COME HAVE A SURF PARTY WITH ME!

Besides airing The Pleasures Seekers all this month, Fox Movie Channel is also broadcasting the rarely seen Surf Party (1964) a low-budget b/w beach movie starring Bobby Vinton and Jackie DeShannon that was released shortly after Beach Party starring Frankie and Annette. Below is my review from my book, Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969:

Surf Party is realistic, albeit melodramatic, look at the surfing craze and Malibu surfers in particular. It is also an obvious rip-off of Beach Party without the zaniness. There is some neat surfing footage featuring pros like Mickey Dora and Johnny Fain but the flat black-and-white photography doesn’t do it justice though it buoys the story. The female leads all do well but Bobby Vinton and Kenny Miller fail miserably trying to pass themselves off as surfers.

Though screenwriter Harry Spalding’s script about three gals who come to Malibu to learn to surf and to the brother of one of the girls is a bit overemotional at times, he gets praise in for injecting surfer slang and tips on how to surf into it. Too bad producer Maury Dexter couldn’t get anybody other than Bobby Vinton to deliver the lines. If AIP had hired him for Beach Party there wouldn’t have been a series of films. Worse than Vinton is the pudgy Kenny Miller who was way too long in the tooth to be playing a twenty-year-old. However, Miller has a pleasant singing voice and does well with his solo. Only Jerry Summers as the leader of the renegade surfing crew makes an impression though we never once see him shoot the curl but just hit the sheets first with his older woman benefactor and then with his sister’s girlfriend.

Dexter had better luck with his female cast. Pat Morrow sports a bitchin’ flip hair-do and makes a nice heroine. Unlike Annette she even gets her bathing suit wet! Jackie DeShannon plays the dippy blonde to good affect while dark-haired Lory Patrick gives a sympathetic performance as the good girl who goes all the way only to regret her actions. Only downside with these gals is that they wear one-piece or very modest two-piece swimsuits. There’s not a bikini wearer in the bunch!

The music in Surf Party is a mixed lot because it throws in different styles (even Gospel!) to try to appease everyone. The best songs are the ones delivered by The Astronauts (see clip below) who aggressively try to obtain a surf reverb sound and The Routers with “Crack Up.” Director Maury Dexter gets kudos for his surfing footage and actually gets shots of the actors out in the ocean on their boards. Rather than use the dreaded blue screen for close-ups, Dexter put Kenny Miller and the others on a speedboat and filmed them as if they were surfing. Though this approach isn’t always convincing it is more creative than putting the actors in a tank with a fake backdrop. Dexter also gets praise for getting Mickey Dora out of the water and giving the surfer the most screen time than in any of his other pictures.

With a bigger budget and more convincing male leads, Surf Party could have been considered one of the best Hollywood surf movies of the period instead of just a Beach Party rip-off.

 

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