Pajama Party (1964)

Pajama_Party_(1964)‘Everyone in the world to fall in love with, I had to pick a Martian!’

Concerned that Earth teenagers will grow up and disrupt the universe(!), the authorities on Mars decide on a pre-emptive strike. Spearheading the invasion is special agent screw-up Go Go, who has been chosen for the important role as he will provide reasonable deniability if he fails (or something…)

Producers Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson struck box office gold in the late 1950s with a series of low-budget movies aimed at the drive-in market, often directed by Roger Corman. By the early 1960s they’d moved into colour with classy horror pictures based on Edgar Allan Poe stories and fluffy teen musicals. ‘Beach Party’ (1963) was the first of these and was a massive hit, making teen heart-throbs of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. A whole series of similar pictures quickly followed and, although this is definitely the odd one out, it’s still a tribute to sun, song and summer lovin’.

Our hero is Tommy Kirk (familiar at the time as Disney’s ‘Merlin Jones’), taking his first steps into grown up roles as Mars-man Go Go, so clueless as to what’s happenin’ Earrthside that he arrives on our planet dressed as a cinema usher (the costume was probably left over from something else). But, no worries, he’s soon tuned in by the hippest old lady in town; ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935) herself, Elsa Lanchester! She’s a dotty old widow who talks to her plants, sells cool fashions to the local gals at her dress shop and keeps oodles of cash behind a portrait of Keenan Wynn.

Pajama_Party_(1964)

It was the latest craze to have a party in your P.J’s. Apparently.

Lanchester isn’t the only old star tearing it up here; the gang of conmen moving in next door to take her cash includes the great Buster Keaton! He plays a Native American Chief who says ’Cowabunga’ quite a lot, runs after blonde Bobbi Shaw and gets soaked in a perfume fight with producer Nicholson’s teenage daughter.

Even better than that, we get Dorothy Lamour running the dress shop and shaking her stuff as she belts out ‘Where Did I Go Wrong’. The song is a clever hybrid of her usual material and a sixties beat and she genuinely looks like she’s having a great time. It’s the film’s best sequence. Unfortunately, we also get Funicello singing a drippy love song to a large stuffed animal and most of the ‘action’ involves the sappy romance between her and Kirk (standing in for Avalon). Harvey Lembeck and his biker gang turn up as usual to take various pratfalls that are so old and stupid they probably made Keaton wince.

Yes, we’re not supposed to take any of this remotely seriously, but some quirkiness in the humour, or a few mild surprises, would have gone a long way. Still, there’s plenty of hunks and babes movin’ and groovin’ pool side and Lanchester does get to hit someone over the head with a pot plant. No, not that type of pot, do behave!

And who’s that as one of the pyjama girls ripping it up in the dress shop? It’s choreographer Toni Basil, who later achieved international fame with some pom-poms and the song ‘Mickey’! And who’s that with her? Oh, it’s that Teri Garr; star of ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977)! And that guy dancing by the pool? Why, it’s Michael Nader who played Dex for many years on hit TV soap opera ‘Dynasty’! Who’d have thunk it?

The innocence of all this is actually quite refreshing in a bizarre way, even though extended exposure would probably rot your teeth.

Cowabunga, indeed.

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