The Beatles in MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR (1967) – Kind of a bad trip


Supposedly, a major source of inspiration for Magical Mystery Tour was some home movies that Paul McCartney had been making at the time — and a home movie is certainly what the film resembles.

Had this movie been secreted away in a box for decades and found only yesterday, it would probably have been regarded as an unsung (ahem) Beatles gem. Unfortunately, it aired on BBC1 on Boxing Day 1967 and had been touted as a major event, which it definitely was not.

Paul's original

Paul’s original “storyboard” for the movie.

The movie follows a British tour bus whose stops are filled with supposedly zany events dictated by five skybound magicians (the Beatles and their roadie Mal Evans). But none of it amounts to very much. Actions that could have been cute if they’d been only throwaway gags or short skits are stretched far beyond their worth. In one scene written by John, he plays a restaurant waiter who plies Ringo’s plus-sized and voraciously hungry aunt with, literally, shovelfuls of spaghetti. It gets pretty gross to watch.

On the plus side, there are mildly funny appearances by Beatles film veteran Victor Spinetti, and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (including Neil Innes, later to make his mark with Monty Python and the Beatles parody The Rutles). And the Beatles’ songs, of course, are wonderful. Probably the movie’s best song visualization is its appropriately wacko take on John’s surreal “I Am the Walrus.”

In the end, it’s a spotty effort best noted for its wasted potential. As with Charlie Chaplin’s last couple of feature films, Beatles completists will want to see Magical Mystery Tour just to say that they’ve seen it — but it’s not likely to be held dear in their hearts.

MONTY PYTHON LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL (1982) – Funny bits and naughty bits

(As a lead-up to Monty Python’s final concert performance on July 20, each day prior to that, I will post a review of a Monty Python movie. Today: And now for more something completely different.)COVER

Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl has a curious and checkered history. It was originally a videotaped recording of the British comedy group performing some of their most famous sketches during a 1980 stint at the Hollywood Bowl. Unfortunately, Denis O’Brien–the man who arranged the concert and who, with George Harrison, formed the Python movie company HandMade Pictures–made off with the Pythons’ concert profits. So they actually made no money from the concert until it was released in movie form.

That said, we can only wish that all such dirty deals resulted in something as good as this movie. Granted, the video-to-film transfer makes the movie look a bit grainy. And despite the wealth of comedy material herein, Python buffs continue to complain, “No ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch!!”


But there’s some great stuff here that is either rare or just plain unavailable elsewhere. The movie opens with four of the Pythons singing their infamous song “Sit On My Face” (from their Contractual Obligation Album, released at the time of the concert), complete with rear nudity. Any movie that starts off with such a bang can’t be all bad.

There are plenty of other “new” sketches throughout, among them The Pope’s (a mustachioed John Cleese!) raving to Michaelangelo (Eric Idle) about his Picasso-like “Last Supper” painting that features three Christs. (“It works, mate!” declares the assertive artist), and a pseudo-academic deconstruction of slapstick humor (highlight: Terry Gilliam grinning dumbly as he inflicts pain upon his fellow demonstrators).

Neil Innes, frequent Python song contributor, is also well-represented here, his John Lennon-like vocals adding much-needed gravity to his tunes “I’m the Urban Spaceman” and “How Sweet to Be an Idiot.”

Live at the Hollywood Bowl falls about halfway between the benign sketch humor of Python’s And Now for Something Completely Different and the pungent satire of The Meaning of Life. It’s not a bad place to be.