The Beatles solo cinema projects. Some not-so-fab films (part 2)

9th September 2022

The solo cinematic careers of John, Paul and George were covered in Part 1, which may be accessed here: https://thaypaulsnotes.com/2022/08/31/the-beatles-solo-cinema-projects-some-not-so-fab-films-part-1/

So now it’s Ringo’s turn, and he co-starred alongside Richard Burton, and Peter Sellers among others. Furthermore, two-time Oscar winner Marlon Brando was in one of the films so they should have been magical … unfortunately that is not the case.

Let’s start with the source material, novels by Terry Southern.

Southern had published these books in 1958 and 1959 respectively, then in the 60s he worked on such iconic films as ‘Dr Strangelove,’ ‘The Collector’ and ‘Easy Rider.’

Writer Terry Southern

‘Candy’ is said to be based on Voltaire’s ‘Candide’ but I think the film, described as a sex farce, owes more to de Sade.

A blonde-haired, blue-eyed innocent teenage girl is sexually manipulated and exploited throughout the film. Ringo only appears in one sequence (with a brief appearance at the end of the movie) playing a gardener, speaking broken English with some kind of accent. He is later identified as being Mexican though he sounds pure Merseyside.

Brando appears as a guru, and actually displays some excellent comic timing. Just a pity the material is rather weak, laboured and very dated.

Candy star Ewa Aulin with Marlon Brando

The film, however, was quite a commercial hit although reviews were mixed. Today it has acquired cult status and is very much a late 60s period piece, the look, the sound and social mores.

‘Candy’ was released in the US on 17th December 1968, and the soundtrack features The Byrds and Steppenwolf.

A year later, Ringo’s second solo film was released. In ‘The Magic Christian,’ he has a co-starring role alongside Peter Sellers (who had memorably played three roles in Kubrick’s ‘Dr Strangelove’).

The film is a satire on wealth and greed, and a condemnation of capitalism. Sellers plays a man of immense wealth, who sees Ringo’s character as the son he never had, and subsequently adopts him.

Ringo with 60s icon Raquel Welch

The film is a series of set-pieces where Sellers shows what people will do for money; a Shakespearean actor is bribed to strip during the famous soliloquy in ‘Hamlet,’ a traffic warden is asked to eat a parking ticket, and the climax shows respectable businesspeople diving into a tank of unmentionable content to retrieve paper money. This film does not go in for subtlety.

Again, the film is packed with familiar faces from film and British TV, and again, as with ‘Candy,’ it’s not a film I would rush to re-watch.

Finally, there is another Beatles connection in this film. The main song is ‘Come and Get It,’ performed by Badfinger but written by Paul McCartney.

Speaking of The Beatles, they spent January of 1969 rehearsing for a proposed TV special or live concert. This was captured in the documentary film ‘Let It Be,’ released in May 1970 by which time the band had broken up.

But the music remains … forever.

Please Note: All photos are taken from Google Images or free photo sites, and are used for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement or offense is intended. If I have used your photo or image, and you wish me to remove it, just ask. This site is not monetized, I run it on my own dollar. Thank you.

The Beatles solo cinema projects. Some not-so-fab films (part 1)

22nd August 2022

Before The Beatles broke up in 1970, each member had released at least one solo record or appeared in a non-Beatles film.

These solo outings are a ‘must-see’ for Beatles fans, although none of them match the artistic excellent of The Beatles music, or come anywhere close. Most are now curio pieces, examples of the late 60s zeitgeist, and are of little cinematic merit despite amazing casts and writers.

I hadn’t previously seen any of the following five films. Unfortunately it proved to be a rather disappointing experience.

Anyway, in true Beatles style, “One, two, three, four …”

Let’s start in the Autumn of 1966. The ‘Revolver’ LP had been released in August. John Lennon was offered a part in an anti-war black comedy so left the UK to film in Germany and Spain. Meanwhile, Paul McCartney was approached to write a score for a domestic comedy-drama called ‘The Family Way.’

The film was released on 18th December 1966 (June 1967 in the US), while the soundtrack LP was issued in the new year, on 6th January 1967. First, the film review.

‘The Family Way’ is by far my favourite of the five.

