Beach Blanket Bingo is the fifth of the Beach Party films that featured Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, but it’s the best-remembered, probably because of that title. For all the good, clean fun going on (as represented by the prim one-piece Funicello always wore, ever conscious of her reputation as a Disney alumna), there’s a surprising amount of subversion and campy weirdness that probably went over the heads of the teens who flocked to see BBB at the drive-in. For one thing, the Rat Pack, the motorcycle gang that bullies the beach-partiers in earlier films, gets a lot more screen time here, including their own song. Besides having Don Rickles and Buster Keaton along to represent an older generation resentful of the hedonism in which they’re no longer allowed to participate, there’s also Paul Lynde camping it up as an unscrupulous talent agent. Oh, and there’s a guy falling in love with a mermaid. (Because, why not?)
Tame as the film seems today, it incensed Walt Disney, who objected to the movie on the basis of its ad slogan: “When 10,000 Bodies Hit 5,000 Blankets….” He was sure this meant that the youth culture was going to hell in a handbasket, and in a way, he was right. Within a year, American International (producers of the Beach Party films) were making exploitation movies focusing on Hell’s Angels; within another year, LSD trippers. It was as if the biker gang from the Beach Party series had taken over.
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