The Fab Four Films

In 1964 the United States developed a love affair with four young men from Liverpool, England known as The Beatles.  I’m sure you’ve heard of them.  By the time they reached the United States they had already been popular in England for two years and had been contracted to film their first movie A Hard Day’s Night.  That was soon followed by their second Film Help!  Then came two semi psychedelic films Yellow Submarine and Magical Mystery Tour.   If you haven’t seen them they are worth a look, if only for the history of both the music and the band.

 

Hard Day's Night DVD Cover 

A Hard Day’s Night1964
Of all the Beatle’s films this is perhaps my favorite.   It is from this black and white film that we developed our ideas of who and what The Beatles were.  John- the wisecracking snarky one, Paul- the thoughtful one, George- the quiet one and Ringo- the sad one.  The movie followed the four on the road as they escaped from their fans and prepared for a BBC television variety show.  Accompanying them are their manager, road manager and Paul’s grandfather.  None of these people were really who they portrayed in the film, of course, but that didn’t matter; they gave The Beatles someone to play off of.  When the film came out they were compared to those masters of comedy the Marx Brothers.  Ringo was especially singled out for his sense of comedic timing.   The whole movie seemed to be one adlib after another.  I’m sorry to disappoint many who think this, but the whole thing was actually scripted out.  There were very few actual adlibs. The parts fit the boys, but they were not necessarily who they were in total.  I find this movie still holds up even after 40 years.  I can still picture many of the film’s “bits” clearly in my mind and I enjoy watching them and listening to the music.  This film is another in my list of “watch yearly” films.

Beatles' Help! DVD Cover 

Help! – 1965
Hot on the heels of their successful tour of the U.S. came the movie Help!  The movie once again has John, Paul, George and Ringo playing themselves, this time in color.  In the film Ringo has received a ring from an admiring fan.  After putting it on he finds it is stuck on his finger and will not come off. The ring marks him as the sacrificial victim of some unknown eastern religion.  This loose plot is more of an excuse to follow The Beatles around the world as they try desperately to stay alive and apparently record the soundtrack album.   This movie allowed The Beatles more of a chance for improvisation than their first movie.  Sadly I believe it shows.  Their personalities seem less defined than they were in A Hard Day’s Night.   This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the movie.  The settings are a feast for the eyes, and the music?  Well it’s The Beatles, and this time period includes some of my favorite songs prior to Sgt. Pepper.   The film doesn’t hold up as well as their first film does.  It seems to be a little more dated, more a product of the 1960’s than their first film.   Besides the music my major memory of seeing the movie for the first time was that I ran into one of my best friends shortly before leaving for the theatre.  Both of us saw the movie while recovering from bloody noses.

 

 Yellow Sub Cover

Yellow Submarine1968
By the time the film Yellow Submarine came out The Beatles had stopped touring, Sgt Pepper had been released and The Beatles had clearly established themselves and proved their musical skills.  This animated movie was modeled after the art work of Peter Max, a psychedelic poster artist of the time.  This time the movie follows The Beatles as they are recruited to save the magical, musical land of Pepperland from the evil Blue Meanies. The story is fun, family friendly and imaginative and the animation alone makes it worth seeing. Of course it features some of the best of The Beatles’ music, but it’s not really a Beatles film.  Except for the short appearance at the end of the film and, of course, the music, the Beatles do not appear in the film, even as voices. Actors were hired to voice all of The Beatles’ parts.  Does that change my enjoyment of the film?  Not in the least.  While not my favorite Beatles’ film, this is more because I don’t think of it as a Beatles’ film any more than I think of the movie Across the Universe as a Beatles film.  I rank this film among my favorite films and literally my favorite animated film.   It’s a part of history that still holds up today.

Magical Mystery Tour DVD Cover 

Magical Mystery Tour – 1967
Filmed and released before Yellow Submarine but not released in the United states until afterwards  Magical Mystery Tour is not exactly a movie as it was filmed to be a one hour television show.  Running a mere 55 minutes the piece was filmed to be shown on BBC television and follows The Beatles on a self-guided, self-planned and somewhat self-indulgent Mystery Tour.  Mystery Tours were a bit of a rage in Britain for a while.  The idea was to gather a group of people on a bus for a trip where only the planner knew the full itinerary of the trip.  The four Beatles thought it would be fun to plan one of their own with some of their favorite people and actors along. Add in some psychedelic overtones and Beatles’ music and see what came out.  It was a mixture of improvisation and script, written and directed primarily by the Beatles.  It was the first attempt by the group to control a whole project from start to finish.  Perhaps the biggest problem with the film was the band’s lack of experience.  The film looked good in color, but they lacked the knowledge to plan for the still numerous black and white televisions in Britain, which caused the film to look washed out and bland. Sadly even those with colour (British spelling) televisions did not see the film in color as the BBC aired the movie the first time only in black and white.  It was perhaps the first Beatles’ failure since their success with A Hard Day’s Night.  Looking back on the film today I find I like it better than I did when I first saw it, which was a re-airing on a black and white restaurant TV in Brighton England in 1970, or was it 1969?  If you want to experience the music and strangeness that was The Beatles in the late 60’s you really must watch this film.  The performances of “I am the Walrus,” and “Your Mother Should Know,” are still some of the best “music videos” ever made.

 

Let it Be – 1970
There is a fifth film. I almost hesitated to include this, the last film by The Beatles, in this list because the title is currently out of print and the library does not own a copy.  Let It Be documents the recording of the album “Let It Be,” and presents the creative process The Beatles went through while recording the songs along with evidence of their impending break-up.  The films highlight is a roof-top concert above the streets of London.  If the title becomes available again I will discuss it separately.  Until then, please enjoy the “Fab Four Films” we currently own.