House band in this film: The Kingsmen, from Portland, Oregon, a group which prior to this film had gone through several line up changes. Per Clay Stabler, an expert on the band, the group you see in movie consists of Mike Mitchell on guitar and vocals, Lynn Easton on sax and lead vocals, Norm Sundholm on bass and vocals, Dick Peterson on drums and vocals and Barry Curtis on organ and vocals.
Things start off on a good foot, with both the most creative title sequence of the entire series (claymation by Art Clokey, the creator of Gumby) and some fun music. That's a wonderful Baxter instrumental piece, one that employs a pounding, guitar-based Bo-Diddley-ish rhythm section as foundation. The number builds and builds as the titles proceed, reaching a climax when the main title is finally introduced.
After the basic storyline (which here involves a cameo Avalon being off on naval reserve duty) is introduced, we switch to the beach, where the gang is dancing to some unnamed twangy guitar piece. The subsequent appearance of a walking but empty bikini leads the men in the group to jump into the title song, and it’s here we first realize that the music this time around is definitely different. How To Stuff A Wild Bikini is performed by a choreographed male ensemble (above), led by John Ashley – a veteran of four of five of the prior films who hadn’t previously sung in any of them. He is given a red electric guitar as a prop, which amusingly gives the viewer the sense he supposed to be standing in for long-gone Dick Dale. It’s actually not a bad number, a good combination of upbeat “orchestrated” rock and ensemble singing. This is complimented by some nice camerawork, which of course involves lots of close up admiration of bikinied girls.
This is followed by the arrival of Mickey Rooney’s character (“Peachy,” a yes-manish advertising promoter). Just to add emphasis to his corporate-ness, he’s pretentiously outfitted in a three piece suit and bowler. After picking the newly arrived “Cassandra” (a muse-like bombshell that has been created by a witch doctor Frankie retained, placed on the beach to distract the boys away from Dee-Dee ) as the model “girl next door” for a motorcycle promotion, the women in the gang object by jumping into the rollicking How About Us (scene shown on lobby card, left). It’s a treat here to finally see an ensemble number that doesn’t include a principal cast member (ergo, Annette) and the girls make the most of it, surrounding and badgering Rooney. He joins in, eventually insisting that he can’t be swayed from his original choice.
Annette is then introduced to her replacement love interest, Dwyane Hickman, who is Rooney’s pre-determined choice for the “boy next door” for his promotion. Amusingly, "Dee Dee" is sitting on the beach fully clothed, in contrast to all the other bikinied girls running around. So despite her baggy cover up, attention to her "condition" (ergo, pregnancy) is immediately drawn.
We then cut to a corporate conference room, where Rooney discusses his choices with his boss, “B.D. (Big Deal) McPherson” (played by seasoned character actor Brian Donlevy). This leads to the male ensemble number Madison Avenue. This quirky number almost seems out of place, being the antithesis of everything Beach Party music had previously been about (it’s an old fashioned musical comedy number, in a formal setting and performed solely by white males, many well over the age of 40). However, that contrast is effective, as it reinforces the elements of Mickey Rooney’s character and scripts’ subtle subversive notion of “adult big business” trying to take advantage of the “kids.”
Later, we’re back at the beach at night. John Ashley appears with that red electric guitar again, so we know we’re in for a musical number. He goes through the crowd telling every guy “Operation Cassandra,” which leads to a male ensemble number, That’s What I Call A Healthy Girl. It’s the first real rock n’ roll piece in the film, sung by the guys as they surround Beverly Adams. She literally glows as the men in the gang sing their song of worship, while the girls stand in the background, doing a slow burn. Mickey Rooney arrives, and after a rather archaic “gay” joke, he rescues Cassandra from her admirers.
After some intermediary nonsense, we are back at the beach during the day. After one of the most ridiculous, blatant and embarrassing product placements in movie history (Annette and Dwayne Hickman are shown sitting together on a beach blanket, each busily chowing down their own huge personal bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken) we are treated to another wonderful Baxter instrumental, during a beach “chicken fight.” This diversion is somewhat reminiscent of the Beach Ball sequence in Pajama Party, albeit without the dance choreography. That's not the only thing that's familiar here; Baxter's composition - a guitary, moderate tempo number -- sounds quite a bit like Henry Mancini's Baby Elephant Walk from the 1962 John Wayne film Hatari (that reference may not ring bells for many, but I guarantee if you heard the latter song, you'd immediately recognize it).
The script then turns to developing the Eric Von Zipper part of the storyline (he desires to change his “image” from that of a cycle thug to Rooney’s corporate “boy next door,” primarily so he can get closer to Cassandra). He and the Ratz and Mice show up at Mickey’s office, which results in a great ensemble number, The Boy Next Door. What’s entertaining here isn’t just Lembeck’s usual great character play, it’s also the amusing choreography as Rooney repeatedly attempts to chase the gang out the door.
By now, we’re well into the film, and it’s time for a club scene. We go the club (which looks like it was decorated by the Egyptian cousin of Martha Stewart; you'll have to see it for yourself to understand what I mean), which gives the writers an excuse to put in an appearance by The Kingsmen, the house band in the movie. Other than Stevie Wonder, this is about as close as one ever gets to seeing a true “brand name” rock group in these films, and they were already well known for their infamous, legendary 1963 mega-hit version of Louie Louie. While we’re praying for them to jump into that number, they instead proceed to bang out Give Her Lovin, which is about as close as one can come to a museum quality example of the generic, somewhat vacant sound of domestic rock n’ roll circa late 1965. In other words, it’s neither here nor there; not early 60s fun nor late 60s psychedelia. Also, for whatever reason, the feeling during this piece (as the editing bounces back and forth between the band and the dancing kids) is somewhat – and sadly – fatigued. One senses that the excitement of a rock group driving the kids “wild” (which had been readily apparent two years earlier in the first film) has run out of steam, and that we are just going through the motions here.
