Friday, May 06, 2011

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978 film)

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is an American musical film released in 1978. Its soundtrack, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, features new versions of songs originally written and performed by The Beatles. The film draws primarily from two of their albums, 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and 1969's Abbey Road.

The production is somewhat adapted from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, a 1974 off-Broadway production directed by Tom O'Horgan. It tells the loosely-constructed story of a band as they wrangle with the music industry and battle evil forces bent on stealing their instruments and corrupting their home town of Heartland. The film is presented in a form similar to that of a rock opera with the Beatles' songs providing "dialogue" to carry the story, with only George Burns having spoken lines that act to clarify the plot and provide further narration.


The film was produced by Robert Stigwood, founder of RSO Records, who had earlier produced Saturday Night Fever. RSO Records also released the soundtrack to the film Grease in 1978, which had Barry Gibb producing and Peter Frampton playing lead guitar on the title track. In 1976, the Bee Gees had recorded three Beatles cover songs "Golden Slumbers/Carry that Weight," "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and "Sun King" for the musical documentary All This and World War II.

Beatles producer George Martin served as musical director, conductor, arranger and producer of the Sgt. Pepper film soundtrack album.

Feature performers

* The Bee Gees, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, whose music had been integral to Saturday Night Fever (released by this film's international distributor, Paramount Pictures), play Mark, David and Bob Henderson, members of the re-formed Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
* Peter Frampton, whose album Frampton Comes Alive! was the biggest-selling live album ever at the time, plays Billy Shears, leader of the re-formed band and grandson of the original Sgt. Pepper character.
* Steve Martin, whose A Wild and Crazy Guy was released that same year, reaching number two on the music-dominated Billboard 200 album charts. His performance as Dr. Maxwell Edison, singing Maxwell's Silver Hammer, foreshadows his zany dentist role in Little Shop of Horrors.

The cast also featured British comedian Frankie Howerd as Mean Mr. Mustard (his only major U.S. film appearance), Paul Nicholas as Dougie Shears, George Burns as Mr. Kite, Donald Pleasence as B.D., referred to in Burns' narrative voice-over as B.D. Hoffler, but officially known in the film's credits and publicity materials as B.D. Brockhurst (for unknown reasons), Sandy Farina as Strawberry Fields, Dianne Steinberg as Lucy, Aerosmith as Future Villain Band (FVB), Earth Wind and Fire, who appear as themselves, Billy Preston as the magical Sgt. Pepper golden weather vane come to life, Alice Cooper as Father Sun, and Stargard as the Diamonds.

Special guests

Additionally, the movie becomes a time capsule of late 1970s pop culture with the last scene in which the cast is joined by "Our Guests at Heartland" to sing the reprise of the title track while standing in a formation imitating the classic Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album cover. The scene was filmed at MGM Studios on December 16, 1977; indeed, according to co-star Carel Struycken (Mustard's henchman, "Brute"), Sgt. Pepper was the last film to be made at MGM under that studio's then existing management. George Harrison and Paul and Linda McCartney happened to be visiting the set that day and agreed to be among the plethora of celebrities in the final scene. However, they decided at the last minute not to partake in the filming.

