Fireball 500 [1966]

The sun will never set on Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, The recording star from Philadelphia and the former Mouseketeer give a master class in chemistry in five Beach Party films that make up the bulk of this swinging eight-film box set. Beach Party (1963) helped to usher in a new wave of teen exploitation films that were far more fun and frolicsome than the rock and roll and juvenile delinquent films that preceded it. Frankie rents a beach house for himself and Annette's Dolores. He is stunned to learn that she has gotten cold feet and allowed the whole gang to hang out there. So Frankie decides to "dig somebody else," and Delores takes up with Robert Cummings, an anthropologist studying the sex lives of teens. All ends happily, and chastely. Harvey Lembeck, whose credits include Billy Wilder's Stalag 17, introduced his recurring series role as bumbling biker Eric Von Zipper. Surf guitar god Dick Dale provides accompaniment. Vincent Price pops up as Big Daddy to say, "Bring me my pendulum, kiddies. I feel like swinging." Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) is the magnum Party opus as Frankie goes sky-diving, Bonehead (Jody McCrea) falls in love with a mermaid, Linda Evans sings, Paul Lynde is snide, Don Rickles insults, and Frankie and Annette sing their classic, "I Think, You Think." Bikini Beach (1964) takes a swipe at the upstart Beatles with Frankie in a dual role as British pop star Potato Bug. Muscle Beach Party (1964) was Stevie Wonder's first film, and Peter Lorre's last. How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965) marks the end of an era, with Frankie, off in the Naval Reserves, getting help from witch doctor Buster Keaton in keeping interloper Dwayne Hickman away from Annette. Annette's absence is keenly felt in Ski Party, but James Brown performs, "I Feel Good" and Lesley Gore sings her top-40 hit, "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows." Frankie and Annette were reunited at the racetrack in Fireball 500 (1966), but Fabian is a third wheel as a rival for Annette. Thunder Alley (1967) (from Richard Rush, director of the cult classic, The Stunt Man), is another car-racing vehicle that pairs Annette and Fabian, but by now the thrill is gone. Frankie and Annette are as indelible a screen couple and as inseparable in the public's imagination as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers or Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. What is the secret to their enduring appeal? The last line of Back to the Beach (1987), an unsung gem unfortunately not included in this set, sums it up. Frankie and Annette walk together along the beach for the last time. Frankie turns to the camera and asks, "Are we the corniest couple in the world, or what?" --Donald Liebenson

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