Saturday, July 14, 2018

Ski Party (1965)

 (This post is part of the Winter in July Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini)

American International Pictures' series of "Beach Party" movies remain well known. Baby Boomers remember them fondly from their youth. Younger generations remember them fondly from repeated viewings on television (which is how I first saw them). What is sometimes forgotten is that the "Beach Party" series included movies whose settings were sometimes far from the beach. The first of these was Pajama Party in 1964. The second was Ski Party (1965), which was set on the slopes of a ski resort (it was shot on location in Idaho).

Although part of AIP's "Beach Party" series, like Pajama Party before it,  Ski Party was not a proper sequel to the earlier "Beach Party movies (Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, et. al).  Annette Funicello only appears briefly as a college professor (not Dee Dee of the "Beach Party" films) and while Frankie Avalon stars in the film, he plays an entirely different character. None of the other regular characters from the "Beach Party" series appear, although actors who had previously appeared in "Beach Party" movies do, albeit in different roles. Deborah Walley had previously appeared in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). Dancer Bobbie Shaw appeared in both Pajama Party and Beach Blanket Bingo before appearing in Ski Party.

AIP's "Beach Party" series began in 1963 with the movie Beach Party starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. The movie proved to be a hit, so it was followed by the sequels Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), and Beach Blanket Bingo. Because of the success of Beach Party, other studios soon jumped onto the bandwagon. United Artists put out For Those Who Think Young (1964). Universal released The Lively Set (1964). Paramount came out with The Girls on the Beach (1965) and Beach Ball (1965). And there were yet other movies that imitated AIP's beach films. By 1965 not only had there been three "Beach Party" movies (four if one counts Pajama Party), but there had been several imitators released as well. It was getting more and more difficult to keep the films fresh and interesting. The solution for AIP was then to simply change the setting, yet keep the "Beach Party" formula of teenage independence, fun, music, and mild sexuality. The end results were the movies Pajama Party and Ski Party.

Ski Party centred on college students Todd Armstrong (played by Frankie Avalon) and Craig Gamble (played by Dwayne Hickman, then as now most famous for the title role in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis), who are having no luck in pursuing co-eds Linda Hughes (played by Deborah Walley) and Barbara Norris (played by Yvonne Craig, later to gain lasting fame as Batgirl). Much of the problem seems to be that they, like seemingly every other woman on campus, are drawn to the handsome, athletic, but none too bright Freddie (played by Aron Kinkaid). When Freddie, as president of the college's Ski Club, invites a number of beautiful women (including Linda and Barbara) on a ski trip to Idaho, Todd and Craig go to the same resort, despite the fact that neither of them can ski. Complicating things further, Todd and Craig decided to dress as two English girls in order to observe the girls and with any luck learn how to succeed with them. One can perhaps guess what happens from there...

Of course, one of the major attraction of the "Beach Party" movies is the music that appears throughout the series. A very good argument can be made that Ski Party features the best music of any of the films. Surf band The Hondells (who had earlier appeared in Beach Blanket Bingo) played the film's title track and the song "The Gasser". Lesley Gore performed her hit "Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows". Perhaps the biggest surprise among the music acts is the appearance of James Brown and the Famous Flames, who perform "I Got You (I Feel Good)". Even if one doesn't enjoy Ski Party itself (and I don't see why he or she wouldn't), chances are good they will enjoy the music!

Like the earlier "Beach Party" movies, Ski Party is a slight concoction that goes down easily. It is filled with the same sort of misunderstandings and innuendo, although in the case of Ski Party there is a touch of Some Like It Hot (1959) thrown in for good measure. Ultimately, Ski Party is a fun movie that one can sit down and enjoy without thinking too much.

