51 Years Ago Today…
It’s a Bikini World opened. One of the last of the 60s Hollywood beach movies, it starred Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley, Bobby “Boris” Pickett, and Suzie Kaye. It is noted for being directed by a woman, Stephanie Rothman, and features an interesting premise, a great lineup of musical talent, and a spirited cast but the extremely low budget production values hamper the movie. There’s a new beach babe (Walley) on the shore and when she rebukes the advances of the local Casanova (Kirk) he masquerades as his nerdy brother to get even with her. Meanwhile he competes against her as his real persona in a serious of athletic competitions. It was very novel then 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.
Deborah Walley who by the mid-sixties matured into a shapely young woman plays the determined Delilah with spunk and vigor while Tommy Kirk makes for a good conceited foe in their battle-of-the-sexes. However, Kirk’s Casanova persona surrounded by bikini-clad beach babes quickly turns laughable every time he takes off his shirt. He is by far one of the skinniest runts on the beach, especially compared with blonde hunk Jim Begg, and should have been mandated to pump some iron at the gym before filming began. Bob Pickett plays the Jody McCrea/Deadhead best friend role with a big grin and a droll touch. Bikini-clad Suzie Kaye now sporting blonde hair delivers some amusing lines with flair.
As with most of the later beach movies the musical acts make this worth while viewing. The groups all perform their own hit records. Standing out are Eric Burdon with The Animals in their post-Alan Price lineup doing “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” which became an anthem for Vietnam War protestors, and garage rock band The Castaways, looking all of sixteen, singing their lone hit, “Liar, Liar.” The Gentrys, sounding like Paul Revere and the Raiders, sing “Spread It on Thick,” which should have been a big hit but it never cracked the Top 40.
Interviewed for my book Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies, the late Bobby Pickett and late Suzie Kaye recalled what it was like working for a female director a rarity during the sixties.
Pickett: “Stephanie was very pleasant, easy to get along with and very smart. She was just a pleasure to work with. Everybody towed the line with her. She wore riding pants a lot and looked like a female Cecil B. DeMille. Stephanie took bikini beach movies to a higher level with Deborah Walley’s character trying to best her male antagonist in a series of events.”
Kaye: “It was nice being directed by a woman. I felt more comfortable. I was awe struck 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. She would let the scene play.”