The Beatles. Love them or hate them, no one can deny that they are a worldwide phenomenon. Their music – and their real-life personalities – has integrated themselves into everyday life, for better or worse. Every few years it seems that, for whatever reason, the Beatles come back from pseudo-semi-obscurity and reclaim the attention of the mass media. This year is no different. Their return to fame this time around comes in the form of a new video game, aptly titled The Beatles: Rock Band. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Also being released are the completely re-mastered editions of all their albums, which means that if you’re a rabid superfan like myself, you’ve at least entertained the thought of re-buying you’re collection. Again.

So, since I’ve always been a fan of jumping on the ol’ bandwagon, I’ve decided to review a Beatles-inspired movie this week. Once I settled on the theme for the week, I was faced with the daunting task of singling out one Beatlesque film to cover. I could have gone with the traditional choice, such as Hard Day’s Night, Help, or Across the Universe, but decided that all of those movies would be too easy. I then turned to Yellow Submarine, thinking that an animated feature would fall within the boundaries of Major Spoilers’ area of expertise. Again, I felt this would be the obvious choice. I thought of Magical Mystery Tour for about a minute, but then remembered that I didn’t own a copy of it. Ended that train of to though quick. Then it hit me – I could review one of the most obscure Beatles-related films, and would still be within the scope of Major Spoilers because of its’ obscurity. So I present to you Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band starring the Bea… wait… really? Starring Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees? Really? In the immortal words of Dr. Sam Beckett, “Oh boy.”

The movie opens to a battlefield during World War I. The warring nations seemed destined to never cease fire. That is until the original Sgt. Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band (here on out referred to as SPLHCB) rolls in, and single-handedly ends the war with the power of their music. A quick flash forward to the late 1970’s, where the mayor of Heartland (George Burns) presents Sgt. Pepper with an honorary weathervane that is placed on top of town hall. The sergeant is so moved by this gesture, he instantly drops dead from a heart attack. Before he died, he declared that his nephew, Billy Shear (Peter Frampton) will someday become the lead of a new SPLHCB, much to the chagrin of his greedy younger brother Dougie (Paul Nicholas). Billy chooses his three best friends (Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb) to be his back up band, and together they rock the Heartland tri-county area. And because the original SPLHCB instruments were apparently magic, the town had never been more at peace.

That is until Billy and the crew decide to go to the big city and become internationally known, thanks to record mogul B.D. Brockhurst (Donald Pleasance in quite possibly the most terrifying toupees I’ve ever seen). Before they leave in their hot-air balloon, Billy say goodbye to his girlfriend Strawberry Fields (Sandy Farina). Once they’re in the big city, he promptly forgets about his girl back home and settles in on sultry singer Lucy (Dianne Steinberg) while the band shacks up with her backup singers, the Diamonds. The movie progresses the way you’d expect, with the boys slowly becoming more corrupted by the thrills of the big city. This continues for about a half hour. Then out of nowhere the plot changes drastically. See, while the SPLHCB were away, the villainous Mr. Mustard (Frankie Howerd in his last role) stole the magic instruments, thus turning Heartland into a dive filled with sex, drugs, and pinball arcades. Strawberry travels to the city to tell the band of Heartland’s plight, and the film become a road movie. The four instruments were sent in four different locations, meant to split up and corrupt their magic power.

The first instrument was taken to Dr. Maxwell Edison (Steve Martin, in his first film role), an evil plastic surgeon that turns ugly people into beautiful zombies using his (you guessed it) his Silver Hammer. The second was given to Father Sun (Alice Cooper), the third was left with Mustard, and the fourth went directly to the mastermind behind all the shenanigans, the FVB. Long story short, SPLHCB obtained three of the four instruments, held a benefit concert for no real reason, loses the instruments AND Strawberry to the FVB, and rushes out to save her. The FVB are eventually revealed as the Future Villains Band, a sort of Earth-3 SPLHCB, and are played perfectly by none other than Aerosmith. The bands do battle, the FVB is destroyed, but at the cost of Strawberry’s life. After her funeral, Billy is so distraught that he tries to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of his house. He is stopped – in mid-air, mind you – by the animated weathervane of Sgt. Pepper (magically changing into Billy Preston). Oh, and he brings Strawberry back to life too. The film ends with a massive choir of guest cameos singing the titular song of the movie.