Despite this, Ski Party performed very badly at the box office. In fact, it performed so badly that AIP cancelled plans for their upcoming film Cruise Party, even though it had been announced at the end of Ski Party. It is difficult to say why Ski Party failed. Perhaps audiences wanted to see Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon together (the previous "Beach Party" movie, Beach Blanket Bingo, would be their last in the series together). Perhaps they wanted to see pretty girls in bikinis instead of pretty girls in ski suits. Perhaps it was the timing of its release. Despite the fact that Ski Party is set during the winter, it was released on June 30 1965, when most people probably aren't thinking about snow! Regardless, it was an enjoyable movie that really deserved to make more money than it did.

Ski Party would not be the last audiences would see of Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman's characters Todd and Craig. The two were the main characters in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), although in this film Mr. Avalon played Craig and Mr. Hickman played Todd. Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine would be the penultimate "Beach Party" movie. With the series running out of steam and making less money with each new release, Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) would be the last of the "Beach Party" movies. Regardless, Ski Party is unique among the "Beach Party" films in being one of two that are not set on the beach (along with Pajama Party) and the only one set at a ski resort in the middle of winter.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The 60th Anniversary of "In Spite of All the Danger" by The Quarrymen

It was sixty years ago today that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, as members of The Quarrymen (the band that would evolve into The Beatles), made their first recordings. One of the songs recorded was a cover of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day". The other song would be the first original song recorded by The Quarrymen (and their only original song at the time). It was "In Spite of All the Danger".  Both songs were recorded at Phillips' Sound Recording Service in Kensington in Liverpool. Phillips' Sound Recording was a small studio in the home of Percy Phillips. Mr. Phillips recorded acetates and tapes for music artists, actors, local businesses, and others. In the case of The Quarrymen, they paid Percy Phillips seventeen shillings and six pence to record the two songs.

"In Spite of All the Danger" is unique in that it is the only composition credited to Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Paul McCartney believes he actually wrote the song and George Harrison simply did the guitar solo. Regardless, it would be the only song on which they shared credit. As to other credits on the song, as leader of the band, John Lennon sang lead vocals and played guitar. Paul McCartney provided backing vocals and guitar, as did George Harrison. John Lowe played piano on the song, while Colin Hanton played drums.

Each member of The Quarrymen kept the acetate for a week, with John Lowe finally keeping it for many years. In 1981 Mr. Lowe tried to sell the recording at auction, but Paul McCartney bought it from him. It would not be released publicly until it appeared on The Beatles' Anthology 1 in 1995.

Without further ado, here are The Quarrymen with "In Spite of All the Danger".

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Late Great Tab Hunter

Tab Hunter, the movie heart throb who appeared in such  films as The Girl He Left Behind (1956), Gunman's Walk (1958), and Damn Yankees (1958), died yesterday, July 8 2018, at the age of 86. The cause was complications from deep vein thrombosis that resulted in a heart attack.

Tab Hunter was born Arthur Andrew Kelm on July 11 1931 in New York City. It was only a few years after Tab Hunter's birth that his parents divorced and his mother moved the family to San Francisco, California. She took back her maiden name, Geilen, and also changed the surnames of her sons. Young Tab Hunter was a figure skater as a teenager. He was also an avid horseman. At the age of 15 he lied about his age in order to enlist in the United States Coast Guard. He was discharged from the Coast Guard a year later when his true age was discovered. Actor Dick Clayton, who had worked with him at a stable, suggested that he finish high school and said that he if ever wanted to work in motion pictures to talk to him.

It was Dick Clayton who introduced young Tab Hunter to agent Henry Wilson, the agent of a number of young, male actors, including Rock Hudson, Guy Madison, and Robert Wagner. It was Henry Wilson who gave young Arthur Geilen his stage name, "Tab Hunter".

Tab Hunter made his film debut in a small part in The Lawless (1950), In the early Fifties he appeared in such films as Saturday Island (1952), Gun Belt (1953), Return to Treasure Island (1954), and Track of the Cat (1954). It was in 1955 that he appeared in his star-making role of Danny Forrester in the film Battle Cry. It resulted in a seven year contract with Warner Bros. Over the next few years Tab Hunter appeared in such films as The Sea Chase (1955), The Burning Hills (1956), The Girl He Left Behind (1956), Lafayette Escadrille (1958), Gunman's Walk (1958), and Damn Yankees (1958). During this period Mr. Hunter was immensely popular. In 1955 he beat out both Jack Lemmon and Harry Belafonte as most promising new personality in an audience poll conducted by the Council of Motion Picture Organisations. So popular was Mr. Hunter that he survived a story published in the scandal magazine Confidential about him being arrested five years earlier at a gay house party. The revelation did nothing to harm his career, even given the rampant homophobia of the times.

