Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Movie 1978 A Movie A Day Day 31

It appears that this movie is almost universally reviled, but the only I reason can see for that is that the Beatles music was somehow bastardized for the film. Nothing could be further from the truth, the music was very carefully performed and arranged for the talent that was available in the movie. Maybe there are participants that hang their head in shame over this, but they should not. This is a pop confection for a summer audience with a light sheen of camp and a heavy dose of 1970s sensibilities. It will not be everybody’s cup of tea, but anyone who claims that this is the worst movie of all time, or even that it is especially bad, is simply taking a position. As I watched it again this morning, I was charmed by the vocal performances of the actresses that I never heard from again, and the star power of the Bee Gees.

Peter Frampton is the nominal lead, but it really is an ensemble piece. Frampton is fine but not particularly special. His vocals have some of the phrasing that were found in the big successes he had in the seventies, but he has very little on screen charm. He is getting by on his teenybopper good looks and a big smile. Other than that, he is pretty wooden. The one thing he should be embarrassed about is the first costume he appears in. He is wearing a pink checkered shirt with a brilliant white pair of overalls. I am sorry if this sounds politically incorrect, but he looks like a gay scarecrow in a Broadway revival of the Wiz. In fact this movie has much in common with the movie version of the Wiz, both are star vehicles for singers, who are not necessarily actors, both feature a strong 70’s sense of style in palate of color and design, and both are less successful then was expected. The difference is the songs in Sgt. Pepper are by the Beatles and they were covered well, so the music is memorable. The Wiz has “Ease on Down the Road” which only has Michael Jackson going for it. There is one concert scene in Sgt. Pepper, where they recreate the look of Frampton’s monster selling live album. Complete with pink back lighting and head movement, it is an attempt to remind the young girls of the time why they came to see the movie.

The story is more coherent than Mama Mia, which has become a big success despite having a ridiculous premise and even less reason for the songs to be in the order they appear. Sgt Pepper was based on a stage production that I never heard of or saw, but the story and songs fit it better than many Broadway shows I’ve heard about or seen. The word “cheesy” comes to mind for a lot of reasons, the film when it is shot outside, never escapes the back-lot feel of a TV movie. The costumes are cheesy simply because the fashions of 1977/78 were in fact cheesy. This movie is an accurate time capsule of the way stylish people dressed then. The neon colors from the interiors and night scenes are gaudy,just like the Sunset Strip was in 1978. I have a picture of the strip that I took in the summer this movie came out, with a giant billboard promoting the Kiss Solo albums, and those album covers featured the same sort of glowing neon back-lighting that you get in many sections of this film. Sure the movie comes across as a commercial endeavor to sell music, and cash in on the heat of the artists in the movie. I don’t quite know why that makes it a bad film, simply because it is a good commercial.

If anyone wants to dump on the musical performances, I will point to three songs that were pop hits from the movie and show the quality of the work. Aerosmith does a sleazy version of Come Together, that used Steven Tyler’s voice very effectively. I will admit that as actors the band did not do much, but Tyler, a beanpole of a singer is supposed to have a death struggle with Frampton, who is equally slight. It wasn’t really supposed to be convincing. Earth, Wind and Fire are spared any acting scenes, they simply do a musical number at a benefit. Got to Get You Into My Life, is a funky seventies version of the Beatles tune, that really is adapted well to the talents of the group. The Bee Gees harmonies on all the songs they appear on are spot on. Each gets a chance to be featured on a song or two; but the standout is Robin Gibb’s smoking version of “Oh Darling”. There is minimal musical accompaniment during the whole recorded version, but in the film, he ends up singing nearly half the song a cappella. If you don’t like this, you don’t like music.

Dolores and I saw this opening day in July 1978, at the United Artist Theater in Westwood. We were expecting big crowds for the first show at noon, so we got there early and were the first in line. A line that ended up being about 20 people long. The theater was about half full by the time the show ran, and when we walked out and saw an even smaller line for the next show, it dawned on us that this was not going to be the next Star Wars cultural phenomena. We did have a couple copies of the soundtrack, and it was a pretty big success also, but they overprinted and it was in cutout bins for the next four years whenever we went into a record store. Dee and I were huge Bee Gees fans and enjoyed the movie a lot. This movie is a good time capsule for the late 70’s, you get shots of the L.A. area on Sunset that most of us had spent time hanging around, you get the sounds and colors of the era. You also get to see the fashion of the times, but I can assure you I never owned a pair of overalls in my life.

