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|Index||14 reviews in total|
Bill Asher and Samuel Z. Arkoff & James Nicholson at American
International give "Fireball 500" the old college try. They gave their
stock beach party ensemble (minus a few of the usual screw crew such as
John Ashley, Donna Loren and Jody McCrea) something heavier and darker
This is more like an early '60s Elvis film than one of the zany Beach flicks. It's a serious film. There's no comic relief to be found anywhere. Only a couple songs sung on stage instead of on the sand and in the surf or dorm.
Also, guys like Harvey Lembeck get the opportunity to stretch and play a something far different from his legendary Rats motorcycle gang leader, Erich Von Zipper. In this one, he is not his ideal - ha-ha!
Frankie Avalon is a stock car driver with a past coerced into going undercover and runnig moonshine for Harvey Lembeck. Annette Funicello is to be fought over, but Frankie doesn't get her as usual! How about that! In fact, they don't even really like each other in this one.
If you see it, don't expect a sequel to "Beach Blanket Bingo" because it's not. Take it on its own terms.
Citizen Kane it is not, but if you want a good time, drive in, type
movie.. check it out. Frankie A. is a wanna be Nascar driver who drives
for moonshiners on the side. He meets the hard Biz woman who owns the
track and finds the moonshine drivers, but she falls in love and later
on redeems herself.
Fabian is the local race track hero and king of the moonshine drivers. There's a slight twist to his character in the end that I won't reveal here.
Dopey songs, pretty girls and cars... Simple, Family friendly fun with some cool old school Nascar footage to boot.
"Beach Party" leads Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, and Harvey Lembeck do what they can with C-minus material involving an ace stockcar racer who gets involved with moonshiners; the Internal Revenue wants him to work both sides, but he's more interested in finding out who's thwarting the midnight runs by playing chicken with the drivers. Barely involving 'grown up' effort from American International, not as good as their later stockcar comedy-drama "Thunder Alley", however Avalon and Annette both get to sing (his number, "My Way" is one of the best tunes Avalon ever got in an AIP film). There's a pretty good brawl between Frankie and Harvey Lembeck, but Fabian, as Frankie's nemesis, is under-used, as is Annette. Good photography by Floyd Crosby, cute opening Claymation segment by Clokey Films, but the story is so muddled we never know where we stand with these one-dimensional characters. *1/2 from ****
"Fireball 500" (1966) is technically the best production to ever come
out of "American International". The cinematography looks as good as
the best Hollywood productions from that period; with unexpectedly good
shot selection and nice close-ups that you would expect to see now but
were highly original back in 1966.
This is a film that should be shown to would-be film and video editors, as there are few finer examples of matching stock footage with first and second unit output; all done by linear editing (try it some time if you want a real challenge). When a low budget film tries to be high budget by inserting stock footage it is usually a disaster, but here there is a pretty good match of film stock and the track announcer's audio makes the action sequences easy to follow. You might recognize Fred R. Feitshans Jr's editing style from the old "Adventures in Paradise" television show.
The story is ordinary-straight action adventure and romance, no comedy like AIP's beach movies even though it does feature alumni Frankie, Annette, and Harvey Lembeck. There are three good Hernrig and Styner songs: "Fireball 500", "My Way", and "Turn Around"; sung by Frankie with help on the last one from Julie Parrish. Annette sings "Step Right Up" which mostly leaves you amazed that anyone ever bought her records.
As usual Annette is very buttoned-up and chaste but Parrish is hot enough to carry the whole film. Interestingly Annette pairs up with Fabian and Frankie gets Julie. Fabian also has a group of racetrack groupies who follow him around, four of the them are mid-60's Playboy centerfolds with one of those the Playmate of the year.
Frankie gets into a serious fight with both Fabian and Lembeck. These are decently staged and cut but unnecessary to the story and rather comical when you consider the participants. Casting these two singers was apparently an attempt to expand the target audience from teenage boys and stock car fans by including something for teenage girls. This was at best a lame idea since by 1966 those two were considered wimpy has-beens compared to "Herman's Hermits", let alone the "Beatles" and the "Stones".
There is tons of interesting stock car footage, making "Fireball 500" a nice historical archive. Overall it was a fun film to watch but nothing you would take very seriously.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
This is a fairly innocuous little movie. No one rented tuxes for the
1967 Oscars for this one, but then no one is paying large sums of money
to suppress it, either. It feels like a "Perry Mason" or "Route 66" TV
For vintage erotica fans, there is a (mostly) accurate portrayal of the "Girlie Shows" that were once carnival staples. Fabian's character, Leander, has a group of young women following him around (Four of them period Playboy Playmates) and there is a seductive (slightly) older widow. The sex and romance is far from explicit (welcome in a movie with Chill Wills in it!) and is generally hinted at with meaningful glances.
