects when Bonehead falls over. This was definitely made in the 1960s.
I am in for a musical treat, kicked off by this opening number, “Beach Blanket Bingo.” “That’s the name of the game,” they tell me, and yes, I have gotten that so far. Not much else, but I did get that. This song will be stuck in my head for the rest of the week.
4:42. We’re treated to the sight of an American icon, a true legend—the Goodyear blimp. It has a banner instructing viewers to “Hear Sugar Kane’s new album ‘Come Fall With Me.’” A girl jumps out of a different plane over the water as Frankie and the gang look on.
5:54. The skydiver is still falling, which is odd because it didn’t look like her plane was that far off the ground. Also, who is the blonde girl already in the water? There was a gag earlier where Buster accidentally pulled a girl’s bikini top off, and she ran away. Is this her?
8:50. I had been calling Frankie Avalon’s character “Frankie” in my notes because I didn’t know his name yet. It is, in fact, “Frankie.”
Anyway, in a convoluted series of events, Frankie pulls Sugar Kane (Linda Evans) out of the water. As a publicity stunt, her manager Bullets (Paul Lynde, I would recognize that voice anywhere) hired a professional skydiver and had Sugar switch places with the girl once she landed in the ocean.
The guys have a lot of questions for Sugar, who fortunately had PR training. She claims she learned how to freefall at Big Drop Skydiving Club (“It’s just over the hill!”), which is a great promo for them, too, because Frankie decides that’s something he wants to try.
9:57. Oh yeah, the leather daddy telescope guy. I forgot about him. He’s back, though, and he sounds pissed. His name is Eric von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck); he has a crush on Sugar and wants to protect her from getting mixed up with “undesirables.” He has a gang called the Rat Pack—though Frank Sinatra and co. they are not—and literally anyone else seems like they would be a more competent leader than Eric. On a shallow note, the two biker babes are also very cute.
16:45. Frankie objects to Dee Dee (Funicello) going skydiving with him even though he only wants to do it because he saw a girl do it. He also tells Dee Dee, “A girl’s job is in the kitchen” and “Okay, play your little game, but when the time comes, I do the jumping and you do the watching.” I would be dumping this man on the spot. I would not be smooching you sweetly like Dee Dee in response to that.
19:03. “Big Drop” isn’t just an appropriate name for a sky diving club. It’s an appropriate name for its owner, Big Drop (Don Rickles). I love Don Rickles, but I don’t know that I would trust him to teach me how to skydive. I also wouldn’t trust either of his assistants, Buster (Buster Keaton) or Bobbi (Bobbi Shaw), who are mainly around for slapstick comedy bits. Fortunately for everyone involved, Big Top hands Frankie, Dee Dee, and the gang off to Bonnie—the skydiver whose jump Sugar took credit for the day before—and Steve. Steve endears me to him immediately by sticking up for Dee Dee when Frankie asks if it’s safe for her to be skydiving. Steve takes Dee Dee more seriously than her own boyfriend does. He also points out that Bonnie has been skydiving for ages and is completely fine.
We’re treated to another totally-not-fake skydiving sequence, but already I can suspend my disbelief further than I could in the opening. I’m starting to get what this movie is about. I think I can tune in to this frequency.
22:10. Bonehead doing some solo surfing. He is not good at it. The naked blonde girl is back… wait. Is this the mermaid I was promised in the bungled Divicast description?!
Anyway, naked girl saves Bonehead from drowning. This whole rescue sequence would be a lot cooler if they could film underwater. It’s kind of awkward watching them splashing around from the shoulders up, with the water occasionally covering their faces. Once she gets him up on land, though, Sugar takes credit for her heroism and naked girl returns to the sea.
25:10. Hey, why is there a picture of Adolf Hitler on the wall of this pool hall? Hitler gets the main focus, but that’s Benito Mussolini on the far right. I couldn’t on my life figure out who the portrait between them was, and after checking the Internet Movie Database, I don’t feel bad for being stumped because it’s Eric von Zipper, who I have only seen for about fifteen minutes so far. We’re also introduced to South Dakota Slim (Timothy Carey) here. I think he owns the pool hall; he doesn’t ride around with the bikers, at any rate. He only shows up when they’re hanging out here.
27:09. “Our work is never done!” Eric proclaims to his gang. “Our work is to protect the weak and the innocent!” Because that’s what Hitler would do, you think? I wonder if they have a good reason for hating the surfers or if it’s just because they need some group to pick on.
28:55. Back to the country club, and back-to-back musical numbers from Sugar performing “New Love.” Frankie and Dee Dee are about the only teen couple not making out during it. Frankie is busy making eyes at Sugar, and I am once again begging Dee Dee to dump him.
31:45. The bikers make their big entrance into the main plot, and Frankie recognizes them. They had been so separate from everything else that I wondered if it wasn’t a one-sided rivalry on Eric’s part. Eric wants to get Sugar away from Frankie and the gang, warning her, “These beach bums is bums!” I can’t argue with that logic, honestly.
34:48. The naked girl is back! Her name is Lorelei (Marta Kristen), and she is very much a mermaid. I would ask why Bonehead didn’t wonder why this girl is always in the water any time of day, but he is a bonehead.
