Released May 12, 1965 (also distributed with title "The Summer of '64")
Available on video? Not commercially released, but is available from the Video Beat (url to the firm is in the link section) and has occasionally shown up on the American Movie Classics (AMC) cable network (actually ran there on Christmas Day 2002!)
Soundtrack LP? No, albeit the originals of all the songs performed here by the Beach Boys can be found on their Surfin' U.S.A. and All Summer Long LPs, while all three Lesley Gore numbers are on her Boys, Boys, Boys album.
Synopsis: coeds on Spring break vacation struggle to save their Alpha Beta sorority house from repossession by holding a fund raising concert. Things quickly get crazy when a group of guys -- in an attempt to attract the women --assure them they can get the Beatles to appear at the show.
This is probably the "prototypical" pure Beach Party clone, by virtue of a generally no-name cast, ridiculous and thin storyline, amateurish acting and music focused solely on stand alone performances by pop stars. However, it does hold interest, by virtue of the latter element, since the two starring imported acts this time around are top ten, A quality artists. As the poster to the above right shows, the producers didn't miss a beat on that matter, knowing that the Beach Boys and Lesley Gore appearances were the primary attraction of the film (and for good measure, throwing in the Crickets, who had been Buddy Holly's backup band).
Interestingly, some viewers of this movie give it credit for having a storyline "being told from the female's point of view for a change," but I certainly wouldn't define this as some sort of early feminist opus. Yes, the script focuses on the sorority sisters and their crazy attempts to save their house, but much of that involves dancing in bikinis and blatant seduction of a brainy guy (to get his assistance in winning a newspaper puzzle contest). To some extent, the cast of pretty young relative unknowns make this nonsense enjoyable, particularly the "above it all" elegance of Noreen Corcoran (left); she had a role as a child years earlier on "Bachelor Father;" (and becomes a blond in this movie) and a provocative but gracious characterization by Lori Saunders (right), who subsequently went on to star in the "Petticoat Junction" TV series.
The musical performances here are purely stand alone (no ties whatsoever into the script), but almost all are so well done it doesn't matter. In fact, many reviews of this film state that the ridiculous storyline and simplistic acting is worth sitting through just to hear the music. And frankly I agree.
Why? Well, this represents one of the few (and arguably the best) feature film appearances the Beach Boys ever made. They were red hot at the time this was filmed, coming at their peak mid 60s hit producing period (which was right before the first Brian Wilson meltdown). Ditto Lesley Gore; she is at the top of her 60s game here, and used The Girls On The Beach as an opportunity to showcase pieces from her latest album, Boys, Boys, Boys (all three numbers she performs are from that LP). While she appeared again later the same year in AIP's Ski Party, this is her best film; she gets lots of screen time here performing choice cuts.
The Score of The Girls On The Beach
I've seen abrupt film beginnings before, but few as blunt as this. Right after the Paramount logo fades, we jump into a somewhat grainy shot of bikinied girls running down the beach, as the soundtrack goes directly into the Beach Boys warbling out the title number. For whatever reason, the combination of the scene and the music make the sequence feel like a rushed-out afterthought. That's because the cinematography is rather generic, as is Brian Wilson's composition. While The Girls On The Beach is a textbook example of his early choral-vocal-focused material -- with an impressively complex arrangement and nice, rich harmonies that have heavy overtones of "Surfer Girl" - in and of itself it's not particularly special.
As the song continues, we transit to a club setting, where the band is performing it on stage. When they finish, Dennis Wilson announces the Beach Boys are taking a break, and that "your house band, the Crickets are coming on" (this leads to one of the better lines in the script, as one of the adult waiters in the club complains to his co-worker "Crickets? Beatles? Termites? What is it with these bugs?!??") The somewhat conservative looking Crickets (they're all in suits) come on and go right into an interesting version of La Bamba, while the kids jump up to dance. Just as we sit back to enjoy the song and the close ups of bikinied girls fruggin' away, the camera pans away from the band and the soundtrack pushes the music into the background as the primary characters are introduced. Among them are Selma (Noreen Corcoran), President of the Alpha Beta Sorority and several of her sister officers.
After getting a phone call from their sorority house mother telling them there is "a problem" (which turns out to be desperate financial straights), the girls jump into a convertible (the requisite type of car for lead characters in the Beach Party genre) and drive back to the "Spring Break Headquarters" of Alpha Beta, were, hey, there's a party going on! And what a party it is, for the entertainment is being provided by none other than Lesley Gore, who is performing Leave Me Alone. This musical segment is fun to watch for a bunch of reasons. First, Lesley is singing one of her better textbook "broken heart" numbers, made all the more impressive by the fact she wrote this song herself. Second, despite the sad nature of the piece, she presents it during a festive party, singing along with a record player while surrounded by bikinied girls and their guys who are all busy happily dancing away, an incongruous setup which makes the whole thing all the more entertainingly ridiculous (as shown in the shot to the right). Despite that, Lesley projects good screen presence here, enough such that one wishes she'd gotten an acting role in the production.
The storyline continues with a series of silly, sit-comish attempts by the girls to raise funds to save their sorority house from foreclosure, including entering a baking and newspaper puzzle competition, as well as a beachfront beauty contest. The latter provides an excuse for some blatantly provocative shimmying by "Patricia" (Lori Saunders, scene shown at right) during a "harem girl" routine she performs in the competition.
