Beach movies. Those goofy attempts during the 1960s to portray a fantasy teenage lifestyle on film and then sell it back to the teenagers viewing the movie in a theater. Goofy yes, but what was even goofier was Hollywood’s caricature of the 1960s biker and their motorcycle gangs. Point in case – the character Eric Von Zipper and the comical members of his gang Ratz & Mice. This less than smart motorcycle gang appeared in six of the most famous 1960s beach movies (starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, of course).
Eric Von Zipper was played by the notable Harvey Lembeck who, at age 40 was the oldest cast member in the beach movies in which Von Zipper appeared. The Ratz & Mice were the arch-enemies of the cool surfer crowd that hung around on the beach. As bad as that sounds, the Ratz & Mice were never really a threat or a problem for the surfer kids. Think Three Stooges in biker jackets and hats. Now you’ve got the idea. At that time, America was scared of bikers, their gangs, their machines and their views on living life in general. The term biker in the 1960s did not have the same connotation as it does today.
So, Hollywood had to soft-sell the image of biker outlaw on the movie screen and they made convenient antiheroes for the simple comedic plots used in the beach movies. Harvey Lembeck designed his character, Eric Von Zipper, to be a parody of Marlon Brando’s character from The Wild One (1953) named Johnny Strabler. If the leader of this bumbling gang was clumsy and a little dim, then you can bet the rest of the Ratz and Mice were as well. Gone but not totally forgotten is this loveable gang of idiots who talked pretty tough but never really got tough. And, those crazy beach kids and surfers – dey get de ratz revenge!