At this point I wonder who the actor playing Bonehead is. It’s Joel Dee “Jody” McCrea, son of actor Joel McCrea, who I know because I enjoy old Western films.
It is also at this point that I realize Bingo is the fifth in a series of Beach Party movies that started with Beach Party in 1963. All these beach movies feature the same cast, for the most part, although Dee Dee was “Dolores” in the first movie, and Bonehead was “Deadhead” up until Bingo because American International Pictures released a different film called Sergeant Deadhead and they didn’t want people confusing the two properties. I actually follow their logic on this decision. Let’s get back to the show.
42:50. It’s another dance party, with a band wearing costumes I swear I recognize from Happy Days. Wikipedia tells me they’re The Hondells, but that name doesn’t ring a bell. Bullets, Big Top, Buster, and Bobbi have a meeting of the minds. Buster speaks, which surprises me! I think I’ve only seen Keaton in silent roles before. The movie then lets Rickles do what he does best and lets Big Top lay into everybody present, which is worth the price of admission for me.
50:02. Frankie gets a song now, “These Are the Good Times,” and woo does Frankie Avalon have a voice! I see why he was as popular as he was back in the day. Is it enough for me to forgive this character of Frankie for his misogyny? Not a chance. But he is good.
53:40. The search for Lorelei continues!
53:52. Well, that was short-lived. The boys are going skydiving, and both Frankie and Steve are being dicks. Steve is forcing Frankie to make his first skydiving jump even though Bonnie doesn’t think Frankie is ready. I see we’re doing the tried-and-true “main couple stays together in the end because their new love interests turn out to actually be assholes” plot.
58:20. It’s Dee Dee’s turn to skydive! Bonnie is dragging Frankie on Dee Dee’s behalf, making fun of him for doubting women aren’t as competent as men. Bonnie also has the cutest smile on her face the whole time. I decide to look up her actress and am surprised to learn Deborah Walley is best known for playing the archetypal beach babe Gidget in Gidget Goes Hawaiian. Very funny she isn’t one of the surfers in this movie, then. At the time of filming Bingo, Walley was also married to John Ashley, the actor playing Steve. I think I have a new hunch as to how this love triangle drama will end.
58:44. And Don Rickles is on Dee Dee’s side! “She’ll jump! She’s all heart! And I’ll show you I’m all heart. If her chute don’t open, she don’t owe me a cent!” I mean, she’ll be dead if her chute doesn’t open, but otherwise, that’s a considerate offer.
1:00:30. After a suspenseful freefall, Dee Dee’s parachute finally opens. Big Top doesn’t owe anybody any money. Success all around. I wonder what the biker gang is doing; we haven’t seen them in a while.
1:10:00. The bikers are back, baby, and they are up to no good. Eric is kidnapping Sugar and making a total hash of it. He has several incredible pratfalls during this section, Hanna-Barbera sound effects and all. It’s like watching a live-action cartoon, and I love it.
I regret to inform you we have reached the point where I am taking fewer and fewer notes because of how engrossed I am in the movie. The more skydiving sequences they do, the more fun I have with them. Does it look perfect? No. It looks a little goofy, in fact, but I’m into it.
1:19:53. I was impressed by how quickly Frankie and Dee Dee mastered skydiving, but of course that means things go wrong now. Their parachutes are fine, but they opened them too late! And they’re going to crash into the ocean with no one to pull them to land if they get concussed by the hard water! It’s Lorelei to the rescue! I didn’t expect her to be plot-relevant. I thought she was only here to provide a goofy subplot, but look at her go.
1:23:48. All the plotlines and characters are converging! It is chaos, and I love it. I don’t know why Buster and Bobbi are fighting the biker gang along with the surfers, but I’m not complaining. I could use some more Big Top for flavor, but I suppose at least one person in this movie has to actually work for a living.
1:29:07. South Dakota Slim has Sugar tied up on a sawmill, which is very Snidely Whiplash of him. I do have to question his methods—they live in a beach town. Surely tying her up under the pier to drown would have sufficed. Also, Sugar, for the love of god, do something to fight back. Even when she gets free, she spends the fight standing in the corner watching everybody. Also, we’re just never going to address that Sugar didn’t do the skydive she took credit for in the first scene, huh?
1:32:24. I have mentioned Hanna-Barbera cartoons several times at this point, which prepared me well for this fight scene I can only say came straight out of Scooby-Doo. Also, with four minutes left in the film, Frankie decides to break the fourth wall for the first time with another quip about how he does all the work and Bonehead gets all the credit. That’s life, kid. Also seems to be the theme of your movie, if you want to lean back into it.
1:33:53. “Was there really a mermaid?” Dee Dee asks Frankie as they wrap up all the loose plot threads and embrace one final time.
“Is there a moon?” Frankie replies. “Is there a sky? Are there dreams?” That is an unsatisfying answer, my friend.
1:34:05. Fins up for one final Lorelei goodbye!
Based on my Internet wanderings, Beach Blanket Bingo seems to be the most popular of the Beach Party movies, and I fully understand why. The film is a hoot and a half. I still don’t know what prompted me to put it on my list of movies to watch, but I’m forever grateful I put it there and got this goofy goodness into my life. I can’t wait to watch it again.
Edited by Finn Odum