Despite such success Tab Hunter was not happy at Warner Bros. After appearing in an adaptation of the book Fear Strikes Out on the TV show Climax!, Mr. Hunter wanted Warner Bros. to buy the film rights to the book. Unfortunately, the studio did not do so. Tab Hunter then bought out his contract with Warner Bros. in 1959. He finished out the Fifties appearing in such films as That Kind of Woman (1959) and They Came to Cordura (1959). He also appeared on television during the decade. He made his debut in an episode of The Ford Television Theatre. He guest starred on such shows as Conflict, Climax!, Playhouse 90, and General Electric Theatre. He starred in the television films Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates and Meet Me in St. Louis. At the end of the decade he starred in his own TV show, The Tab Hunter Show. It lasted one season.  Tab Hunter also had hit singles in the Fifties. In 1957 his song "Young Love" went to no. 1 on the Billboard singles chart. He later had a hit with the song , "Ninety-Nine Ways".

In the Sixties Tab Hunter appeared in such films as The Pleasure of His Company (1961), L'arciere delle mille e una notte (1962), Operation Bikini (1963), Ride the Wild Surf (1964), The City Under the Sea (1965), Birds Do It (1966), El dedo del destino (1967), Hostile Guns (1967), La vendetta è il mio perdono (1968), and No importa morir (1969). He had a cameo in the cult film The Loved One (1965).  He guest starred on the TV shows Saints and Sinners, Combat!, Burke's Law, The Virginian, and San Francisco International Airport.

In the Seventies Mr. Hunter appeared in such films as Sweet Kill (1972), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), Timber Tramps (1975), and Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976). He guest starred on such shows as The Wonderful World of Disney; Cannon; Owen Marshall, Counsellor at Law; Ghost Story; The Six Million Dollar Man; Ellery Queen; Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; McMillan & Wife; The Love Boat; Police Woman; Hawaii Five-O; and Charlie's Angels.

In the Eighties Tab Hunter appeared in such films as Pandemonium (1982), Grease 2 (1982), And They Are Off (1982), Lust in the Dust (1985), Cameron's Closet (1988), Out of the Dark (1988), and Grotesque. He guest starred on the TV shows Benson, The Fall Guy, and Masquerade. In the Nineties he appeared in the film Dark Horse (1992). In 2005 his autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star (co-written with Eddie Muller), was published. In it he came out as gay. The documentary Tab Hunter Confidential was released in 2015.

In his early days Tab Hunter often received searing reviews from critics, but the truth was that he was an actor of considerable talent. If his performances in some of his early films were not up to par, it was perhaps due to Warner Bros. utilising him wrongly rather than a lack of talent on his part. Indeed, even as he was appearing in films for Warner Bros., Mr. Hunter was giving impressive performances on television, playing a soldier accused of murder on Conflict, a young baseball player fighting mental illness on Climax!, and a respected citizen leading a sinister double life on Playhouse 90. Mr. Hunter would also give sterling performances in motion pictures. Even when he was on screen briefly (as in his delightful cameo in The Loved One), Tab Hunter could be impressive. He gave solid performances in Damn Yankees, In the Pleasure of His Company, City Under the Sea, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and many more movies. Even when specific film was not very good, Mr. Hunter always was.

I never got to meet Tab Hunter, although I know people who did. All of them have the same things to say about him. Mr. Hunter was one of the kindest, most generous, most sincere people one could ever meet. I have never heard a bad word said about him. That Tab Hunter was a talented movie is well known, but he was also an incredibly nice guy.