Beach Party movies ,Donna Loren,American International Pictures,Annette Funicello,Surf music,Beach Party movie soundtrack
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Wild, Wild Winter

Released January 5, 1966

Available on video? Not commercially released, but can be obtained from the Video Beat (see link section) as well as various private sources on places like eBay.

Soundtrack LP?  Yes, released by Decca (DL-4699, mono, DL-74699, stereo) in late 1965.  Hard to find.  Worth it, though, for it contains not only all the guest artist interludes, but also the unusual feature of one whole side of background score, including the great main title piece. 

Synopsis: frat brothers at a small, financially desperate college in the mountains recruit a "lady-killer" surf bum buddy from California to seduce and overcome the campus "ice queen" (who has poisoned the dating environment on campus by convincing the women that all men are simply sex-obsessed, untrustworthy dogs).  The resulting nonsense involves ski racing and loan shark mobsters, sprinkled with song.

Extending the Beach Party format to the ski slopes was a seemingly obvious idea, and AIP got beaten to the punch on it by MGM (when the latter released Get Yourself A College Girl in late 1964).  By the time Universal released this movie, both AIP and Columbia had also jumped on the "ski bunny" bandwagon, so on the surface Wild, Wild Winter might seem handicapped as a "Johnny-come-lately" afterthought.  But that peception is erroneous, as this silly little gem should be on the short list of choice viewing of any fan of the Beach Party genre.  For musically this is one of the best of any of the clones.


That stated, be advised the script and acting element of the film is a mixed bag.  Stars Gary Clarke (left) and Chris Noel (right) do a good -- sometimes very good -- job, but both come off as a tad too old to be playing "frisky college kids" (he was 28 at time of filming, she was a mature-looking 23; the picture of the couple further down on this page shows what I mean by "tad too old") and the storyline gets just a wee bit too cartoonish near the end.

By the way, as this section of the site develops, those who wander through it will quickly notice Miss Noel appears in the lists of starring cast of several Beach Party clones.  To the degree, in fact, that I've already come to fondly refer to her as "Queen of the Clones."  Of all those roles, Wild ,Wild Winter arguably represents her "beach genre career" high water mark (both in terms of screen time and script lines).  


In fact, let me digress on Chris for a moment, for of all the beautiful ingénues who graced these films, she is one of the most noteworthy.

After growing up in Florida, the former cheerleader and beauty pageant winner arrived in Hollywood in 1962 and immediately got a part in the comedy "Soldier in the Rain."  During the next three years, Chris appeared in eight films, primarily comedies.  Three of these -- two of which had her in leading roles -- were Beach Party Clones (this film, as well as Get Yourself A College Girl and Beach Ball).  

But her life and career took a dramatic turn after she spent Christmas Day, 1965 visiting a hospital ward full of horrifcally injured troops.  She immediately sought opportunities to travel to Vietnam as a morale booster, and once in that role established herself as one of the more popular "Hollywood ambassadors of goodwill" (left).  So much so, in fact, that she soon started a regular show on Armed Forces Radio ("Date with Chris," below right) that became so popular the military started shipping her to visit and entertain troops all over the Far East. 


But as her profile rose, so did her personal risk: Chris was so effective in countering North Vietnamese propoganda broadcasts that the Vietcong actually put a five-figure price on her head.  That was more than just an idle propaganda threat, given Noel (unlike Bob Hope's USO shows) regularly travelled to remote, risky areas (in go-go boots and miniskirt, the lady was a trooper, staying "in character" no matter what the circumstances), and more than once experienced coming under direct hostile fire.    

Noel survived four years of that role in Vietnam, but at an enormous personal cost.  Her Green Beret Captain husband commited suicide in 1969 shortly after returning from the war and she -- like others who had experienced the horror of Vietnam firsthand -- subsequently developed posttrauamtic stress disorder.  That led to depression and substance abuse problems, which derailed attempts to restart her starring film career.   In the process of recovering, the one-time starlet evolved into a passionate, full-time advocate for Veterans' rights.  She is still active in that role to this day, actually opening shelters for Veterans and testifying for that constituency in front of Congress.   

So now that you appreciate this selfless woman -- and the fact this production was the last she made before transitioning into a very different life -- let's get back to the movie.    

