Release Date(s)1987 (August 9, 2022)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Paramount Presents #34)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C
Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, stars of several 1960s beach party movies, returned to the screen 25 years later in Back to the Beach, a good-natured, satirical take-off on that series with lots of vintage music and period choreography, a surfing competition, some harmless romantic jealousy, and a host of cameo appearances.
Frankie and Annette have gotten married and moved to Ohio. Frankie owns a car dealership and sells his cars through TV ads, while Annette prepares meal after meal of peanut butter sandwiches. They have two children: daughter Sandi (Lori Loughlin), who has moved to Malibu, young pre-teen son Bobby (Demian Slade), who dresses in punk attire, brandishes a switchblade comb, and constantly criticizes the vapidness of his parents.
Frankie, Annette, and Bobby head off for a vacation in Hawaii but take advantage of a layover to pay a surprise visit to Sandi in Malibu. There, Frankie becomes incensed upon learning that his daughter has been living with a beach bum. On discovering that some of their old gang, including Connie (Connie Stevens), are still hanging out at the beach, Frankie decides that he’d like to stay for a while, after all. Annette thinks Frankie is flirting with Connie and Frankie thinks Annette is flirting with a surfer dude. That’s where most of the fun begins.
Frankie sings several songs, backed up by three extraordinarily talented musicians. Annette performs an elaborate Jamaica Ska with Fishbone, the unlikeliest pairing ever, and a beachful of bathing-suited dancers. That number is a highlight, dwarfing any number from the original series.
Conflict is kept light and easily resolved. The tough surfer gang challenges the nice surfer guys to a competition, with professional surfers doubling for the actors, and Frankie comes out of retirement as the Big Kahuna, grabbing his old 9-foot surfboard to pinch-hit for an injured competitor. It’s no surprise that everything turns out happily in this feel-good, nostalgic romp.
Though the film gets off to a slow start, it’s worth sticking with it. A slew of cameos in the Malibu sequences add to the fun—Edd “Kookie” Byrnes, Bob Denver, Don Adams, Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow, Jerry Mathers, and Alan Hale, Jr. In a particularly surreal sequence, Pee-wee Herman pops up from out of nowhere to sing Surfin’ Bird, and disappears as quickly as he appeared.
Annette recaptures the virginal innocence of the young Annette. Her streetwear ensembles are conventional suits and shirtwaists in intentionally tasteless colors and patterns. On the beach, she wears a series of modest swimwear ensembles that look more like silly dresses—true to the full-coverage bathing suits she wore in the original pictures, with a belly button nowhere in sight. Her hair is sculpted into what looks to be enough hair for a trio of women. One character actually comments how amazing it is that, even though she’s been surfing, her hair is perfectly dry.
Frankie takes his line readings too far over the top and, combined with a look of wide-eyed astonishment, tries too hard to land the gags. When he regains his mojo, there are amusing cutaways to various interruptions as he surfs the gigantic process-screen waves, including a nonchalant autograph signing for a fan who emerges from the water.
He duets with Connie Stevens on California Sun, conjuring memories of the typical beach party movie songs. Others, heard mostly in bits and pieces, include Venus, Wipe Out, Wooly Bully, Limbo Rock, Que Sera Sera, Absolute Perfection, Pipeline, Catch a Wave, The Loco-Motion, and the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
First-time director Lyndall Hobbs put together an enjoyably silly film which is all the more endearing because the principals are in on the joke and have no problem spoofing themselves. The energy level is high and never lets up, which can be somewhat exhausting, but the film works as an homage to films like Beach Blanket Bingo and Muscle Beach Party. A lot of the comedy falls flat, but then again, the gags in the 60s films were no gems either. This is the kind of picture that surprises. It’s a lot better than you might think, with those neat cameos enhancing a familiar, predictable plot.
Back to the Beach was shot by director of photography Bruce Surtees on 35 mm film with Panavision cameras and lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. For its premiere on Blu-ray via the Paramount Presents line, Back to the Beach has received a 4K restoration from a new scan of original film elements. The picture is beautiful, with a film-like quality, naturally grainy, and with excellent detail, particularly in clothing patterns, foam on the waves, sand, and strands of hair. The color palette is bright, with an array of primary and pastels, particularly in the beach party scenes. The opening titles in shocking pink are dazzling. Complexions look natural, though Annette is carefully made up and is never seen wet or less than perfect. Frankie Avalon’s complexion is deeply tanned, far more than the other actors, making it look as if he could have used some good sunscreen.
Audio is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as a French 2.0 Dolby Digital option. Subtitles include English, English SDH, and French. Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout. Sound mixing is most impressive in the musical numbers, particularly California Sun and Jamaica Ska. Steven Dorff’s score along with several popular rock ’n’ roll songs provide background music, and both are nicely mixed with dialogue and ambient sound.
Back to the Beach is the 34th release in the Paramount Presents series. The slipcase opens to reveal the film’s original poster, and a Digital code is included on a paper insert. Only one piece of bonus material is included:
- Filmmaker Focus with Director Lyndall Hobbs (9:03)
Hobbs relates her background directing music videos. She accepted the offer to direct Back to the Beach, though she had misgivings and was “logistically challenged.” There were many night shoots during the winter and the cast was cooperative. She singled out Jamaica Ska, with its conga line stretching down the beach, as one of her favorite scenes. Working with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon was a delight. They were both totally professional, always prepared, and willing to take direction. She regrets that the film didn’t get a big opening from Paramount, but it did get some enthusiastic reviews. She felt that, as a female director, she had to get the film in on budget and on time, and she did.
Back to the Beach is far from high art, but it’s fun. It revels in its own cheesiness. In her memoirs, Annette Funicello wrote that she and Frankie Avalon were preparing a sequel in which their characters go on safari in Africa, but her illness compelled her to withdraw from the project. She did agree to go on a Back to the Beach stage tour with Avalon.
- Dennis Seuling