I was planning on talking about this movie earlier but put it off. Seeing this post at Booksteve's Library reminded me that I had not yet written about it. I saw this movie when it first came out years ago in the late 1970's and hated it. For some reason I was thinking about it recently and saw it was available at my local library. I checked it out and watched it to see if it was as bad as I remembered. Now this was not a musical in the traditional sense. It was a rock opera where most of the story is told by the songs. Music videos had not been invented (or should I say discovered?) yet so music lovers had to get to see their favorite bands either in concert, on TV shows or in movies.
The movie starred my now neighbor across the river Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees. When the acts were signed it was to showcase Peter Frampton as he recently had the best selling live album of all time. By the time the movie came out his star was falling and the Bee Gees had reached their height of fame. So most were going to see and hear the Bee Gees. Others in the film are Frankie Howard, Sandy Farina (she has a beautiful voice as she sings "Here Comes the Sun"), Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Earth, Wind and Fire, Paul Nicholas (known for his hit song "Heaven on the 7th Floor), Billy Preston, Steve Martin and George Burns.Now at the time Steve Martin was considered a Rock and Roll comic so I understand why he was in it and by playing Dr. Maxwell Edison it probably gave him insight on how to play the dentist in the movie Little Shop of Horrors. But I always wondered why George Burns was in it. At the time he was being offered many movie roles due to winning the Oscar for the Sunshine Boys so I guess this movie could come up with the amount of money that he asked for. Another possible reason is that George Burns was a frustrated musician. The story that I have heard is that Mr. Burns started out as a singer. One night he was sick and not able to sing at the theater where he was booked. The theater owner threatened him with a lawsuit so he sang for the audience. Since then he ruined his voice and was not able to sing very well after that so he turned to comedy. Of course Mr. Burns did enjoy a late career in music and I am sure that he loved that he got to sing "I'm Fixing A Hole" in the film.
George Burns played Mr. Kite the Mayor of Heartland and as the narrator he holds the film together with the only spoken part in the movie. Sgt. Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band are war heroes for helping to end the world war with their music. When Sgt. Pepper dies he leaves his band to be reformed by his grandson Billy Shears (Peter Frampton) much to the chagrin of Billy's brother Dougie. When he is older Billy does reform the band with his friends the three Henderson Brothers Mark, David and Bob (the Bee Gees). Dougie is made the bands manager. Sandy Farina plays Billy's girlfriend named...Strawberry Fields.
The film starts with the band making it big and B.D., played by Donald Pleasence, of Big Deal Records offers them a contract. I thought that this might be better then I remembered as it seemed to be a movie about four small town boys who hit it big and get use to their new success. However, it quickly falls as while they are gone Mean Mr. Mustard played by Frankie Howard comes in and steals the original band instrumnts as they are magical and as long as they remain together in Heartland peace will rein over the world. He divides them up and Strawberry Fields leaves town to get Billy and the Hendersons to find them and win back the town. During the final battle it seems like it will have a sad ending as the good guys win but at a terrible price with the death of Strawberry Fields. Suddenly by magic the weather vane of Sgt. Peppers comes to life in the form of, the only person in the movie who had anything to do with the song he sings, Billy Preston. Billy sings "Get Back", he played on the song with the Beatles, and magically brings Strawberry back to life.
This is the only Rock Opera I have ever seen. While it was not as bad as I remembered it still was not that good. One day I hope to see the one that The Who made as I have heard they are the best.
One thing struck me as I saw this movie. Barry Gibb looked great on the screen. He didn't say anything so I don't know how well he can act. If he can he could have had a great career in the movies. Then again maybe not. With the exceptions of Ringo, Phil Collins and Roger Daltry most rock stars don't do to well as actors.
When it came out much was said about the sountrack. George Martin was hired as the musical director and he said he stayed true to the songs. However, my friend Jeff was livid at what they did with the song "Got to Get You Into My Life" when it was preformed by Earth, Wind and Fire. It was turned into a dance tune. Someone must have liked it as it was a hit on the Billboard charts as was Aerosmith's version of "Come Together."
The ending was fun as it tried to emulate the cover of the Beatles album. It have every pop culture figure from the 1970's, from Peter Allen and Keith Carradine to Wolfman Jack and Gary Wright, in a group shot singing the repraise.
If you have never seen this then you should get the DVD to see this time capsule of 1970's pop culture. Just don't expect it to be like Tommy.