As for the silly storyline and slightly-too-old casting in Wild, Wild Winter, both are mitigated by the guest star pop acts, which are about as good as it got in any 1960s teen musical.  We get to see some rare appearances by two great duos (Jackie and Gayle, Dick and Dee-Dee) as well as some wonderful combo performances by The Beau Brummels, The Astronauts and Jay and The Americans.  Frankly, even the "worst" musical performances in this film are more than listenable, and the better ones are treats, with three being examples of mid 60s Hollywood pop at its absolute best. 

The score of Wild, Wild Winter

After a short comedic voice-over prelude, the film gets off to a comparatively good start with the upbeat main title piece.  Wild, Wild Winter is a nice period instrumental based on a tight, punchy piano-bass rhythm line, with brass accents and sweeping choral vocals.

So welcome to Alpine College, were all is not well.  The school is in dire financial straits and the mortgage is being held by a bunch of threatening Mafia loan sharks.  Matters have been exacerbated by the fact the frat brothers can't get any dates, due to goody-goody Susan Benchley (Chris Noel), head of the Zeta Theta Muse sorority and Secretary to Dean Carlton.  While she's comfortably engaged to nerdy John Harris, she's brainwashed every other girl on campus into believing that "boys are all the same; all they're interested in is a hi and a goodbye after they get what they want, and they'll lie and cheat to get it."

As the men commiserate, one of them suggests that all they need to do to warm up the females on campus is to defrost Susan, by getting her involved with someone more engaging and sympathetic to their plight than John.  One suggests calling up a surf bum frat brother in California, "Ronnie Duke" (Gary Clarke), who he says is a Lothario who can easily conquer Susan.  When the others say she is "impossible," he responds "the difficult, Ronnie can take care of immediately - the impossible, well maybe that will take him until lunch."                                                                                                              


We are then abruptly transported from the wintry campus of Alpine to sunny Malibu, Ronnie's domicile.  Rather than rushing to character development, however, the script sets the scene by first going to music, to reinforce the presumed "endless summer" element of the contrasted location.  And that music is a joy to hear and watch.

Starting with a gentle chime intro, the soundtrack suddenly blasts out a wall of sound, backing two gorgeous female voices.  That's the sound of Jackie and Gayle, who the cinematography introduces in a nice setup shot.  The pretty blond and black-haired duo in black merloit bikinis are surrounded by dancing kids, and proceed to entertain us with (Our Loves' Gonna) Snowball.  This is a big, Phil-Spector-ish ballad, unlike anything any other Beach Party genre film ever contained, with beautiful choral harmonies that repeatedly cascade over one another.  The waterfront setting here makes that musical beauty all the more dramatic.  Jackie and Gayle dance across the sand to the water's edge, and we get some wonderful close ups of the two as they rock along with "the gang."   This is probably one of the top beach-set pieces the Beach Party "genre" ever produced, just choice, choice stuff.   

Now, if you've never heard of these two, you're not alone.  They    Jac  J    J        Jackie Miller              are pretty darn obscure.  Jackie Miller and Gayle Caldwell were originally          Gayle Caldwell         m                                           members of the mass market oriented folk ensemble The New Christy                                   Minstrels (pictures above are from that era; trust me, they look a lot more glamorous in the film), but in 1964 they left that group in an attempt to kick off a career as a pop duo.  This was an interesting decison, given Miller was married to Randy Sparks, the founder and leader of the Minstrels (Caldwell -- an alumnus of  the Roger Wagner Chorale -- had been a later addition to the ensemble).  I'm providing that biographical detail to make a point: both women were serious, accomplished musicians.  So their jump into the pop market wasn't just a whim; they had a clear objective. 

Unfortunately, they never realized it.  While Jackie and Gayle recorded a number of singles between 1964 and 1966 on the Capitol, Mainstream and United Artists labels – some are relatively impressive -- none ever made the top 40.  During that time, they also managed to get a handful of bookings on TV variety programs like Shindig, but that limited visibility wasn't anything like what they'd enjoyed during their prior Minstrel years as regulars on the Andy Williams TV Show.  So their pop era recorded legacy is pretty small, which accounts for their comparative obscurity. If this is the only chance you ever get to see/hear them, you're fortunate, for this appearance -- one of only two they made in films, the other being another clone (1965's Wild On The Beach) was really the career high water mark of this short-lived but interesting duo.

After Ronnie arrives at Alpine, he sets to work developing a plan to seduce Susan.  It turns out he "thinks best" with music in background, which becomes the ongoing repeated excuse for musical interludes for most of the rest of the film.  