Fortunately, that fatigue evaporates somewhat when Kingsmen lead singer Lynn Easton (who is given a rare script line) invites “Dee Dee” to do a song. A dressed up (and still covered) up Annette jumps into the scene, and gently dances around the room as she confidently sings Better Be Ready. Much better written and performed than the piece that preceded it, the bouncy pop-balladish Better Be Ready underscores how critical Funicello’s mere presence has become to the series at this point. Without her (or Lembeck) things tend to feel stale. The moment she appears, the sun comes out.
The club scene continues with arrival of Von Zipper, who dances with Cassandra to an unnamed twangy Kingsmen tune. That is followed by a confrontation between him and the character played by Dwayne Hickman. After Dwayne gives Zipper the infamous "Himalayan suspension technique" (a.k.a. the “finger,”) he asks Annette “what was all that about?” She responds with one of the most honest script lines of these films, laughing as she says “it’s a long story.”
The next day, we’re back at the beach, and almost immediately get treated to one of the best film musical numbers Annette ever did. Seated in the sand with all the girls in the gang surrounding her (left), the scene starts with Dee Dee reading a letter from Frankie to her friends. Telling her how lucky she is to have such a wonderful guy, Annette responds to the group with The Perfect Boy, a classic, upbeat AIP film ballad. As a bouncy, popish piece, the song plays to Annette’s strengths, and is polished by the choruses of the female ensemble as they rock back and forth to the beat. Unfortunately, the film version of this great song is quite abbreviated; the preferable one on the Wand soundtrack LP is much longer, containing a full additional verse and a choral/instrumental bridge.
After Annette gets additional information (to the effect that Frankie is not being loyal), we cut to the dark, grimy pool hall hangout of the Ratz and Mice. Harvey Lembeck arrives, surprisingly decked out in a three Annette regails the girls of the beach gang with piece suit and bowler. The gang responds negatively to "The Perfect Boy," one of her best numbers of the whole series to his new “corporate boy next door” image. This leads leads him to march the Ratz and Mice through an amusing reprise of their I am My Ideal number from Beach Blanket Bingo, except this time with different lyrics and better choreography. Frankly, the version here is more fun than the one in the prior film, the humor here being more engaging, supported by better camerawork and costuming. By the end of the number, the entire motorcyle gang has been transformed from a bunch of leathered thugs and chicks to a group of suited yuppies (below, right), albeit two decades before that term existed.
By now, Annette is furious with Frankie and he is frustrated at the failure of his attempts to keep her “faithful.” As both lean towards new relationships, the script creatively tells that story through a musical number, If It’s Gonna Happen. This is a truly unique piece, a “duo split screen duet,” with Annette and Dwayne Hickman singing on the left and Frankie Avalon and Irene Tsu on the right. The ballad is the second great one in this film, and a nice example of how a good book piece can communicate emotion better than any straight script line. Note that you’re hearing more than the actors here; Tsu’s brief solo vocal early in the piece is a dub, she is just mouthing the voice you hear, which is actually that of Arthur Godfrey Show alumnus Lu Ann Simms. Interestingly, the Wand soundtrack LP version of this song is different, performed solely (and gorgeously) by Simms. More information on this and Simm's career is on the How to Stuff A Wild Bikini Original Soundtrack Album page of this site.
Baxter continues to demonstrate his competency during a subsequent fight scene between Hickman and a villain character, “South Dakota Slim.” The bouncy, effective theme piece he scored for this segment is reminiscent of the “POW BANG KRUNCH” school of music one heard during the inevitable battle at the climax of every contemporary Batman TV show.
Speaking of climaxes, we’re now heading for the supposed one of this feature, the motorcycle race. Before we get there, however (and lower your expectations, it’s like every other silly motorized action sequence in these films, ergo cheap and poorly done B movie slapstick) we get to watch some absolutely wonderful interplay between two comic greats, Rooney and Lembeck. The pair is literally on character actor autopilot as they scheme to cheat to win the motorcycle race. The combination of Rooney’s classic nasty slow burn and Lembeck’s brain-dead misinterpretations is a pure joy to watch.
After the race, things come to a close with a cozy night time beach scene. The music starts right at the beginning of the sequence, with John Ashley again at guitar (this time acoustic). As the camera does a long tracking shot across campfires, surrounded by gang members busy smooching and hugging, we hear a slow ensemble piece, After The Party. This almost Mitch-Millerish sounding number is somewhat stuffy, but appropriate to the scene and the presumed emotion behind it. Dee Dee says goodbye to Hickman, Frankie literally appears out of nowhere, and he and Annette close their Beach Party career as they should, kissing on the beach.
As the credits roll, we hear yet another jazzy Baxter theme piece (he really peaked with this film), which is shown over a reprise of the beach chicken fight sequence. AIP – which never missed an opportunity to promote its wares – also sticks in a promo for its upcoming Sergeant Deadhead (a now comparatively forgotten "military/space musical comedy" that -- by virtue of casting and scripting -- is closely related to the Beach Party genre, and is covered in the clone section) at the end.