Muscle Beach Party (1964)
Director: William Asher
Starring: Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Don Rickles & Luciana Paluzzi
Released by: Olive Films
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Continuing their fun in the sun, Frankie Avalon (Drums of Africa) and Annette Funicello (Babes in Toyland) return as surfing lovebirds Frankie and Dee Dee in Muscle Beach Party. When their favorite beach spot is overrun by body-building meatheads and their whistle-blowing trainer, Jack Fanny (Don Rickles, Toy Story), the gang’s getaway of fun looks unlikely. Plus, when Julie (Luciana Paluzzi, Thunderball), a rich contessa, sets her sights on Frankie, a beach battle gets underway with Frankie and Dee Dee’s love on the line. Buddy Hackett (The Love Bug), Peter Turgeon (Airport) and Rock Stevens (Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon) co-star.
Muscle Beach Party, the second of seven popular beach party films produced by James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff’s American International Pictures, finds our attractive leads, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, returning to their sunny playground of good times and maximum surfing. Upon arrival, the gang find an unfriendly team of body-builders, led by their equally distasteful trainer, Jack Finney, making the beach their own personal hot spot. Meanwhile, tensions run hot when, to Frankie’s dismay, Dee Dee wants him to long for more in life than just catching the next big wave. Temperatures skyrocket when the gorgeous and spoiled rich contessa, Julie, steals Frankie away with promises of kickstarting his music career and wealth beyond his wildest dreams. Following in the same tradition as its predecessor, Muscle Beach Party finds an endless array of attractive teens singing and dancing their cares away to happening surf music. Simple and innocent, Muscle Beach Party teeters by shining a brighter focus on the clueless meatheads and Julie’s mission to find an attractive lover than the fun-loving couple we had a blast with in the original Beach Party. Buddy Hackett lends his comedic chops as Julie’s business advisor and voice of reason to Frankie, helping the teen idol learn the errors of his ways. Meanwhile, Rock Stevens makes his film debut as lead meathead Flex Martian, who catches Julie’s eye before Frankie enters her radar, leading to further tension between the two beach groups. Minimal on plot but, always prioritized on fun, Muscle Beach Party finds Frankie and Dee Dee patching things up effortlessly just in time for the end credits.
Scattered with more original songs, some written by several members of The Beach Boys, sung by its youthful cast, Muscle Beach Party also includes a memorable early appearance by Little Stevie Wonder performing an original tune. In addition, following Beach Party’s Vincent Price cameo, AIP regular Peter Lorre (The Raven, The Comedy of Terrors) turns up briefly in one of his final film appearances. Common in most sequels, Muscle Beach Party fails to live up to the nonstop fun of its originator, spending considerable time on its mildly humorous supporting characters than its stars, who are regulated to second best. Still considered a fun time in the sun, Muscle Beach Party is a noticeably weaker film but, supplies enough of its dependable elements to make this wave worth riding.
Presented with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Muscle Beach Party is another knockout transfer for Olive Films. Flowing with bright colors from the teens‘ multicolored bathing suits to their tan complexions, detail is crisp and only showing moments of slight wear in its stock surfing footage. Infrequent nighttime sequences showcase only mild instances of softness while, sunny daytime scenes take up the bulk of the film’s runtime. With natural grain firmly intact, Muscle Beach Party has never looked better than this. Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix, dialogue levels are mostly clean and clear with brief moments of decreased levels during scenes at Scrappy’s. Musical numbers pack an added boost in volume quality while, Funicello’s rendition of “A Girl Needs A Boy” suffers from a tinny echo which may have been how the song was originally recorded. Unfortunately, Muscle Beach Party makes its Blu-ray debut with no special features.
Carrying on the carefree shenanigans of Frankie, Dee Dee and the rest of the beach gang, Muscle Beach Party stumbles with its first half focusing far too heavily on supporting characters while, Avalon and Funicello’s story, as minimal as it is, falls by the wayside. Luckily, its catchy tunes and appearances from Buddy Hackett and Don Rickles make this Beach Party followup a suitable one. Although, lacking with any special features, Olive Films‘ Blu-ray treatment arrives with impressive technical feats making the film shine like never before. A slight disappointment in the wake of the original film, Muscle Beach Party still contains the beaches, babes and tunes audiences come to expect with enough humor to not make this effort a total wipeout.