For NASCAR fans there are some pretty good scenes of stock car racing 40 years ago, including some of the Daytona 500. Drivers that year apparently were racing for a $85,000 purse. (2006: $18 million).
It's well worth a rental. I bought mine as a two-sided DVD with "Thunder Alley" for under $15, and I feel the money was well-spent.
I guess I have seen worse movies...but not lately. If you're a race fan you might be able to get thru this as a curiosity, but as is often the case, this movie was written and directed by people who wouldn't know a race car from a loaf of bread. At least it has Annette! I think it's similar to an Elvis movie without Elvis, or an old beach-blanket movie style.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For all the previous comments - yes, it was a typical
American-International programmer, so cowardly it used "moonshining" as
a safe substitute for drug-running - this film is sad to someone who
was amused by the Beach Party series of films.
Although not Frankie and Dee Dee, Avalon and Funicello are playing the same basic characters; he trying to be an adventurous stud (and succeeding far more than he ever did on the beach, getting into implied clenches with a couple of women) and she fiercely protecting her virginity. But they're connected to other people; Funicello is in love with Fabian and thinks Avalon's an annoying creep. She only shows some positive response to him briefly. The conventional dramatic plot doesn't allow the happy coincidences and contrived happy endings that used to follow these guys around.
By playing straight characters, both were trying to grow beyond their "teenage years" and into more mature roles. Neither one made it, even when Frankie changed his name to "Frank Avalon." Especially not after a career of playing in drive-in bottom-bill films like this one.
The first appearance of Frankie and Dee Dee in "Beach Party" had them driving towards their bungalow, singing happily as their beach blast was just beginning. In the end titles of this film, Frankie is singing while driving off with a completely DIFFERENT girl, a melancholy closure to the whole series. They didn't even end it by driving off together. I remember seeing this on a TV station as the last movie before they signed off on a lonely Saturday night, and I bid a farewell to their youth, their innocence, and their careers as optimistic teen icons.
I like the way the movie portrayed the moonshiners, and the way they influenced the early stock car racers. The musical theme was the wave of the era. This movie had a lot of the same themes as some of the Elvis movies.
Fireball 500 (1966)
** (out of 4)
Dave Owens (Frankie Avalon) is a stock car racer who soon finds himself working for the law who are wanting to know about some country folks running bootleg alcohol. Soon he is also butting heads with another driver (Fabian) over his girlfriend (Annette Funicello).
With the previous year's HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI ending the Beach Party series, AIP needed to put their two leads in a new film so they decided to mix things up. This here is basically a watered down version of something you'd expect to see from Elvis and THUNDER ROAD, the Robert Mitchum film. FIREBALL 500 isn't a complete success but it's certainly more interesting than the last couple Beach Party movies.
The big change here is the fact that this isn't just bubble gum kids stuff. No, FIREBALL 500 has tried to make things a tad bit darker and this includes more drama with the Avalon character who certainly has a great number of flaws. There's also a few darker elements that pop up throughout the film but at the same time there's no doubt that AIP didn't want to get too far away from the "characters" or type of characters that fans had come to expect of the teen idols.
Avalon and Funicello aren't wonderful here but I thought both of them did enough to help keep the film entertaining. Avalon has several songs throughout the film, which really takes away from the "drama" but the songs aren't too bad. Funicello also has one song, although it's not all that memorable. Fabian probably gives the best performance in the cast but Chill Wills easily steals the picture.
FIREBALL 500 isn't a masterpiece or even a good movie but fans of Avalon and Funicello should find it to be light entertainment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Well I've endured a couple beach flicks and a ski party with Frankie
and Annette, so why not give a racing picture a try? This was actually
quite a more serious picture than something like "Beach Blanket Bingo",
and I didn't expect to see Frankie Avalon and Fabian go at it the way
they did in their fist fight. I wouldn't go so far as claiming it was
better than Clay vs Chuvalo the way one of the 'revenooers' did, but it
was certainly well staged. Avalon's tussle with Harvey Lembeck's
character Charlie Bigg was even wilder.
That's not to say the eye candy wasn't as prevalent as ever. Fabian's Sonny Leander Fox almost always had an entourage of beauties hanging around. Annette Funicello maintained her usual wholesome appearance as Leander's main squeeze, while Julie Parrish went from bad girl to good over the course of the story while winning over Dave Owens (Avalon). But I have to say, I did the same double take that Frankie Avalon did when he heard Fabian call his gal pals the Eager Beavers.
Contributing to the more serious nature of the story was the whole business of 'going chicken' and watching the moonshine cars flip down the hillside. The racing sequences were pretty well done, with a fairly seamless transition from movie action to stock footage and back. Race and stock car fans looking for a bit of nostalgia would probably have some fun with this flick, especially if you grew up during the era with the principals. Another movie with a somewhat harder edge you could try would be 1958's "Thunder Road", written, produced by and starring Robert Mitchum. It's got it's fair share of moonshine too.
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