This lost and obscure Canadian theatrical made its way across the U.S. boarder on VHS — sans publicity or any distribution. It’s a film I never came across by way of my multiple video memberships nor cutout bin excursions. It wasn’t until our local, dead and abandoned shopping mall transformed into an “outlet mall,” where retailers rented out a store space (well, cubicle) to sell their wares. In other words: it was an indoor swap shop.
Anyway, this older, crusty but still chatty gentleman, who was in the drive-in racket back in the day, then, when that industry dried up, he got into the home video market — but he hated running a video store. So he rented out a space and started purging his inventory. Then he got sick of that: one day I go to his canvas-fenced cubicle — and he’s gone.
So goes the story of how I got my copy of I-never-heard-of this faux-band romp that crosses Eddie and the Cruisers with American Graffiti — and uses the Beatles’ September 7, 1964, debut appearance in Toronto, their first of two concerts, at the Maple Leaf Gardens hockey area.
This isn’t the first time the history of the Beatles fueled a fictional tale. Robert Zemeckis (I love him for Used Cars, alone; the rest is gravy) scripted I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) around the Beatles’ historic February 8, 1964, appearance on CBS-TV’s Ed Sullivan Show. In that tale, a group of friends (headed by Nancy Allen and the Wendy Jo Sperber) scheme to meet the band.
This time, a quartet of ne’er-do-well teens from the wrong side of Toronto’s tracks form the Concrete Angels — in a plot that reminds of the earlier Brian Adams tale about a failed teen band, “Summer of ’69” — to enter a radio station’s battle of the bands contest and win the opening act slot for the Beatles’ gig. Will they win and escape their poverty or will they fall back into their juvenile acts of crime?
Fortunately, unlike Larry Buchanan’s earlier faux-Jim Morrison romp, Down on Us (1984), with its ersatz Doors, Hendrix, and Joplin tunes, first time producer and director Carlo Linconti secured the right to Beatles tunes — but only in cover tune form (“Twist and Shout,” “Money (That’s What I Want),” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “P.S I Love You,” “Misery,” “From Me to You,” “Love Me Do,” and “She Loves You”) — as interpreted by the Canadian new-wave band Quasi Hands (their lone EP is on eBay and heard on You Tube). Other songs appearing in the film are the oldies-classics (originals/covers mix) of Chuck Berry, Little Eva, Dion, and the Shirelles. One of the Beatles’ major influences, Buddy Holly, appears — however, in a cover form — by way of the Blushing Brides (who later etched out a career as a popular Rolling Stones tribute band; you can learn more about the ‘Brides at Canadian Bands).
Do we meet the faux-Beatles as portray by actors? Nope. But Paul’s voice shows up for a quickie (phone call) as voiced by Gary Grimes (aka “Hermie” from the American Graffiti knocks Summer of ’42 and Class of ’44) — or was he duping John, I wasn’t paying that much attention.
Do the Fab covers have the vim and vigor of the Beatles? Nope. They’re the “Drab Four”; the bar band covers you’d expect from a band as you suck back an Iron Horse at your local suds dispensary (know your Bob & Doug McKenzie trivia).
As for the acting: Eh, the acting is okay, but nothing to write home about. Italian-Canadian actor Tony Nardi, however, in his first starring role (after a bit part in Videodrome), earned his first of five Genie Award nods (Canada’s Oscars) for his role as Sal — was he a slimy band manager, radio executive, or . . . eh, don’t care; again, I wasn’t paying that much attention. Yeah, Concrete Angels is one of those films that lends itself to one viewing (two, if you’re a smarmy critic writing for a website in Pittsburgh), and you’re done. It’s not — as with Splitz or Hail Caesar — a beauty, eh.
Carlo Linconti is still active as a producer and director. Amid his 20-plus producer credits — one was the 1974 killer bugs romp Phase IV — he’s directed fourteen films; his most recent, in-production film is the western adventure, Bordello.
As for Concrete Angels, there’s no online streams — free or pay — but the VHS copies are out there on Amazon and eBay. There’s no DVDs from what we can see, but if they are, be assured they’re grey market rips off the VHS, so emptor the caveats, ye junk cinema purveyor. But we did find a trailer.
Be sure to join us for our three part “The Beatles: Influence on Film” series as we look at Concrete Angels and 33 other films dealing with the legacy of the Beatles.