Gator 1976 A Movie A Day Day 30

I have to admit I missed a day here. The Twilight midnight screening took so much out of me that I was a shell of my usual self yesterday. When I got home from school, which I went to after only 3 hours sleep, we had Amanda’s friends over for a little birthday celebration. I ended up putting the movie in around 6:30 and waking up around 9:00. Yep, I fell asleep. At that point I did not have the energy to go back and watch the two-thirds of the movie that I had missed. There would also have been no way for me to blog on the film, either, I would have passed out a second time.

Now that the apology is out of the way, let’s get to the movie. I read that the Character “Gator” is based on the same character from “White Lightning” three years earlier. I have that movie on my list also, but I have not yet obtained it so I’m going to go out of sequence. I am telling you it doesn’t matter that we are starting with the second movie, because as far as I could tell, there were no story elements carried over from the first movie except the main character. This movie easily stands alone as a comedy/action film. It is the first feature that the star, Burt Reynolds, directed. You can tell that it is a first effort in a number of ways. The pacing is not very crisp, there are some long passages where pretty much nothing happens. Occasionally there is a pretty shot that the director lingers over because he is so satisfied with the image, he wants you to notice it, the shot that stood out for me was a tri-fold mirror image from a music box that featured a young girls face, the dancing musical ballerina, and the stars face, all in one frame. It looks great but it draws attention to itself. Also, the director let the star indulge in a lot of aside comments and laugh shots that go on too long. Some of it is funny but most of the time it hurts the narrative.

The movie is supposed to be about action and character. There are some good character performances in the movie. Jack Weston, a rubber faced actor with a soft voice plays a Department of Justice investigator that traps our hero into working for the law against an old friend from his moonshining days. You’ll recognize Weston from a ton of films. I always liked him as the agent in Ishtar but you will have seen him elsewhere. In the opening part of the movie, he is playing the part as a bumbling fish out of water type, and the comedy boat chase in the first fifteen minutes will make you think that Dom Deluise must simply not have been available. As the movie progresses, it is clear that they needed a dramatic actor for some scence as well as the comedy. Weston can do that, I don’t think it would have worked with Reynold’s usual comic foil. Jerry Reed on the other hand is in this movie, as he was for a half dozen other Reynold’s films of the time. He does the title tune, after all he was primarily a country singer, but I thought he did very well playing a nasty bad guy. He’s a good ole boy in a lot of scenes but then, he turns brutal and carries it off pretty well.

Other than some awkward film-making my biggest issue with the movie is the tone. The opening is like a Smokey and the Bandit Comedy. It looks like Gator and the fed will have a Mutt and Jeff type comic banter for the duration. Somewhere along the line the though, the story turns serious, and although there is quite a bit of humor, it doesn’t always play well next to the grittier stuff. For example, Alice Ghostly appears as an eccentric local who can help out the investigation. There is a section in which her love of her cats is played for laughs, but later in the film that idea becomes tragic and the fun good times get lost. The same sort of thing happens with the local Mayor and the corrupt police. It is all fun and games, and then there are fifteen year old girls strung out on drugs and used as prostitutes, with the officials turning a blind eye. The movie can’t decide if it wants to be a slap-stick like comedy or a gritty crime thriller. Other movies have walked that line successfully (Beverly Hills Cop) but manage to do so while making the comedy stand separate from the crimes that are going on, here it does not feel that way. A running joke about a tall henchman having to sit in the drivers seat of the car while his head pops out of the sunroof is amusing, until that character turns out to be a sick killer.

I spotted Burton Gillian again in this movie, as Smiley, the tall guys buddy. Mike Douglas of all people makes a cameo in the opening as the Governor that hopes cleaning up the crime ridden county will clear his way to a Presidential Nomination. Those of you who don’t know Mike Douglas, he was one of those avuncular talkshow hosts, whose syndicated programs filled afternoon TV time on local network affiliates in the 60s and 70s. I think it was his show where Cher and Gene Simmons (in costume) were shown ordering tacos at a Jack in the Box. Model Laureen Hutton, is the female co-star here and it was funny watching her make light of her gap-toothed smile in a romantic encounter on the beach. I seem to remember a song or a story that talked about the allure of gap-toothed women, she was fine and pretty appealing here.

My copy of the movie starts full screened, then goes to wide screen for the credits, back to full screen for the duration of the story and then wide-screen for the closing credits. I know there are contractual issues on the credits, and that is why they run them this way, but it makes it more noticeable how inadequate the pan and scan process is, because we have seen glimpses of the bayou and the back roads in panavision glory and it just looks better. Check out the movie poster above, it looks like James Bond became a hillbilly for this film. It’s a great poster, but not really indicative of how the movie plays. Bond was smooth and polished and the action was choreographed really well, this movie is rough around the edges, with a lot of dirt in the story and on the actors. Typical Burt action film.