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 “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.
The following is my second of two entries in The 2nd Annual British Invaders Blogathon, hosted by the blog A Shroud of Thoughts. Click on the above banner, and read some great critiques of a wide range of British and Britain-related movies!
The Beatles’ Help! has just as wispy a plot as its predecessor, A Hard Day’s Night, and probably much less reason for its existence. But if you’re willing to give yourself over to it, it’s very good-natured and funny.
Perhaps it helps to see it a half-century after its creation. The spirit of Monty Python and other British comedy has become so firmly embedded in our subconscious that Help!’s endless string of non-sequitor gags somehow comes together and makes sense. When the movie was first released, it was probably enough for most people simply to see The Beatles clowning and singing on-screen in full color.
The movie’s shaggy-dog plot is that Ringo finds himself wearing a ring that makes him the target of a religious sacrifice for an Eastern cult. Through even more plot machinations, the ring becomes a morbid point of fascination for a mad scientist (Victor Spinetti, the neurotic TV director from A Hard Day’s Night). Thus, the movie pretty much turns into one long chase, halted every so often so that The Beatles can sing one of their beloved hit songs.
Critics and moviegoers who have sought a coherent plot and characters to root for have long come away shaking their heads at this movie. But in these days of raunchy, flatulent film comedy, a quaint, eager-to-please number such as Help! looks better all the time.
Besides The Beatles and the rest of the cast being quite game for the movie’s silliness, you have to love the blackout-sketch-type jokes, as when the initial sacrificial virgin returns home to get a bath from her mother, who chides her daughter for coming home with grimy sacrificial paint all over herself.
Screenwriter Marc Behm — and, certainly, director/silent-comedy enthusiast Richard Lester — manage to pull off a cheerily farcical tone throughout, even as Ringo is continually under threat (often from his own bandmates) of getting a finger lopped off. (The film’s sense of humor extends to Ken Thorne’s orchestral soundtrack, which slyly riffs on a number of previous Beatles tunes.)
Hey, gang! Let’s go out in the middle of a field and put on a show!
Beatles lore tells us that this movie was filmed near the end of the Fabs’ “escapist” period, shortly before they ditched their moon/spoon-type lyrics and started reaching for something deeper in pop artistry. As such, Help! is a nostalgic, often hilarious valedictory to The Beatles’ “growing up” years.
(If you enjoyed this blog, please click here to read my first British Invaders Blogathon entry about The Beatles’ movie debut, A Hard Day’s Night.)
The following is my first of two entries in The 2nd Annual British Invaders Blogathon, hosted by the blog A Shroud of Thoughts. Click on the above banner, and read some great critiques of a wide range of British and Britain-related movies!
I’ve seen a lot of great movies in my time, but there are very few that mainline me with joy from their very start. A Hard Day’s Night is one of them. After a half-century in which Beatlemania has survived and thrived — if not in its physical state, then surely as a state of mind — there’s not much new that can be said about this delightful movie.
If you’re any sort of pop-music or movie fan, you’d have to have lived under a rock not to know by now that the movie is: (a) a virtually plotless melange about 24 hours in the harried life of The Beatles, culminating in a TV concert performance; (b) cutesily sub-plotted with a side story about Paul’s cantankerous grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell); and (c) filled end-to-end with early-era Beatles songs at their simplest and catchiest.
So, besides (c) — which speaks for itself if you’re a Beatles buff, and should rightfully convert you if you’re not — about all you can do is list the movie’s virtues, of which there are many.
* Among the people who have been credited for the high quality of this movie — including The Beatles, playwright/screenwriter Alun Owen, and director Richard Lester — one name I never see is that of Gilbert Taylor, director of photography. This movie has the uncanny, simultaneous effect of appearing as though every shot was caught on the run while looking shimmeringly beautiful at the same time.
* I find it interesting that any of the movie’s characters who don’t recognize The Beatles can’t stand them. The stodgy train passenger (above, center); the people who encounter Ringo (other than the truant schoolboy) when he goes off on his own; and most notably, the man who owns the field that The Beatles “hurt” (in the movie’s most famous sequence — imagine how much money that guy would try to fetch for that Beatles-trodden land these days!). Small wonder that this movie spoke to a generation that was tired of intolerant old fogeys trying to tell them how to run their lives.
* The movie has that delightful quality that most great comedies have, of saying things that ought to be said. All of The Beatles have such moments in the movie (Don’t mess with Ringo’s drums!), but the best such moment is when George tells off the ad spokesman who thinks he knows what’s hip. Even Paul’s grandfather gets off a great line about how all he has seen so far on his trip is “a train and a room, and a car and a room, and a room and a room” — which pop history tells us was actually an observation of The Fabs themselves when they were trapped in their hotel rooms between shows.