We then sit through The Lonely Sea, a solo number by Brian Wilson, as far as I know the only one he ever performed in any film. While the concept here is good -- Brian is singing what many feel is one of his best classic, complicated harmony ballads to a bunch of girls seated around him and a campfire on the beach at dusk, the execution unfortunately fails. The "day for night" cinematography is amateurishly done, and the "solo" setting seems silly given one hears all five members of the band singing. The best way to enjoy this segment is to enjoy the soundtrack but ignore what's on screen (do your grocery list or fingernails while listening).
However, this waste of a great artist in a poor setting is redeemed almost immediately. Right after the "beach at dusk" sequence ends, we cut immediately back to the club, and one of the greatest pop music moments that came out of any 1960s film. As the camera pans across the floor, we see bikinied girls rushing towards a crowd in front of the stage, as a tight, urgent rhythm guitar line fills the soundtrack. As the shot moves into the mob, we see that it is surrounding the Beach Boys, who proceed to pound out Little Honda, arguably one of the best uptempo "hot rod" (in this case "cycle") numbers that Brian Wilson ever composed. Not only is the kick-butt piece a treat to hear (simply by virtue of composition) but is hugely complemented by the sight of the band playing it while surrounded by scores of teen women rocking back and forth. This is just classic, pure 1960s fun, a snapshot of a lost moment in time when pure musicianship in and of itself could still grab the attention of an audience. Frankly, all the script nonsense that proceeded this sequence is worth sitting through, just to catch this wonderful two and half minute segment.
By now, the storyline has gotten the guys after the sorority beauties to dig themselves into a hole by promising they can deliver the Beatles to perform at a fund raising concert. In an attempt to cover their tracks, the men sneak into the Alpha Beta "Spring Break Headquarters" in an effort to steal a telegram in the house they know will uncover their lies. Unfortunately, the girls arrive back at the house early and force the men to hide upstairs.
While the men are trapped, the girls downstairs proceed to take a soda pop break while Lesley Gore performs for them again, this time It's Gotta Be You. This is another classic moderate tempo Gore piece, and just as entertaining as her earlier prior appearance. As Leslie intensely sings her heart out, she's surrounded by serious looking -- but bikinied -- "sorority sisters." Presumably, the "wounded heart" nature of the number demanded a setup of sympathetic listeners, but their beach bunny attire makes for another amusingly incongruous contrast with the desperate "I'll die without you" lyrics. Georgia, one of the sorority officers (played by Gail Gilmore, an intriguing actress whose short mid 60s career consisted almost solely of appearances in Beach Party clones, and who for whatever mysterious reason is credited here as "Gail Gerber") exacerbates this by strutting around in the background to the chugging rhythm of the melody. Given this is the second time in the film we've experienced this blatant disparity between Lesley's music and the setting, I get the sense the screenwriter for this thing was having a tough time figuring out how to work her emotional pieces into the comparatively insipid plot.
We subsequently proceed to the storyline climax, which involves the sorority officers rushing around like mad right as the fund raising show starts, trying to throw together costumes so they can impersonate the Beatles (who they -- at the 11th hour -- realize aren't coming, after the men fooled them into promoting the fab four as the main attraction of the concert). To buy the girls time, the Crickets and Lesley Gore both perform.
The Crickets part of this "stalling-for-time-as-excuse-for-an -extended-musical-interlude" sequence is unfortunate, as they get little respect. They're brought on and immediately jump back into La Bamba again, which begins to give us the impression they are being used a running joke gimmick, not a guest starring act. After a short distraction involving Georgia off driving around like a madman, we cut back to the club, and yet another Lesley Gore treat. This time around, she performs I Don't Wanna Be A Loser, a piece which subsequently ended up in most of her Golden Hits and anthology collections. In other words, this is the rare clone sight of a major artist performing one of their classic pieces.
And Lesley makes the most of it: finally, we get to see her in a proper setting, on stage, playing the role of the pop Diva. One gets a nice glimpse of that here, as Lesley at her teen prime dramatically emotes the rather complex ballad (this thing continually changes tempo and timbre, something any musician will tell you is hard to pull off well). Enjoy this not just for what it is -- an excellent performance -- but also because it's the last decent music in the film. Everything goes seriously downhill from this point on, starting with yet another short appearance by the Crickets playing -- yes -- La Bamba again.
Gore singing "I Don't Wanna Be A Loser" After Lori Saunders is thrown on stage to repeat her harem girl routine (yawn), the notes get even more sour. The sorority officers finally get "costumed" and rush on stage to perform a shallow, anemic impersonation the Beatles, in a completely forgettable number called It's Beginning To Show. While it of course contains the obligatory "ya ya's," suffice to say this throwaway is something Lennon and Mcartney couldn't have been forced to compose even if roasted alive over hot coals. But the insult to the Fab Four doesn't stop there: things are made worse by the fact the female actors do an absolutely horrific job of pretending to play their instruments (in particular, Miss Gail "surname-du-jour"/Gerber/Gilmore/whatever; she doesn't even attempt to pound the Ludwig drums in anything like a realistic fashion). Irrespective of all this, the girls in the audience go wild, to the point they forgive the sorority for "misleading" them and demand that the "girl group" come back on.
So, adding insult to injury, we are forced to sit through yet another "performance" by the girls, this time dressed in normal attire. Incredibly, they somehow manage to lower the musical bar even further as they wail out We Want To Marry A Beatle. Mercifully, this appalling excuse for a "song" is short, and the film closes with snapshots of various prior scenes as a male voiceover describes a happy ending.
As bad -- really, really bad -- as those last five minutes are, please don't let them deter you from watching this film. The wonderful Beach Boys and Lesley Gore performances that proceed this screamingly weak finale are the real musical legacy of the production.