The Boulting Brothers, producer and director, were significant names in 50s British cinema, making some classic films on a limited, post-war budget (films such as ‘I’m All Right, Jack’, ‘Brighton Rock’ & ‘Lucky Jim’ among others). The script was by Bill Naughton, who had written the iconic 60s play ‘Alfie’.

British viewers (of a certain age) will recognise many familiar faces from film and TV, especially the male lead, Hywel Bennett (later to play the eponymous Percy in 1971, music written by Ray Davies of The Kinks).

Hayley Mills & Hywel Bennett

The title is somewhat misleading, as the phrase is a British euphemism for being pregnant, usually out of wedlock (a social stigma at this time). In fact, the lack of a family is the main point of the film.

Set in the Manchester region of north-west England, the film following the wedding of Jenny and Arthur, Jenny from a middle-class background, Arthur’s father a life-long employee at the local gas works. Arthur enjoys classical music and literature, at odds with his uneducated father. There are tensions at the wedding between father and son, but the real problem occurs on the wedding night; Arthur is unable to consummate the marriage, and the couple to sleep separately throughout most of the film.

Finally Arthur overcomes his issues, and the couple go on a belated honeymoon, and will move into their own home when they return. It is also heavily implied that another man was Arthur’s biological father, although he now seems to fully accept and love his dad.

Of the five films under discussion, this is the only one I would be happy to watch again. Additionally, it is also one with the least contribution from a Beatle.

Paul McCartney wrote some pieces which his producer, the legendary George Martin, scored and wrote variations for orchestra. According to online sources, Martin had to force McCartney to finish the work, staying at McCartney’s house one night until Paul had produced some music. [1]

Paul McCartney at the film’s premiere

As for the music, I feel it’s pretty uninspiring and inconsequential. The LP clocks in at under 27 minutes, and I doubt if many Beatles fans who actually own it, play it often.

However, it may hold a very important key. Because of the northern setting, McCartney thought a brass band would be a good idea, and it has been suggested that this led to the idea of ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ Of course, that LP is another story altogether …

‘Sgt Pepper’s’ epitomises the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967. Meanwhile, the US forces were increasing in Vietnam, fighting was escalating.

At this point, John Lennon made his solo screen outing as Private Gripweed in ‘How I Won The War,’ released on 18th October 1967

The film centres on a lower middle-class man who becomes an officer (Michael Crawford), and how out of touch officers were with the men under their command. The humour, often black, is very hit-and-miss, not to say outdated. Occasionally the jokes don’t work at all.

Lennon, with cropped hair, merely plays a version of himself, and is competent and enjoyable to watch although the film does drag. The plot is basically a group of soldiers being sent into the desert to prepare a grassy area suitable for a game of cricket.

The film received moderate reviews which was disappointing as the director was Richard Lester, who had made ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ the first Beatles film, which was so fresh and exciting.

Another interesting incident is that Lennon stayed in a villa in Spain during the shoot, a villa that reminded him of a certain building in Liverpool, a Salvation Army garden called Strawberry Fields.

One of the co-stars, Jack MacGowran, would be the lead actor in ‘Wonderwall’ (1968) for which George Harrison composed the music.

Harrison’s soundtrack was released on 1st November 1968, while the film wouldn’t get a full UK release until 12th January 1969.

MacGowran plays a stereotypical absent-minded scientist, who lives alone in a drab, brown-toned apartment, piles of dusty papers everywhere. One day, through a crack in the wall, he sees into the next apartment (alluded to in the LP cover). His neighbour is a beautiful young girl (Jane Birkin) who practises free love, her living space open and multicoloured. The scientist envies her life, and boyfriend, until he witnesses the other side of the permissive society; the irresponsibility. The girl gets pregnant, the boyfriend leaves her and she attempts suicide. The scientist sees this and calls an ambulance, thus saving her. The film is a condemnation of the hippie lifestyle, the squares save the day, depth and character over superficial image.

Jane Birkin
Jack MacGowran

Musically, the LP has its admirers, featuring Harrison’s fascination with the sitar. This works well with the film and places the film firmly in the late 60s. The music is quite listenable, without the images, mixing eastern and western influences, and did receive some praise from contemporary reviewers.

Ringo, meanwhile, made two films in the late 60s, both based on books by Terry Southern, ‘Candy’ and ‘The Magic Christian.’ The much-loved drummer worked with such screen legends as Richard Burton, Peter Sellers and Marlon Brando … but I will save that for another blog.

