A Swingin’ Summer (1965)***

I admit it: spotting this on YouTube I couldn’t resist. After all, someone has to report on the first proper Raquel Welch picture. Plus, I had never seen a beach movie, such a staple of the decade. Plus, depending on your point of view, Raquel gets to sing.

But why waste any brainpower coming up with a new idea when you can recycle an old one – let’s put the show on in the barn. Or a version of it.

Raquel Welch – distinctive in any language.

When their summer plans are dashed, students Mickey (James Stacey) and Rick (William Wellman Jr.) decide to promote a series of beach concerts. That doesn’t sit too well with lifeguard Turk (Martin West) who takes an unwelcome shine to Mickey’s neglected girlfriend Cindy (Quinn O’Hara). Rick, meanwhile, is intrigued by nerdy Jeri (Raquel Welch) but a bit put off to discover she’s more interested in a meeting of minds than anything more obvious, and possibly by her independent, proto-feminist streak, in that she selected him for her “summer romance.”

Just in case you thought there wasn’t much else to do but wait till the wannabe promoters got their act together and people fell in and out of love, there’s a hefty amount of subplot: a fistfight, a robbery and a water-ski version of “chicken.” Plus if there was any chance of you getting bored, house band Gary and the Playboys and a variety of other acts, including as the climax The Righteous Brothers, hit the stage and, in the interests of gender equality, the platoon of good-looking women hanging around are matched by a squad of good-looking men. 

There’s even some effort at comedy, a few pratfalls, mostly thanks to the distractions of Jeri, and one gender-switch sight gag which seemed pretty daring for the times, and even a nod in the direction of health food fads. Perhaps, more surprisingly, are the solid characterisations, the principled Mickey who refuses to sponge off Cindy’s rich father. Discovering she bailed him out behind his back, securing the sum required for the project from her father, he accepts the money as a loan but renegotiates the interest rate.

Jeri is way ahead of her time, analysing the men she fancies and with the repartee to keep them in line. It’s pretty even-handed in the beach costume department, for every girl in a bikini or tight top there’s a bare-chested topless hunk, though it still manages to be overtly sexist, girls needing measured by an obliging male in order to enter a beauty contest.

Scottish actress Quinn O’Hara (The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, 1966), a former beauty queen and girlfriend of pop star Fabian (Mr Hobbs Takes a Vacation, 1963), must have thought the prospect of becoming the breakout star pretty high, what with her reimagining of the Lana Turner/Jayne Mansfield tight top. Her only rival was the girl playing the nerd who hooked the male lead’s best friend. Ostensibly, the nerd was not much of a part, spouting psycho-babble most of the time.

A nerd is still a nerd, O’Hara must have assumed. Unless she’s Raquel Welch.

Welch handles the dialog very well, probably longer speeches than anyone else, but even with  her horn rim glasses and hair in a bun, and determined to measure potential partners by their brain cells, she stands out as an independent thinker long before she releases her secret weapon, a yellow bikini, and smart enough to work out that if that doesn’t set a man’s pulse racing to head for second base – jumping onto the stage to strut her stuff.

It’s a bit of a stretch to argue that an appearance in a low-budget beach movie ushered her into the Hollywood fast lane, but, hey, timing is everything, especially if you happened to catch the eye of a producer looking for someone to model a fur bikini.

None of the men made much of a splash in the movie business though James Stacy was the male lead opposite Welch in Flareup (1969). Supporting actor Allan Jones was the biggest name in the cast but well past his heyday as a Marx Bros stooge.

Some of the singers were better known than the actors. Topping the bill in that respect were The Righteous Brothers – hot after “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling and “Unchained Melody” – who sang “Justine” (no smash, reaching just No 85 in the U.S. singles chart). Gary Lewis and the Playboys also topped the charts in 1965 with “This Diamond Ring.” But The Rip Chords were coming to the end of their chart life. Raquel’s song “I’m Ready to Groove” did not set the house on fire, it’s fair to say.

Robert Sparr (More Dead Than Alive, 1969) was at the helm. Leigh Chapman (Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, 1974) and Reno Carrell (Winter a-Go-Go, 1965), also the producer,  collaborated on the screenplay.

A harmless curio – a neat 80 minutes long – and if you’re intent on watching a beach movie it might as well be this.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

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