Guests with Beatles connections

* Peter Allen, Australian singer, Academy award-winning songwriter and entertainer
* Keith Allison, member of Paul Revere and the Raiders.
* George Benson, jazz guitarist, R&B musician; he recorded The Other Side of Abbey Road, with his versions of the Beatles songs in 1969.
* Keith Carradine
* Carol Channing
* Charlotte Crossley, Sharon Redd and Ula Hedwig, (the Harlettes, Bette Midler's back-up singers).
* Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, vocalist of southern rock band Black Oak Arkansas.
* Sarah Dash, member of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles and LaBelle.
* Rick Derringer, guitarist, member of the McCoys ("Hang on Sloopy"), Steely Dan and The Edgar Winter Group.
* Barbara Dickson, RSO Records recording artist, cast member of John, Paul, George, Ringo....and Bert, a musical co-produced by Robert Stigwood.
* Donovan, British recording artist, and Beatles friend.
* Randy Edelman, film and tv score composer
* Yvonne Elliman, who had a hit with the Bee Gees "If I Can't Have You" from Saturday Night Fever (1977)
* José Feliciano, Puerto Rican singer and guitarist
* Leif Garrett, teen idol
* Adrian Gurvitz, English singer/songwriter
* Billy Harper, jazz saxophonist
* Eddie Harris, jazz saxophonist
* Heart, American rock band featuring sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson
* Nona Hendryx, member of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles and LaBelle.
* Barry Humphries, Australian comedian, appears as his alter ego Dame Edna Everage.
* Etta James, American blues, R&B, and gospel singer.
* Dr. John an American singer/songwriter
* Bruce Johnston, member of the Beach Boys
* Big Bad Adam, cameraman
* BJ Malcolm, bird enthusiast/wallpaper
* Joe Lala, percussionist
* D.C. LaRue, disco musician
* Jo Leb
* Marcella Detroit,(as Marcy Levy), musician, singer, songwriter who, at the time had worked with Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen.
* Mark Lindsay, lead singer of Paul Revere and the Raiders
* Nils Lofgren, member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.
* Jackie Lomax, guitarist, singer/songwriter, friend of George Harrison
* John Mayall, English blues singer and songwriter
* Curtis Mayfield, American soul, funk and R&B singer, songwriter and guitarist
* "Cousin Brucie" Morrow, an American radio personality
* Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits
* Alan O'Day, American singer-songwriter, "Undercover Angel"
* Lee Oskar, founder, with Eric Burdon, of War
* The Paley Brothers (Andy and Jonathan Paley)
* Robert Palmer
* Wilson Pickett
* Anita Pointer of The Pointer Sisters
* Bonnie Raitt
* Helen Reddy, Australian singer and actress. In 1976, Reddy covered the Beatles song "The Fool on the Hill" for the musical documentary All This and World War II.
* Minnie Riperton, American soul singer
* Chita Rivera, Broadway actress, singer and dancer.
* Johnny Rivers, American rock and roll singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer.
* Monti Rock III, had a cameo in Saturday Night Fever and a disco hit "Get Dancin'"
* Danielle Rowe
* Sha-Na-Na, appeared in both the Broadway musical and the film Grease, and the Grease soundtrack, on RSO Records, performed at Woodstock.
* Del Shannon, American rock and roll artist
* Joe Simon, American soul and R&B artist
* Jim Seals and Dash Crofts
* Connie Stevens, actress
* John Stewart, American folk singer, member of The Kingston Trio, RSO recording artist
* Tina Turner, American R&B/rock singer, covered the Beatles song "Come Together" for the musical documentary All This and World War II.
* Frankie Valli, singer, founding member of the The Four Seasons rock and roll group.
* Gwen Verdon, broadway and film actress and dancer, had appeared in the musical "Dancin'"
* Diane Vincent
* Eric Voge,Actor,Producer,Friend of Peter Frampton and Ringo Starr
* Grover Washington, Jr., jazz-funk musician
* Hank Williams, Jr., country, southern rock and blues musician
* Johnny Winter, American blues singer and guitarist, performed at Woodstock
* Wolfman Jack
* Bobby Womack, R&B and soul singer and songwriter
* Alan White, drummer for Yes, also played on recordings with John Lennon and George Harrison.
* Lenny White, jazz/funk drummer
* Gary Wright, "Dream Weaver", friend of George Harrison

Critical Reaction

Hopes for SPLHCB were high; its producers expected the film to be "this generation's Gone With the Wind." Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that the film's "musical numbers are strung together so mindlessly that the movie has the feel of an interminable variety show"; while it may have been "conceived in a spirit of merriment, ... watching it feels like playing shuffleboard at the absolute insistence of a bossy shipboard social director. When whimsy gets to be this overbearing, it simply isn't whimsy any more." She complimented Martin on his "completely unhinged rendition of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," but pointed out that his scene is a "reminder that the film is otherwise humorless."

Perry Seibert of Allmovie called the film "quite possibly the silliest movie ever conceived," with a "handful of high camp moments" featuring Martin, Burns; Earth, Wind, and Fire; Aerosmith, and Billy Preston who "somehow transcend the jaw-dropping inanity that poisons the rest of the cast."

According to Leonard Maltin of Entertainment Tonight fame, the movie "...just doesn't work; the sequences range from tolerable to embarrassing. As to the Bee Gees' acting talent? Well, if you can't say something nice..." (The Bee Gees themselves have dismissed this movie as well, and have admitted that they begged to be let go after filming started.)

The film was a commercial failure, and it wiped out the profits of Robert Stigwood and company. Bee Gees filed an independent audit suit against Stigwood for the failure of the SPLHCB, and royalties. However, after it was released in communist Poland in 1979, the film became a large hit. It garnered nearly 1 million viewers, mostly teenagers who viewed it repeatedly. Like in America, it was critically panned, but unlike in America the younger audience, limited because of the Iron curtain, were impressed by the film.


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