If you’re a fan of good songs being performed very badly, then SPLHCB is right up your alley. First thing I should mention is that, save for narration by George Burns, the movie is completely comprised by songs. Reportedly, this is because Frampton and the Bee Gees have accents, and SPLHCB are supposed to be American. But looking at the cast, I wonder why the director didn’t just set it in England, and avoid the accent issue altogether? The songs themselves are practically Karaoke versions of the originals. Peter Frampton is an excellent musician, but he seemed almost restricted by the music style of the film. There are a few exceptions to this, though. Steve Martin’s rendition of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer was campy yet enjoyable. Earth, Wind, and Fire contributed and excellent version of Got to Get You into My Life. And Aerosmith really nailed Come Together on the head. I will say this – whoever convinced George Burns it would be a good idea to sing should have been fired on the spot. The Bee Gees did a decent job overall, but I got really sick of Robin Gibb making faces at the camera every five seconds. From what I’ve read about the making of this film, they begged and pleaded to be taken off this project, and to be honest, I don’t blame them.

Overall, this movie was bad. I mean really bad. But, is it so bad it’s good? Time to dust off my special “bad movie” rating system, which I have definitively decided to name the “Inverse Star Rating.” So, I ultimately have to ask myself whether or not I enjoyed SPLHCB, whether or not it would stand up to multiple viewings, would I recommend it to anyone I know, does the movie live up to its expectations, and (my personal question for reviewing bad movies) does it contain cheesy effects. Well, it did live up to my expectations, because they were already pretty low. I’d be wary to suggest this movie to anyone, unless I was sure that they enjoyed bad movies as much as I do. Not sure about multiple viewings, though. I enjoyed the second half of the film way more than the first. And yes, it does have very goofy special effects, especially the ending involving an all-golden Billy Preston. Therefore, going by the Inverse Star Rating, I give Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 2 ½ out of 5 stars.

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The Author

Sam Dunham

Sam Dunham

Sam Dunham was born at a very early age, and shortly after became entangled in the world of film. His first memories are of seeing King Ralph in his local theater. He learned to talk with the help of Adam West's Batman: The Movie. He's one of the few people to still own a working RCA Videodisc player (heck, it's where he first watched Young Frankenstein!). When Sam is not perusing his extensive B- movie collection or sitting in dark theaters with a tub of popcorn, he is usually found reading comic books, fixing computers, toiling away at his day job, working some nights at a local radio station as a "soundboard guy," and going to class so that he can one day toil away at his day job fixing computers. One time, Lou Ferrigno conned him out of $20.00. But that's another story...

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5 Comments

  1. BiffordMichael
    September 9, 2009 at 11:26 am — Reply

    I saw this movie in the cinema as a kid AND LOVED IT, I snuck back in over and over even one day going ALL BY MYSELF and watching it over and over…I think to me it was just an early music video as later in my teens I’d sit in front of MTV for hours at a time (I was ADHD maybe this movie was like ritilin to me?), seriously I LOVED it, had the double album, the Marvel Comics adaption…then I saw it on HBO the past month…not sure what I thought of it now…I mean I stopped and started it almost after every number…some things maybe I shouldn’t re-visit?!?

    Biff

    • Sam Dunham
      September 9, 2009 at 11:44 am — Reply

      Marvel Comics adaptation?! Had no idea there was such a thing.

  2. September 9, 2009 at 3:24 pm — Reply

    I saw this thing like a month ago, and I’m still stunned about how odd it is…

  3. September 10, 2009 at 4:43 am — Reply

    I so have to check this out…

  4. davek
    September 10, 2009 at 5:12 pm — Reply

    I own this on DVD and am not ashamed. The wife and I watch it every six months or so, it’s one of our top ten movies. We originally owned it on VHS… and wore it out.

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