Muscle Beach Party is one of the more forgettable entries in the Beach Party saga, but it is possibly the best in terms of sheer quality. Like all the other films, it is about the same band of kids going to the beach for the summer, but the side story (of the Italian heiress trying to pluck out Frankie and make him a star) is actually pretty interesting. There is also the funny backdrop of the muscle men who have set up camp along the beach, resulting in a very entertaining fight scene at the end.
We also get the standard Frankie-Annette bickering that we have come to expect, and love, from these series. I love them so much because they often argue about whether or not to get married and, over the course of many movies and many years, we don’t see them tie the knot – they are a modern couple and don’t jump to get married like many young people did prior to the 1960s.
In addition to the expected Beach Party fare, the temptation Frankie faces is rather compelling. As an audience, we of course know he’s a talented singer, so the Italian temptress offering him a career as a pop singer is weirdly meta and it’s fun to see everyone’s reactions. Frankie’s friends rebuke him for his choices, with his friend Johnny spitting that “golden surfboards tend to sink.” What?
There’s also a hilarious visual gag of a beach gal, Candy, dancing and making the surfer boys fall off their surfboards with every sway of her hips. This comes in handy at the end, as it sends muscle men flying all over the cabana club and ensures a victory for the scrawnier beach fellas.
This all probably sounds insane if you aren’t a Beach Party fan, but all this crazy narrative makes sense within the Beach Party universe, and especially within this film. Compared to the other entries, Muscle Beach Party is a pretty “normal” film, with significantly fewer camp elements and scenes than the others. It’s the kind of movie you can be less embarrassed to like.
That said, though, Muscle Beach Party is probably one of the less memorable Beach Party films because it is so much more realistic, and the songs aren’t as good as in the other films. We are blessed to see Donna Loren in her first Beach Party appearance (singing the great “Muscle Bustle”) and it’s always fun when Dick Dale and his Del-Tones are around. This movie just makes less of an impression, but it does provide some good flashes of better elements in other beach party films. This is a movie where, for the most part, everything works, but it doesn’t resonate as strong as moments in the other, weaker, Beach Party films.