Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on June 7, 1966
Directed by William Asher
Written by William Asher and Leo Townsend
Cast: Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Fabian, Chill Wills, Julie Parrish, Harvey Lembeck, Mary Hughes, Douglas Henderson, Baynes Barron, Sandy Reed, Patti Chandler, Len Lesser, Vin Scully (voice)
Believe it or not, perpetual teens Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello didn’t spend the entirety of their mutual cinematic careers frolicking on Southern California beaches and singing their happy little hearts out; at some point in the mid-1960s they decided it was high time to grow up, so they left the surf and sand behind and ventured into the exciting adult world of…stock car racing?
Yes, stock car racing, and just like that, after six beach party films together, Frankie and Annette had graduated from romantic frivolity and comedic hijinks to debauchery and illegal bootlegging, in this half-goofy, half-serious drive-in nonsense from American-International, which was aimed squarely at the rebellious teenage crowd that probably wanted nothing at all to do with it. However, a rebellious teenage gearhead might’ve shown some interest; the film was spilling over with souped-up cars and race footage, and Avalon’s modified ’66 Plymouth Barracuda—the Fireball 500 of the title—was actually a pretty cool hunk of machinery, even for non-enthusiasts.
Frankie plays Dave Owens, a stock car racer who not only battles fellow crooner Fabian for supremacy on the track, but for the affections of Jane, played by the lovely Annette; the famed von Zipper himself, Harvey Lembeck, is the racing promoter who dabbles in moonshine on the side, and tricks Avalon into hauling the stuff under the watchful eyes of two stern federal agents. For whatever reason, the filmmakers chose to ditch the harmless good vibes of the duo’s previous films, and concentrated instead on heavier drama and a very cheeky level of sexuality.
None of which, unfortunately, seemed to work. Frankie was fresh and brash, Annette played hard-to-get, and Fabian was the jerk who got in the way; these dramatics played out against a backdrop of songs, fistfights, and hopelessly-mismatched race footage that just went on and on and on. Thus, the question that begs to be asked is, is any of it worth your time? Well, if you’re a completist of the Frankie and Annette film canon, and love the sight of automobiles endlessly smashing the crap out of each other, then yes, indulge. Otherwise, I think Muscle Beach Party might make for a more satisfying rental. (3/10)