April Movie Thon Day 25: Beatlemania: The Movie (1981)

So, the day of April 25 on the B&S About Movies’ announcement for the April Movie Thon so proclaimed today as “Fads” day: Lambada. Disco. Garbage Pail Kids. You could toss superhero movies on the VHS stack. Elvis movies*. Buddy Cop flicks. Gangster movies. Movies starring Melissa McCarthy and Tim Allen.

Oh, but how could we forget including “The Fab Four” — who, through no fault of their own — became “The Fad Four” — across 30-plus films since the late ’60s**. Yes, we are name-dropping the “fad films” Breakin’, Can’t Stop the Music, The Garbage Pail Kids, and Roller Boogie in the same breath as one of the most — if not the most — influential bands of all time.

This “film” — a concept that Ringo went on record as saying he “hated” — is one of those fad flicks of our dismay. And deservingly so, since it is the most blatant marketing cash-in of all Beatles flicks.


A smash Broadway musical-rockumentary advertised as “Not the Beatles, but an incredible simulation” that ran for 1,006 performances from May 1977 to October 1979 is a sure bet for a theatrical film adaptation.

No, it’s not.

The show — a multimedia production consisting of backdrops and projected images of art and video footage from the Beatles-era, as well as numerous clips of the Beatles — consisted of 29, chronologically-played songs, complete with costume changes.

So — with a Broadway hit on their hands — the managerial impresarios behind the production, Steve Lever and David Krebs (known for their handling of the Rolling Stones, Joan Jett, to a lesser extent, Canadian metalers Anvil; chornicled in their document, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, and Aerosmith; remember “Boston’s Bad Boys” appeared in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), decided that — Apple Corps. lawsuits, be damned — it was time to take on the album charts and the silver screen.

The original cast of Joe Pecorino (rhythm guitar, John), Mitch Weissman (bass guitar, Paul), Les Fradkin (lead guitar, George), and Justin McNeill (drums, Ringo), and the second cast of Randy Clark as John, Reed Kailing as Paul, P.M. Howard as George, and Bobby Taylor as Ringo, headed into the studio for a 1978 Arista Beatlemania: The Album release — which bombed with record buyers as it scrapped into the lowest regions of the Billboard 200.

Seriously? Who wants to buy a Pickwick (Discogs) budget sound-alike of Beatles tunes?

Okay . . . well, maybe a movie would work, better.

Uh, no it won’t. Remember All This and World War II?

Production began in late 1980 — shortly before John Lennon’s December 8 murder — under the tutelage of TV director Joseph Manduke (Harry O, Hawaii Five-O, Barnaby Jones). The cast featured a mix of musicians from the Broadway production and Arista album, with Mitch Weissman back a third time as Paul, David Leon as John, Tom Teeley as George, and Ralph Castelli as Ringo.

Released in the summer of 1981, Beatlemania: The Movie quickly became a critical and box office bomb. Apple Corps, who launched their first legal volleys regarding publicity rights and trademarks in 1979, finally won in damages in 1986.

You can learn more on the making of Beatlemania (the Broadway show) with this Chicago news station-produced TV documentary on You Tube.

R.D Francis

* Been there. Done that. Check out our “Exploring: Elvis Fantasy Flicks” round up.

** Editor’s Note: This review previous appeared in August 2021, as part of a three-part “The Beatles: Influence on Film” series.