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PAJAMA PARTY

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Tommy Kirk, Annette Funicello, Elsa Lanchester, Jessie White, Jody McCrea, Harvey Lembeck, Buster Keaton
Director:  Don Weis
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer, Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  MGM/UA
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  84 Minutes
Release Date:  September 5, 2000

Film ***

I'd managed to make it through thirty years of my life without ever seeing one of those Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello crazy swinging teenager beach movies from the 60's, and I don't think I was any the worse for it.  I wasn't expecting a lot, therefore, when the DVD for Pajama Party arrived in the mail.  However, when I popped the disc in my player and fired up the trailer just out of curiosity, I got a wonderful surprise—Buster Keaton was in the movie!  The great silent comedian (and my all time favorite film star) who created some of cinema's most enduring and amazing comic films was here, lending his presence to the surf music, skimpy costumes, big hair and raucous teenage antics—and suddenly, I was looking forward to the picture a lot more!

And truth be told, Pajama Party is one goofy, cheesy, cornball comedy, with one of the most absurd attempts at a plot I've ever seen—but the more I tried to groan in protest along the way, the more I found myself chuckling out loud and being won over by the film's energy, music, outrageous slapstick comedy and appealing young stars.  This is not great cinema, but darn it all, it's kind of fun, and very hard to dislike.

Both Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello came from extensive Disney backgrounds, going back to their days together as Mouseketeers.  But when the time came for Ms. Funicello to go forward in her career and make these wacky beach movies, she said that dear old Walt Disney himself gave her one piece of advice:  never abase herself by wearing a bikini on screen—stay with a one piece bathing suit.  And she did exactly that, much to the dismay of generations of young male moviegoers, all of whom probably wished “Uncle Walt” had minded his own damn business.

Okay, I'm gonna try to summarize the story as much as possible here:  a young girl named Connie (Funicello) is having problems with her big lunk of a boyfriend named…well, Big Lunk (McCrea).  He's more interested in volleyball than in her, so she soon hooks up with a likable goof George (Kirk), who's actually a Martian named Go-Go (no, I didn't make that up) who's here on earth to do some scouting for his Martian leaders on whether or not our little planet is ripe for takeover.

Big Lunk's sweet Aunt Wendy (Lanchester), whom the kids all adore, befriends the alien boy and tries to help him fit in.  But she soon has her own problems when the villainous J. Sinister Hulk (White) plans to break into her home and rob her of the millions that rumor says she has stashed somewhere.  Assisting him is a bevy of incompetent sidekicks, including the Indian Chief Rotten Eagle (Mr. Keaton himself, adorned in his famous flat porkpie hat with a long feather).  To top it all off, a biker gang led by one Eric von Zipper (Lembeck) has it in for Big Lunk and the volleyball playing kids over the rights to the beach.  All of this naturally comes together and gets sorted out during the finale, which is the pajama party of the title.

So, will you find this movie funny?  Well, did you smile at all when you read the characters' names?

Yes, the muddled plot is entirely pointless, filled with “McGuffins” to set the story in one direction or another…but it's not the story that's appealing.  It's the set pieces within, most of which involve physical comedy set to the famous Three Stooges sound effects.  A couple of my favorites are the ensuing wet war that develops between Keaton and a perfume girl—she sprays him, and not understanding, he sprays her back.  This starts a terrific running gag.  Another involves the almost balletic fight scene at the party, with Kirk using a bit of his alien powers to help out.  Then there's the plight of Lembeck, who rides in a motorcycle sidecar and always seems to be the worse for it.  One scene has him sailing over a cliff.  He turns and looks right at us, disgusted, saying, “Why me?”.

And I can't leave out the surf music and songs, which are not particularly memorable, but fun and serve the brevity well.  One particularly delightful number is sung by guest star Dorothy Lamour, as she tries to keep up with the dancing styles of her young models.  And don't turn off your player before the end credits, or you'll miss the hilarious bits at the end of Buster Keaton doing the same thing!

But wait…didn't I refer to this as a Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello movie in the opening?  That I did.  Keep your eyes peeled, and you will be rewarded with a terrific payoff.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Look for a teenage Teri Garr (billed as Teri Hope) as one of the dancers who pops up from the sand, and Toni Basil as one of Dorothy Lamour's dancers.  “Oh, Mickey, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind”…yes, THAT Toni Basil.

Video ***

For reasons unbeknownst to me, MGM decided to release Pajama Party with an anamorphic enhancement, something they've neglected to do with some of their more sought after titles, like The Princess Bride.  Well, for the most part, this transfer is groovy and happening in a far out way.  The print is surprising clean, with only minimal tell-tale marks and spots.  Images throughout are very sharp and clean, with good definition and brightness.  Colors are beautifully rendered, which is great, because this is one colorful movie.  From the swimsuits to the pajamas, from the decorative interiors to the sunny outdoors, just about everything renders well.  One darker scene, when Elsa Lanchester is lifted onto the roof, suffered from a bit of grain and image break-up, but later shots of her up there look much better.  This film also mixes some stock footage into the program, and its quality is noticeably poorer.  But overall, fans of this swinging beach series are bound to be more than pleased with MGM's efforts here.

Audio ***

The box says mono, but I'd swear the Dolby digital 2-channel track actually kicks into stereo during some of the musical numbers.  In fact, I'd bet the beach blanket on it, since I know I heard distinct separation between the left and right speakers.  Overall, this is a highly satisfactory soundtrack, clean and clear, with no dialogue problems and a surprising amount of dynamic range.  During one wacky car chase in the middle of the film, I was actually quite surprised at how loud it got.  Of course, the music is the main attraction here, and it comes across beautifully, with a decent amount of bass despite the lack of a .1 signal.  Anyone who wants to can certainly twist the night away in their living room to the sounds of this disc.

Features *

The disc only has the trailer, which is a pretty cool one.  And it DID get me excited about seeing the picture, after all!

Summary:

Hey, it's no Citizen Kane, but come on, lighten up and live a little.  Pajama Party may be low on brain power, but it's high enough on youthful energy, wacky comedy, and appealing stars to keep you smiling.  So invite the family along, and enjoy the shindig.  Cowabunga!!