The first occurs when the Beau Brummels (right) inexplicably appear plunking away in the men's somewhat ski-lodge-ish dorm (boy, what I missed getting my undergraduate education back east in one of those boring "selective" schools).   Frankly, this is also the setting for all the subsequent music in the movie, which suggests the screenwriter wanted to avoid the AIP "club" stereotype but never came up with a particularly creative substitute.  Anyway, here we have one of the most presumably noteworthy bands to ever appear in any 1960s pop film.  For this San Francisco combo is one serious rock critic types view as highly antecedent and influential, primarily because (a) they were the first real folk-rock group (pre-dating the Byrds), (b) anticipated pyschedelia and (c) were ostensibly the first American band to offer a serious "response" to the British Invasion.  So one has high expectations here. 

Unfortunately, the piece that follows -- Just Wait and See -- while jubilantly performed, isn't exactly historic.  This is bouncy, vaguely folk-rockish stuff all right, but for whatever reason it just doesn't seem to fit the genre of the film, much less any genre.                    The Beau Brummels in TV appearance, 1965    Granted, the Brummels look like their having a blast playing this,                                                                                          grinning and smirking all through the number -- yes, they're fun to watch --  but stylistically their song is so unidentifiable one just doesn't know what to make of it.  Is this folk?  Naw, it's a little too electric (with an annoying, continually repeating Tex-Ritter-ish rhythm guitar riff).  Is it rock'n roll?  Nope, it's too country sounding.   Oh, then it's country -- nope, it's too rockabilly to be pure country.  Ah, then it's rockabilly.  No, it's too folky to be that, either.  Then what in the heck is it?  Who knows; there's no label for this supposedly seminal but unidentifiable -- and not particularly interesting -- stew of formats.  Get the idea?  I guess these "precursor-of-a-future-new-genre" things aren't always as gratifying as one anticipates.


Ronnie slowly starts warming up Susan (left), but inevitable glitches arise that require more thinking time and hence more music.  The next round of this features the Astronauts, a surf band from...Colorado (well, as least the setting is appropriate).  A thumping bass line kicks off their number, titled Change of Heart.  Interestingly, connoisseurs of this particular group imply their best stuff was instrumental, but that's not evident here, for the vocals and harmonies in this mid-tempoish British Invasionish piece are pretty good.  The result is a nice snapshot of sound which is very much of the period.


After Ronnie swindles his way into becoming captain of ski team and begins stealing Susan away from John, we're back in the dorm once again, and get the second great duo performance of the film, when Dick and Dee Dee (right) -- in their only film appearance -- perform Heartbeats, backed by the Astronauts. 

This is an absolutely fantastic mid tempo ballad, and more contemporary in feel than the normal repertoire of this Los Angeles duo.  Dick St. John and Dee Dee Sperling (who is cute here with a classic archetype mid-60s bob hairdoo) were actually already past their peak by the time this was filmed, having been chart toppers back in the early 60s with generally more conservative, orchestrated material.  Perhaps that's why this is so enjoyable to hear and watch; it shows a rare, slightly edgier and more mature variation of the couple, one with them rocking away and not taking things so seriously.  In fact, this piece is so good the script comes up with a gimmick that gives them an excuse to repeat it.  If one is watching closely the first time around, you'll notice Dick St. John smirking once during the middle of number, suggesting he realizes just what a joke the "dorm" setting is.  Notably, both this song and the earlier excellent Jackie and Gayle duet were written by the same team, Al Capps and Mary Dean.  I don't know anything about these two, but if these pieces are representative of their general output, they were class composers to say the least.


After a series of predictable, tacky action sequences  -- which conclude with Ronnie saving Alpine from financial ruin and winning Susan's heart --  we close with a big bash in the dorm.  The party features a bright, sweeping brass-accented dance number by Jay and the Americans, Two of A Kind, backed up by the Astronauts.  Like Dick and Dee Dee, Jay and the Americans (right) were past their prime as of this filming, but one wouldn't know it from this performance.  They blast out a great uptempo piece, one very much in the style of their repertoire and frankly good enough in my humble opinion to have been chart material.  That's complemented by the choreography and cinematography; they make this a better version of the similar type of ending sequence AIP subsequently produced in Ghost In Invisible The Bikini

This great three minute long song actually plays entirely through the brief ending credits, which makes for a nice, tight close.  



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