Goodbye from Ringo

Please Note: All photos are taken from Google Images or free photo sites, and are used for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement or offense is intended. If I have used your photo or image, and you wish me to remove it, just ask. This site is not monetized, I run it on my own dollar. Thank you.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Family_Way_(soundtrack)

Taking Care of Business: Act Three

25th April 2021

Nicholas Young (Elvis) & Martin O’Shea (the Colonel). Original Berlin cast

ACT THREE

     Elvis appears. He goes over to the TV’s and repeats his movements from Act One, but without any enthusiasm. Finally, he goes to a chair and slumps down. On a table he sees an old pizza box, with some left-overs. He picks one piece and eats, but mechanically, his jaws moving in a uniform rhythm, also without enthusiasm or pleasure. There is more debris in the room and rubbish on the floor. After his food, Elvis just sits staring vacantly into space.

     Enter Colonel, slowly, with a sideways glance, a look of pity and confusion rather than disgust.    

Col: Well, I’m still here. I was re-instated in my post. For the sake of peace and quiet, I apologised and promised not to do it again, a promise I have every intention of keeping, I might add … my back was aching for days afterwards. I left my girlfriend or at least tried to … she wanted to break up with me. Something about me not being so much fun anymore, no sense of adventure. Work’s the same. I no longer bother to speak about what’s going on in my life … I merely listen to others drone on. I’ve developed a whole series of gestures and non-committal phrases like these …

(demonstrates various movements of head and body to match his words)

You don’t say; no, really ? Well, whatdoyaknow ? How do YOU feel about that ? What do YOU want to happen …Thanks for coming, hope to see you again, real soon … When I come home … it’s this. The work has dried up and so has he. No-one seems to want an Elvis, anymore. I felt in some way responsible for his depression. I tried to cheer him up by doing things like this …

(to Elvis)

Hey, Elvis, I put some flyers around town and some adds in papers, how about leaving Graceland for a while and going back on the road ? You know your public needs you.

(addresses audience)

we got a little response … we were put on a short list for a walk-on part in a TV add … Elvis likes TV, but they chose to go with a George Michael look- a-like in the end.

Elv: Won’t they get a surprise when they go to the can !

Col: Right ! Who needs it ? Walk-on parts ! Opening shops selling any old tack.

Elv: You know, I think you’re right there, boy. I shouldn’t be limiting myself to small commerce. I have a higher calling. Doggone right, you know, I’ve got it, I know what I have to do … call the Limo, Colonel, we’re off to … the Reichtstag ! (1)

Col: Say what ?

Elv: Yeah, I’m gonna offer my services to the state, hell knows they could use them. What do those politicians know about real life ? C’mon let’s go see ol’ man … er, who’s the big boss man, these days ? Is that big mother still there ? (2)

Col: No, there’s a new kid on the block. And that kid’s a woman.

Elv: Hilary ? Man, she’s cute. Love that hair-band thing.

Col: No, not Hilary. Not cute, either.

Elv: But a woman ?

Col: More or less. Give or take, though you’d probably want to take more than give. Name’s Merkel.

Elv: “Urkel” ? Oh, well, I be damned if I’ll go then. Wait till they get a President worth clambaking … can’t have a man like me wasting photo-ops with a two-bit cow-faced in-bred hillbilly.

Col: (To audience) Then I had an idea and bear in mind that I’m getting increasingly desperate. This is something I tried a few weeks back.

(To Elvis)

Hey, Elvis, Paul McCartney’s outside, he wants so much to meet you. Can you find the time to give him an audience ?

(A mere nod from Elvis. Colonel goes off stage and returns presently, dressed as a Beatle, dark suit and Beatle wig. Throughout, he speaks with an exaggerated Liverpool accent.)

Col: All right there, Mister Presley, honour to meet ya, like, it really is, fab, gear and groovy. Me and the lads got all your records, we really love you, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you, like every time we write a song, we think, “how would it sound if Elvis sang it ?”

Elv: Better.

Col: Hey, you could be right there, Cock.

Elv: Bet your arse I’m right.

Col: So, which one of us is your favorite … everyone has a favorite Beatle ? Is it me ?

Elv: None of you.

Col: Oh, ‘ey, ain’t you a one, hey, a right Bobby Dazzler. Is it me ? It’s normally me. All the girls like me.

