Back to the "Beach Party"

Over the weekend, my latest drive-in theatre excursion took me and the car to see the original 1963 "Beach Party," which spawned a flurry of schlocky sequels and rip-offs.

I'm always happy to visit the Starlight in Atlanta, one of my haunts when I moonlighted as a relief projectionist. In those days, the machine booth was located inside the snack bar building, sharing a corridor with the men's room. Customers passed my door for one or two reasons.

That's the best joke I could come up with.

And it's better than any in "Beach Party." The flick was screened as part of Tiki Torch Night, an event sponsored by a nearby Polynesian restaurant, celebrating 30 years of overpriced drinks with teensy umbrellas in them.

The movie's headliner is Nervous Tic Bob Cummings, always a favorite of the Clearasil set.

Bob had been a successful motion picture and television star for three decades. Taking a role in this quicky American-International project must have been somewhat of an embarrassment, especially when third and fourth-billed Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon became the beneficiaries plucked into the spin-offs to follow.

Frankie and Annette were Elvis in their films, mimicking the gold-plated Presley formula to success. They'd croon a couple of tunes and hotrod and surfboard via rear-screen projection.

I'm still trying to book a plane that way.

In "Beach Party," Bob is the quintessential square professor, complete with bad hat, bad bow tie, and bad beard. He's studying the mating rituals of the modern young people, so his slipping into a full-bodied 1920s bathing suit with skirt does help out in the incognito undercover work.

Eventually, the professor is brought into a crazy, swinging world of electric razors and Morey Amsterdam poetry recitations, where everyone ends up with the right boy or girl and they twist a lot.

There's something endearingly sweet and innocent about the picture, although it's more Jurassic than classic.

I enjoyed my first viewing of the comedy since attending 1978's Beach Party Film Festival at the lackluster -- heck, lackluster would have been an improvement -- at the lack-any-amenity-known-to-mankind Smyrna Drive-in, north of Atlanta.

When theatres had slogans, like the Central ("Always Paramount"), the Fox ("The South's Finest Theatre"), and the Loew's Grand ("The Home of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures"), the Smyrna boasted, "Always Out of Focus and a Pebble in Your Shoe."

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