(This post is part of the LA Plays Itself in the Movies Series – thanks again to Julia for her organizational skills!)
There was no way I was going to make it through this series without covering a beach party movie. Los Angeles made the beach party movie genre happen. And if it weren’t for beach party movies, the world would probably be a much, much less wonderful place. Or at least my world would be a much, much less wonderful place, because it seems my appetite for 1960s campiness knows no bounds.
I really could have written about any beach party movie here – Beach Blanket Bingo, or any of the other Frankie and Annette movies would work, but instead, I want to spread the gospel of It’s a Bikini World, one of the most awesome and most LA-centric beach party movies. It’s also one of the hardest to find, because it’s not available on DVD, so be warned, I am crafting my commentary from memory, as the one and only time I saw this movie was about a year ago at a screening at the Egyptian. I therefore refuse to be held responsible for factual inaccuracies.
It’s a Bikini World stars Deborah Walley (who is totally the most underrated actress of the 1960s, and also is the best Gidget) as Delilah Dawes, which would obviously be my burlesque name if I were burlesque-dancing inclined. Delilah catches the eye of surfing rapscallion Mike Samson (played by Tommy Kirk) who decides to get in her pants. But Delilah will have nothing to do with him, so he disguises himself as his (imaginary) twin brother so that he can woo her. Meanwhile, local impresario Daddy (played by Sid Haig of House of 1000 Corpses infamy) is staging a giant race to advertise his new line of skateboards (seriously) and when she hears that Mike is entering the race, Delilah decides to enter, too, just to show him what’s what. Also, Delilah is wearing various ridiculous brightly colored bikinis during all of this.
Got that? Good. There’s a quiz later.
What’s most awesome about this movie is the use of locations. The race – which has multiple legs involving skateboards, speedboats, swimming, and (I might be misremembering this particular detail but I hope to god I’m not) camel racing – takes Mike and Delilah all over the city and up and down the coast, and there are some great scenes shot in residential neighbourhoods, where LA looks like a really real place where real people live. The movie is supposed to take place in the summer, but it features shots of Hollywood Boulevard with Christmas lights up, which gives away the dark secret of the beach party movies: they were all filmed in the middle of winter. But the real highlight of this film are the series of scenes set in Daddy’s nightclub, the Dungeon. The scenes were shot in The Haunted House, a club near Hollywood and Vine that is now, in a classic LA-style re-appropriation of space, a porn theatre. Before its current state as a house of ill-repute, it was Sardi’s, and then Zardi’s, and then in the 1960s, it became The Haunted House, complete with a stage shaped like a gaping monster mouth that spewed dry-ice smoke. Add a few go-go dancers doing the frug, and you’ve clearly got a recipe for an amazing night out.
It’s a Bikini World makes amazing use of the Haunted House. The most awesome thing about beach party movies is the cast of musical guests that appear – in It’s a Bikini World, The Animals, The Castaways, the Gentrys, and the Toys all grace the Haunted House’ monstrous stage. And it is an amazing thing. (See the Animals below!)
I love how the beach party movies – and this one, in particular – stage an encounter between 1960s teenybopper culture and the workings of the LA’s music industry. For me, it really represents Los Angeles, and, more broadly, Southern California, as a place that America projects its dreams onto: here, teenage fantasies about life as a Southern Californian surf bum collide with the ambitions of musicians trying to make it big (and appearing in some terrible movies in the process). From a dark, seedy music venues, to surf and sand on the coast, It’s a Bikini World stars Los Angeles as a candy-coated, post-war teenage dream.