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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Muscle Beach Party (Blu-ray)
Muscle Beach Party (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // Unrated // February 17, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted February 22, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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Muscle Beach Party (1964) was the second of seven official American International Pictures-produced "Beach Party" movies. (The others were: Beach Party [1963], Bikini Beach, Pajama Party [1964], Beach Blanket Bingo, and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini [1965]). Muscle Beach Party is about average, with various strengths and weaknesses. AIP hadn't quite solidified the format yet, though they were well on their way. The first one, Beach Party, spent way too much time following grown-up stars Bob Cummings and Dorothy Malone. Muscle Beach Party is more Frankie and Annette-centric, but it's also the one Beach Party movie without Harvey Lembeck's Eric Von Zipper character, the kids' regular nemesis. Like most of the films it goes on too long - they'd each benefit from about 20 minutes worth of trimming - and the songs in this one are mostly weak, though Muscle Beach Party offers an outstanding performance by newcomer "Little" Stevie Wonder.

As noted in this writer's review of Beach Blanket Bingo, simultaneously released to Blu-ray by Olive Films, for decades the only way to see any of the Beach Party movies, all shot in 2.35:1 Panavision, was via terrible, grainy and discolored panned-and-scanned video masters. MGM's earlier DVDs, most of which were 16:9 enhanced, helped a lot, but Olive's new Blu of Muscle Beach Party at long last permits interested parties to see them as they were meant to be seen. (However, owners MGM erred badly in severely window-boxing the movie's opening and end titles, hurting the presentation markedly.)


Muscle Beach Party has more of a straightforward plot and sentiment than usual, with much of the story revolving around a love triangle between Frankie (Frankie Avalon), girlfriend Dee Dee (Annette Funicello), and a bored Italian Contessa, Juliana Giotto-Borgini (Luciana Paluzzi), a widow in the market for a new husband. Arriving by yacht, anchored just offshore from the kids' beach house, she intends to marry bodybuilder Flex Martin (Mission: Impossible's Peter Lupus, billed here as "Rock Stevens"), whose impressive physique she spotted in a magazine. Through "The Rich Business Manager" (how Buddy Hackett's character is identified in the credits; in the movie he's called S.Z. Matts) handling her affairs, she plans not only to buy up Flex's contract, but also the burgeoning bodybuilding concern co-owned by excitable Jack Fanny (Don Rickles) and a mysterious silent partner, Mr. Strangdour, the strongest man in the world.

Unfortunately, "Julie" finds the completely self-obsessed Flex a bore and instead sets her sights on Frankie, she promising to finance the young crooner's recording career. Frankie, irritated by Dee Dee's attempts to domesticate him, is sorely tempted.

Typical of AIP's sledgehammer comedies, Muscle Beach Party is crammed with frenetic but mostly unfunny broad slapstick, including the inevitable protracted free-for-all brawl at the end. Pitting the surfers against musclemen, particularly 5'8" Avalon vs. 6'4" Lupus, was a pretty good idea, and Robert Dillon's (French Connection II) screenplay does a better job lampooning the impossibly vain bodybuilders and that industry than the broad slapstick.

Luciana Paluzzi also helps considerably. The part is painfully clichéd, but her sincere performance is almost touching, and though still in her 20s the busy, globetrotting actress brought to the film a wealth of experience. In every scene she's in, the rest of the cast seems to be trying harder. The delicately sexy redhead also visually makes a nice contrast to the darker, more demure Funicello. Their verbal sparring (Dee Dee calls Julie "the Bride of Godzilla") is pretty funny. Funicello, incidentally, in this wears a swimsuit resembling a fish net, one that can barely contain her colossal breasts.

The songs, most co-written by Brian Wilson, aren't much, and Frankie's and Annette's solos are mixed with the kind of reverb that only adds to their awkwardness. However, 13-year-old Stevie Wonder, making his film debut, is sensational singing Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner's "Happy Street." The filmmakers knew the picture's strengths, and wisely brought him and dynamo dancer Candy Johnson back for the lively end titles, which are practically the best thing about the picture.

(Mild Spoiler) AIP contractee Vincent Price had made a surprise cameo appearance at the end of Beach Party so, continuing the tradition, Peter Lorre turns up briefly as Strangdour. Lorre actually seems to be enjoying himself, unlike the film he made immediately after, Jerry Lewis's The Patsy, where he all but spits at the camera during his onscreen curtain call. The end credits have AIP expressing their thanks to Lorre, who was "soon to be seen in Bikini Beach," but Lorre died two days before Muscle Beach Party opened.

Video & Audio

Olive's HD master of Muscle Beach Party, in its original 2.35:1 Panavision format, mostly looks splendid. AIP always made decent use of the wide ‘scope format, which proved ruinous when the Beach Party movies finally made their way to TV and home video in the decades that followed. Here the image is bright, colorful and it has lots of fine, film-grain detail. One major flaw is the extreme window-boxing of the mostly delightful opening and closing credits, window-boxing far more extreme than was done on MGM's James Bond movies. The DTS-HD Master Audio mono (with no other language options or subtitles) is likewise strong. No Extra Features.

Parting Thoughts

Far from great, but when experienced with the right mindset, Muscle Beach Party is a lot of fun, especially in the (mostly) excellent high-def transfer this disc offers. Recommended.


Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.

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