Judge Patrick Bromley is only a medium-sized Kahuna.
It's what happens when the boys take to the sea…and the girls take to the boys!
I am an apologist for movies like 1964's Surf Party, and even I had a hard time getting through Surf Party. What is typically a bouncy, colorful and energetic genre is rendered drab and inert here. Even at a scant 67 minutes, it's a drag to get through.
Singer Bobby Vinton makes his inauspicious acting debut as Len, the owner of a surf shop, who meets a trio of girls visiting the West Coast for the first time. One of the girls has a brother, Skeet (Jerry Summers, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry), who is deeply entrenched in surf culture and leads a gang of surfers who are constantly being harassed by the police. Another girl hooks up with Len, and a third with wannabe surfer Milo (Kenny Miller, Attack of the Puppet People), who runs afoul of the surf gang when a stunt causes damage to the pier. All of this and none of this is resolved through a series of go-nowhere scenes and a bunch of musical numbers, which pad out the movies already-brief running time.
Clearly thrown together as a super low-budget rip-off of AIP's much better Beach Party the year before, Surf Party gets almost nothing right. The drab black and white photography feels more like a 1950s industrial film than it does a fun day at the beach. The story is nonexistent, the acting is beyond amateurish. Even the surfing is miserable to watch, as director Maury Dexter intercuts terrible stock footage with fake "actor surfing" inserts that would embarrass surfing Greg Brady on The Brady Bunch. There is no sense of fun to much of anything, and even though some of the songs are catchy and recorded with some energy (I would say performed, but everyone is faking it Captain Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters-style), but there are so many of them and the movie works them in so awkwardly that it feels like everything stops cold each time a new one pops up.
Surf Party is available via Fox's Cinema Archives On-Demand program, meaning it's been pressed as a DVD-R. No problems there. The issue is that the image is incorrectly framed (there is a disclaimer at the outset declaring as much); it's not as bad as a "scope" widescreen film being presented full frame, but the film was originally framed at 1.37:1 and has been converted to 4:3 full frame. That's hardly a major change, but in 2013 I would have thought that mishandled aspect ratios where a thing of the past. The transfer itself is fine, with the black and white film showing decent contrast and occasional scratches, with some scenes looking too dark. Overall, though, it looks fine for a cheap black and white movie made almost 50 years ago. The audio track is fine, delivering the mono soundtrack in both of the front channels. The dialogue is audible, the musical numbers are a little thin, but it's mostly as it was meant to be. There are no extras.
I have long been an advocate of every movie being made readily available, so I'm happy that a cheap, long-forgotten exploitation movie like Surf Party can be purchased on DVD. I don't recommend that anyone actually do it, but I'm glad they have the option. Even good surfsploitation movies have a bad rep from most people, so just imagine how bad a really bad one is.
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