joseph Corey | Raleigh, NC United States | 06/29/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Fireball 500/ Thunder Alley." These two movies represent the final two features that Annette Funicello made for the legendary indie American International Pictures. But instead of ending her career kicking around the sand, she found herself covered in dust from NASCAR tracks.
"Fireball 500" can be considered the last of the Beach Party films since it was directed by William Asher and features Frankie Avalon, Annette and Harvey Lembeck except they aren't close to their normal surf and sand creations. Lembeck is no longer nutty biker Erik Von Zipper. He's a Southern bootlegger who also deals in racing. Frankie plays a racecar driver working his way down to Daytona. These are the early days of NASCAR before sponsors made life so much easier for the drivers. So instead of getting cash from Budweiser like Dale Jr., Frankie scores extra bucks by hauling moonshine for Lembeck.
There is a different tone between these films and it's not merely going from sand to asphalt. You can feel the dividing line between "Fireball 500" and "How to Stuff A Wild Bikini" during a fight between Frankie and Harvey. Instead of the slapstick mayhem of those early films, "Fireball 500" shows these two men are out to hurt each other. They're not aiming at the funnybone. No longer is Lembeck frozen by a touch of the finger. Now there is blood on their lips. Annette doesn't have too much of a role. This racing movie is not her vehicle.
The same can be said about "Thunder Alley." Fabian (Frankie's racing rival in Fireball 500) plays a racer who has a pesky blackout problem as he circles the hardtop. So he tries to make a comeback by being part of a stunt show that features Annette. There's even a wild party that gets out of control - especially compared with those soda drinking kids on Bikini Beach. Richard Rush directed this final AIP - Annette feature. He's the same guy who a decade later would give us "The Stunt Man" - one of the cinematic greats about the madness of a movie on location.
Both films come off as a little more hard-edged than an Elvis movie. (And both were made before Elvis roared into the NASCAR circuit with "Speedway.") But neither is shocking in their portrayals - especially when you consider that a month after "Fireball 500," AIP would put out Roger Corman's "The Wild Angels" - a biker film that didn't flinch in its debauchery and violence. While the films were released a year apart, it seems the films were shot close to each other since they involve the same track in Southern California and the same footage of NASCAR events at Daytona and Darlington.
If there is a major buying point for these films, it is this amazing footage of early NASCAR. Both films feature Richard Petty's blue 43 as their racer's car. During that period of time, Petty dominated so the filmmakers were guaranteed that their character's car would be zipping underneath the checkered flag when they shot the actual race. However this footage also includes a tribute to Johnny Reb complete with his confederate battle flag. So this isn't the new multi-racial Nextel NASCAR. This is not for the squeamish or those who want to think that this sport wasn't from hardcore Southerners.
Film Editing Team Rises to the Challenge
Only-A-Child | 08/26/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This review is only about "Fireball 500" (1966), 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."
A childhood gem of a flick finally on DVD
blister | North Carolina | 08/12/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"While somewhat different from the more innocent Beach Party movies, this is still a treat for Frankie and Annette fans! As a child, I know there are those who can relate to me in the respect of always getting excited when looking at the TV guide (and the more simplistic channels of just CBS, ABC, NBC, and PBS!) and seeing the Frankie and Annette movies listed. I never tired of watching the frolicking romp associated with light plot lines and surfer bubble gum 60's pop music with Frankie and Annette planted right in the middle. I loved Fireball 500 from the first time I saw it. The car racing action and characters, the music, it was just a fun popcorn type movie. But it's been hard to catch since I saw it as a child! Even in the endless stream of tv channels nowdays, I could hardly catch it. So it was to my delight when I typed in Fireball 500 in the [...] browser and wow! There it was. Ok, so Frankie and Annette do not wind up together at the end and some hardcore fans will never accept that. And yes, Frankie drinks and does some serious fist fighting. It's still Frankie! Still, while it's not any movie of Oscar calibur, it's still a treat. And the vivid, detailed new anamorphic widescreen transfer is awesome! Thunder Alley I think I had seen once when I was younger, but it was a treat to have it added to make a double feature. I especially liked the snazzy guitar laden, go-go dancing frosted title tune. And as an avid fan of vintage stock car racing, this movie was a treat. Plenty of spills and crashes and great racing abound here. And it was fun to see Annette play a feisty stunt car driver! The one thing I didn't like about this movie, though, was the party scene where the teenagers went wild and spilled liquor all over themselves and it just seemed mindless and the scene plays out way too long. I was like ok, where's the fast forward button on my remote. Otherwise, a good movie. So for vintage car racing fans, Frankie and Annette fans (who can accept some changes in the characters!), this is a good pass the time and just have fun movie watching experience! "
"My way GETS ME my way!"
jon sieruga | Redlands, CA USA | 09/19/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Two A.I.P. drive-in flicks, both of them last gasps for the aging "Beach Party" cut-ups. "Fireball 500" has been hidden away for years, so it's fun to finally see it even though it's a weak, barely-involving action/comedy/drama/musical. Frankie Avalon is the ace stockcar driver who gets recruited by bootlegger Harvey Lembeck to transport moonshine, but internal agents are onto him. Fabian, as Frankie's nemesis, and Annette, who seems to divide her feelings between Frankie and Fabian, are both under-used. This is Avalon's vehicle, he does a lot of swinging and singing and brawling, but the Daytona footage at the end seems to carry the movie through to an irrelevant conclusion (the plot has already been wrapped up 10 minutes prior). "Thunder Alley", on the other hand, is Fabian's movie, and he's not too bad as a stockcar racer who suffers from blackouts on the track. Annette co-stars as his love-interest and gives one of her best 'mature' performances (she also sings the haunting "When You Get What You Want"). Both films suffer from low-budget-itis, and the overwhelming fact that times had changed and yet these kids still act like they're ready for a beach barbeque. Interesting B-movie history, and certainly worth a rental for "Thunder Alley"."
Good annette movies
Linda K. Counts | 08/16/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"these are very good movies they are not the beach party movies that have annette and frankie but they are still good Linda"