Elv: Boy, you sure as hell look like a girl. Whoa … I like the drummer … Bongo. He’s all right. ‘Course, he’s not the best drummer in the world.

Col: “In the world” ? He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles. Ta-da ! An oldie but goldie. But can I ask you, where does your talent come from. People ask me all the time to …

Elv: Stop talking ?

Col: Oh, you do like a laugh, oh, ‘ey, fab, like, gear, WWHHHHOOOOOHHHHHHHHH

Elv : No, boy, I mean … stop talking ! You can get a signed photo on your way out. It’s my time to commune with the higher power now. An’ if you wanna know where my gift comes from, well, I suggest you get your skinny, white arse down to the local Baptist church. Randy Scouse git !

Col:

(To audience, as he removes his Beatle garb)

I gave it my best shot, what do you expect ? It got to the point where I was past caring, I thought I’d just let him rot, what’s it to me ? If he couldn’t pay his rent, I’d sling his fat arse out of the joint. ‘Course, I might need some help, someone with a JCB, maybe, but then … something happened. I was at work, drying glasses, when this guy comes in. He orders a beer and we strike up a conversation, you know, I’m thinking about the tips, well, this guy, he’s talking about his house and he’s got some light switch, which, I dunno, either it worked, or only sometimes, doesn’t matter … this guy’s talking to me … about light switches ! I don’t know the guy and he’s not drunk, he just goes on and on and on, he presses the switch one way, on comes the light, then when he tries it the opposite way, the light stays on, that kinda thing … and I’m LISTENING TO HIM ! I’m trying to follow him, see where he’s going with this … then it struck me … OK, the Ku’Damm (3) is hardly the road to Damascus, but this night, could I honestly say that my flatmate was any crazier than this guy, Mr Off-Switch ? Or any of the others in that sad and sorry place ? The guy playing video games all day long ? The girl who puts all her hope in computer-dating ? Anyone who’s ever gone to a Karaoke bar ? Maybe he had the answer … he felt that his life simply wasn’t good enough so he did something about it … little extreme for some tastes, I grant you, but … he did something. He was happy … was … so who was I to judge ? He made people laugh and, for a time, forget their own lives, their own problems. You know, I think people envied him. Really. He had the balls to be what they wanted to be. HE’S NOT ELVIS … he knows that. Did I have any better solutions, any answers, any … thing ? The next day, a letter arrived which gave me an idea. It was actually a bill for 46 Euro that’s 45 for the pizza and 1 for the stamp. I phoned and put a little proposition to them. They could have Elvis eat there every night for a week. I got him a booking …                   

Elv: What’s that you say, boy ?

Col: Elvis, you listen and listen good. 

(Speaks in a heavy, Southern accent)

I’m an old army man and I’m used to discipline. Now I’ve been good to you, almost too good, lettin’ you enjoy the fruits of your labour, an’ all. But heavens to Murgatroyd, they want you ! Your public’s crying out … they’ll be banging on the doors… Elvis, you’ve got to throw a little bone once in a while. I’ve got you booked into a week’s residency and by golly, you’re gonna do it.

Elv: A gig ?

Col: You betcha a gig.

Elv: Enough to keep us here, safe in Graceland ?

Col: More pizza than even you can imagine … but ya gotta get back into shape, son, back into motion.

Elv: Yeah, I have to … warm up a bit, that’s all. Why I can hear the crowd now … faint but expectant … murmuring. I can feel the excitement mounting … the lights, the make-up people running around, the choir doing their scales, musicians tuning. I gather my children around me for a little prayer, the audience getting louder and louder, sweat beginning to pour. I’m calm, gotta keep my people under control, but my heart’s pounding. I owe so much. People living their humble, God-fearing lives, have this one night to get a taste of, a glimpse of … something … higher. They need me … they need me to show them the way, to give them hope, belief, happiness … they need my love … they deserve … my love.

(Colonel slowly exits during Elvis’ speech. As Elvis reaches the end, ‘If I Can Dream’ comes on so that he can go immediately into his routine. He mimes along to the entire song. There should be no parody in the performance. Elvis can give out towels or flowers to women and as the music ends, the play finishes and lights go down.)

Notes

(1) Reichtstag – the German Parliament building.

(2) A reference to former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl

(3) Ku’Damm the main shopping road in west Berlin