* For a movie whose main reason for existence was its soundtrack album, it’s amazing how much of its comedy is visual — everything from the aforementioned scene where The Beatles briefly escape their routine and cut loose in an open field; to a non-sequitor where a TV actor, portraying a bloodied soldier, pours some ketchup on his lunch, looks at his fake wound, and adds ketchup to the wound to make it look more realistic. And then there are the chase scenes, which are practically Richard Lester’s love letters to his hero Buster Keaton (whom he later employed in his movie version of the play A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum).
After The Beatles broke up, John Lennon forever dismissed Beatlemania as high school hi-jinks. He told one interviewer, “You have all the old records there if you want to reminisce,” and when fans would ask if The Beatles would reunite, he’d counter, “Do you want to go back to high school?” You can’t go back, of course, but you can always watch A Hard Day’s Night, enshrined just as you’d want your early glory days to be — beautifully photographed, and with joyous memories that continue to reward future generations.
(If you enjoyed this blog, please click here to read my second British Invaders Blogathon entry about The Beatles’ movie Help!)
We hope you have enjoyed our heartfelt tribute to The Fab Four and the musical and cinematic delights they have brought to the world. Now, I’ve got to take a break for a while…I’VE GOT BLISTERS ON MY TYPING FINGERS!!
The following is my second and final contribution to my Beatles Film Blogathon, held July 5-7, 2015 to honor Ringo Starr’s 75th birthday and his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ insights into Beatles-starring and Beatles-related movies and videos!
We sure love to knock our heroes down to size, don’t we?
Free As a Bird was the “teaser” single from the long-awaited Beatles Anthology 1. The “Three-tles” took two solo tracks done by John Lennon in 1979 — this one (which was incomplete before it was turned into a Beatles single) and Real Love — and added their vocal and music accompaniments to it. Though the Anthologies received rave reviews and shot up the charts despite little airplay, the Beatles Anthology singles were almost universally disdained. And as the title of one of their older songs declares, I wish someone would “tell me why.”
For 25 years, Beatles fans were clamoring for a reunion, even after a certain person with a handgun snuffed out John Lennon. Well, folks, this is as close as you’re likely to get to a Beatles reunion, and you could do a lot worse. The Beatles in 1995 sounded like most of their die-hard fans — a bit beaten down by life, but still willing to give it a chance. It might not be The Beatles’ greatest work, but given the depths to which they could sink as a quartet (try listening to the lesser numbers on the original Let It Be album some time), it’s hardly an embarrassment.
Like the song, its video — directed by Joe Pytka, best previously known for his Nike commercials pitting Bugs Bunny against Michael Jordan — is a visual delight, stuffed to the margins with references to The Beatles’ earlier work. Apple Corps claimed there are more than 80 such references in the video, but every time I try to count them, I get lost in the sheer spectacle of the thing. If you’re a hard-core Beatles buff, just sit back and enjoy it.
It’s only one week away from our Beatles Film Blogathon, and I’m…well, if not embarrassed, than certainly humbled to say that we have only three blogger entrants thus far.
Only THREE? One less member than The Beatles themselves??
I hope that this blogathon — besides honoring both Ringo Starr’s 75th birthday and his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — will reflect the spirit of fun that The Beatles at their best provided us.
Although entries for the movies A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, and Let It Be are spoken for, there are still plenty of Beatles-related movies and music videos to blog about. Click on the blogathon’s banner (above) for more information about the ‘thon, and if you’re interested in blogging for it, please leave your blog’s name and URL, and the movie or video you want to blog about, in the “Comments” section below. Show your love of The Beatles by sharing it in our blogathon!
It’s been a hot little weekend here at Movie Movie Blog Blog. But all good things must come to an end, so gather ’round for…
Not counting yours truly, we had one dozen delicious entries on the topic of movies that suggested sexuality rather than overtly depicting it. Our last two bloggers gave it everything they had and made it to the finish line with these entries today:
Reel Distracted held up The Thomas Crown Affair as a shining example of the games lovers play (especially chess) when they’re afraid to let down their guard with each other,
and thestopbutton.com discussed Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan doing their best to satisfy both themselves and the Production Code in Tarzan and His Mate.
If you missed these or any of the other participating blogs, click here to go to our original blogathon announcement, which provides links to all of the blog entries.
My thanks to all of the wonderful and gifted bloggers who took the time to write and post their thoughtful entries. Further thanks goes to all of the readers who visited both this blog and the participating blogs to get a wide range of viewpoints about the depiction of sex in cinema.
Lastly, if you are a fan of The Beatles and/or their movies and music videos, I encourage you to participate in this blog’s upcoming Beatles Film Blogathon, being held July 5-7, 2005 in honor of Ringo Starr’s 75th (!) birthday and his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Click on the banner below to read more about the blogathon and how to participate in it.
Thanks once more to everyone who joined in this blogathon, and try to stay cool this summer!