Beach Party movies ,Donna Loren,American International Pictures,Annette Funicello,Surf music,Beach Party movie soundtrack
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         Sergeant Deadhead

Released August 18, 1965 (also distributed with title "Sergeant Deadhead, The Astronut")

Available on video? Not commercially released, but can be obtained from various private sources on places like eBay.  Also available from the Video Beat (a link to this firm is in the links section).

Soundtrack LP?  No. 

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Synopsis: a bumbling air force sergeant turns his life, his romance and his commanding officers upside down after experiencing a personality change after accidently being shot into space.

On the surface, this AIP-produced attempt at a McHale's Navy-ish military comedy may seem to lay outside the genre of  teen-focused surfer musicals.  However, on closer inspection it becomes clear it's quite closely related: in addition to starring Frankie Avalon and Deborah Walley, the cast also contains many other Beach Party "regulars" such as Harvey Lembeck, John Ashley, Donna Loren, Bobbi Shaw and Buster Keaton (Annette Funicello is notably absent from this list; the presumption is her simultaneous pregnancy/starring role in the filming of How To Stuff A Wild Bikini removed her availability, although at least one viewer has opined "Annette had enough sense to stay out of this one.")  This generally younger crowd is supported by a bunch of older character actor and sitcom stars, including Cesar Romero, Gale Gordon (from the Beverly Hillbillies) and Eve Arden.

The music is also "cloned," being scored by Les Baxter and full of material composed by Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner.  Their songs do vary somewhat from the Beach Party theme, however, being more jazz/lounge oriented than what they wrote for the Beach films (with the exception of a single Donna Loren solo piece, no rock/pop guitar numbers here, but lots of burlesquey sax and string bass).   

To put things into marketing terms, this movie was an attempt by AIP to "leverage" existing stars and musical resources into a "brand extension" of their mid 1960s core competency, which was wacky comedies featuring music.  This time around, the theme is changed to appeal to a broader audience (not just teens; the heavy emphasis on older "guest stars" in the poster above suggests adults were also a target market for this film).  A viewing suggests this strategy was a well intended but failed idea.  The comedy seems forced in many ways and the characters are poorly developed, such that the presumed "humor in uniform" storyline never really gets off the ground.  Apparently the boxoffice never did, either, for AIP didn't follow this up with other broader-audience musical comedies.  

The film does hold some minor interest from a musical perspective, however.  Hemric and Styner show their breadth with some fun ensemble numbers, and Donna Loren displays a different, darker side of her personality as a flaming torch singer.   

The Score of Sergeant Deadhead

After a silly opening segment, the W.A.F.S. (Women's Air Force Service) drill on the parade grounds, forcing Frankie Avalon (Deadhead) off to the guardhouse as they sing Hurry Up And Wait.  It's a pure (and generally forgettable) military march piece which runs under the main titles.

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The primary storyline here involves Lucy (Deborah Walley, left), a Colonel chasing and trying to finally marry Sergeant Deadhead (Avalon), and her frustrated attempts to find closure in the relationship get articulated in How Can You Tell, a mid tempo ensemble ballad set in the women's barracks at bedtime.  The number is cute, primarily because of the choreography and camerwork; it consists of close-ups of a series of singers, who each get their own flashlight and solo      The "W.A.F.S." get surprised in the shower: l-r: unidentified    verse.  Things start with Donna Loren (cast as "Susan," who                     actress,  Donna Loren, Deborah Walley                       actually has a few lines), who then hands off things to                                                                                                         Deborah Walley (who does an acceptable job, her voice is a little thin but she stays in key), followed by an unnamed brunette.  All three then sing a verse, followed by an unnamed blond and then -- surprisingly -- Bobbi Shaw.  Shaw is striking here, for not only does she glow in the soft lighting, but she has a confident, absolutely beautiful sorprano (AIP definitely missed an opportunity by not having Bobbi sing more during her short career at the studio).  Deborah Walley then does another verse, followed by yet another unnamed brunette, with the piece closing with a Walley solo after a full group chorus.

After a bunch of storyline involving brief cameos by Dwayne Hickman, Harvey Lembeck and an almost unrecognizable John Ashley, as well as the interesting sight of Frankie Avalon chasing a shrieking Donna Loren, we're back in the W.A.F.S. barracks again.  Here we encounter "Lieutenant Kinsey," the non-commissioned female officer in charge of the W.A.F.S. (a rarity in the real military of 1965, but nonetheless cast and played by Eve Arden) explaining to Lucy just how difficult it is to get a guy to the altar in the burlesquey You Should've Seen The One That Got Away.  This is a hokey piece to say the least, but Arden shows what a trooper she was by building it into a pretty good "vintage song and dance gal" routine.  Things also benefit from the addition of some brief but entertaining cheesecake choreography in the showers near the end of the number.

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After Avalon and Walley finally manage to get married, we cut to a big urban hotel (in some unamed location), the site of the wedding reception.  As we enter it, the music suddenly takes a dramatic turn, as Donna Loren struts onto the stage (right) backed by a throbbing combo.  No "Hokey Pokey" or other typical reception nonsense here, rather, we're treated to a striking performance of Two Timin' Angel, a punchy mid-tempo rock ballad number, one of the best ever authored by the Styner/Hemric team.   Donna isn't her usual smiling, cute self here; rather, she plays the sullen torch singer, one who morosely tosses her head and throws piercing glances into the audience.  Her performance duirng the song builds and builds, to the extent that by the end Donna literally seems like she's in a trance.  As usual, her vocal during the entire piece is perfection, in fact, so much so that combined with her striking, dark look one gets truly wistful watching this (in the "if-only-this-career-had-gone-further" context); the performance here leaves one fantasizing about what a rock goddess Loren could have become....oh, the vision of her voice floating above a cheering crowd at Woodstock...

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...sigh...well, back to reality. The show under discussion continues with a long "honeymoon" segment, which includes a jazzy seduction duet, Let's Play Love.  This number is choreographed in "ping-pong" mode, starting with Deborah Walley provocatively singing to Avalon (who is playing a dual role here like he did in Bikini Beach).  Walley really demonstrates her competency as an assertive seductress here, literally plastering herself all over Frankie as she turns the heat up (left).  Things switch when Avalon's other character (the real Deadhead) returns, with him taking over the dominant role in the number.  Walley eventually joins in, and both pick up the tempo and pace, ending the number in an embrace as they disappear behind a sofa. 

However, their lovemaking is abruptly interrupted when the adult military characters arrive and announce the couple needs to rush off to Washington to meet the President.  Once they arrive in the Capital, they are loaded into a limo, and onto the way to the White House we hear Avalon perform the last number in the film, The Difference in Me is You.  This is a traditional lounge type ballad which ties directly into Avalon's core style, so his performance here is actually rather engaging.  The whole number consists of a close up of him holding Walley, and the nonverbal interplay between the couple here suggests these two "clicked" as scripted love interests with a lot more spark than the Funicello/Avalon variation ever did.  That may be partly due to Walley; even though she doesn't say a word during this number, she's such an incredibly photogenic ingénue one can almost feel the sincerity in the love lyrics Avalon is singing.

Things close after an amusing Oval Office sequence featuring a great LBJ impression by Pat Buttrram (who has his back to the camera the whole time, but who from the rear looks like Johnson and sure sounds like him!)  The closing title music is pretty much a repeat of what we heard at the beginning: throw-away military music.


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