Canadian rock singer, bass player and songwriter Neil Merryweather, born on December 27, 1945, recorded and performed with musicians including Steve Miller, Dave Mason, Lita Ford, Billy Joel, and Rick James.
He passed away on March 29, 2021, in Las Vegas, Nevada, after a short battle with cancer.
Neil Merryweather, influenced by David Bowie with his Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars project, achieved his low-selling, yet critically acclaimed creative peak of seventies excess with two heavy-psych space-rock albums from his Space Rangers project, released in 1974 and 1975.
Devotees of early-seventies glam-rock and proto-metal obscurities may note the similarities in artwork and sound on the Space Rangers to that of the later, John Entwistle-fronted rock opera of the Flash Fearless vs. the Zorg Women(October 1975) project featuring Detroiter Alice Cooper; the album itself inspired by Bowie’s Ziggy persona.
A Canadian singer and bassist, Neil Merryweather got his professional start with the Just Us, which released 1965’s “I Don’t Love You b/w I Can Tell” on Quality Records (the label had a major Canadian and U.S. chart hit with “Shakin’ All Over” from the Guess Who). Merryweather eventually joined Rick James (later known for his 1981 disco-funk smash, “Superfreak”) in the Mynah Birds (which featured Neil Young and Bruce Palmer, who had already left for Buffalo Springfield) and recorded the August 1967 single, “It’s My Time,” at Detroit’s Motown Studios. Upon the departure of Rick James, Merryweather kept the Mynah Birds active with fellow Canadian Bruce Cockburn (later known to U.S. radio and video audiences for the singles “Wondering Where the Lions Are” from 1980 and 1984’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher”; Neil and Cockburn also played together in Flying Circus).
Neil’s bandmate in Mama Lion — and its harder-edge version, known as Heavy Cruiser, sans Lynn Carey — keyboardist James Newton Howard, became a go-to Hollywood soundtrack producer. You’re heard his work since the early ’80s — most notably with Wyatt Earp, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, I Am Legend, and Red Sparrow.
Merryweather then established Mama Lion with lead vocalist Lynn Carey and signed with Ripp’s Family Productions (also the home to Billy Joel). After issuing two Janis Joplin-inspired, psychedelic-blues n’ soul efforts with Preserve Wildlife and Give It Everything I’ve Got (both 1972), Mama Lion — sans Carey — became the harder, blues-rocking Heavy Cruiser. Their critically acclaimed, two album stint with Heavy Cruiser and Lucky Dog (1972) attracted the attention of a more industry-reputable managerial suitor, Shep Gordon (he also attempted to sign Iggy Pop; he lost to Danny Sugerman). Gordon wanted to sign and book Heavy Cruiser as Alice Cooper’s opening act. Sadly, Artie Ripp and Shep Gordon didn’t get along, and the Gordon-Cooper deal soured. Along the way, Merryweather was offered — and turned down — the bassist spot in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
After assisting Billy Joel in the studio on an early demo of “Piano Man,” which led to Joel signing with Columbia Records, Merryweather devised the glam-inspired, proto-metal Space Rangers project around the then high-tech Chamberlin keyboard, also electronically augmenting the band with a then-groundbreaking use of Octivators and Echoplexes. Initially recording with Capitol, Merryweather issued Space Rangers (1974), then Kryptonite (1975), on Mercury.
Billy Joel, with Neil Merryweather and Heavy Cruiser (Rhys Clark and Alan Hurtz) jamming on “Heart of Gold.”
After losing Iggy Pop and Merryweather, Gordon signed Detroit guitarist Dick Wagner, formerly of the Frost, with his new endeavor, Ursa Major, which featured Billy Joel in its embryonic stages.
Ursa Major became Cooper’s opening act and Wagner wrote “Only Women Bleed.”
Tim McGovern, the drummer in Mama Lion and the Space Rangers, would find success as a guitarist. Starting with the L.A new-wave band the Pop, and then with the Motels, McGovern found MTV success with “Belly of the Whale,” as the frontman for the Burning Sensations. They placed their cover of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers’ “Pablo Picasso” on the punk-influenced soundtrack for 1984’s Repo Man.
Merryweather, sensing the changing times, adopted a pop-rock, new-wave sound with Eyes, a Holland-based band featuring ex-members of the Nina Hagen Band* and Herman Brood’s Wild Romance*, which released Radical Genes on RCA Records. However, Merryweather returned to his heavy-metal roots — inventively streamlining and glamming the “old sound” for a wider, commercial appeal — as the manager, bassist, and chief songwriter for the solo career of ex-Runaway Lita Ford on her progenitive hair-metal debut, Out for Blood.
Leaving the industry after the Ford project, but not leaving his creative side behind, Merryweather forged a career as an award-winning painter, sculpture, and photographer and worked in the creative department for the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works. As the calendar flipped to the 21st century, Merryweather returned to the music business, composing music for teen-oriented television shows and, with ex-Space Rangers Mike Willis and Jamie Herndon, made plans to enter the studio for a new, third Space Rangers album. His other music projects — formed with ex-Space Ranger Jamie Herndon and ex-Lita Ford drummer Dusty Watson were known as Hundred Watt Head and The La La Land Blues Band.
His last project, prior to his passing, was a third album with Janne Stark, formerly the guitarist with Swedish New Wave of British Heavy Metal upstarts Overdrive, which released the classic hard rock albums Metal Attack (1983) and Swords And Axes (1984). You can learn more about the Merryweather Stark band — and their albums Carved in Rock (2018) and Rock Solid (2020) — at their official Facebook page. You may leave condolences at Neil Merryweather’s personal Facebook page, which will continued to be managed by his survivors.
And, with that, let’s roll the films — and TV series — of Neil Merryweather!
The Seven Minutes (1971)
Leave it to Russ Meyer — of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls fame — to be the only filmmaker to realize the soundtrack potential of the musical scope that is Neil Merryweather. And the potential behind the well-researched, sexually-charged novels of screenwriter Irving Wallace (his early ’60s books, published by Simon & Schuster — The Chapman Report, The Prize, The Man, and 1976’s The R Document — were all adapted, as was The Seven Minutes, by others).
While Russ Meyer’s name immediately says “sex,” the film carries a deeper meaning on the effects of pornography and its relationship to issues regarding freedom of speech: it’s also a meta-movie: about a book, The Seven Minutes, purported as the “most obscene piece of pornography ever written.” A district attorney on the political fast track for a senatorial seat uses the book’s erotic infamy to indict a college student for a brutal rape and murder, as well as the book store owner who sold the book to the student.
Typical of a Meyer film, while it lacks his usual “tits and ass” (demanded by the studio), the casting is B&S About Movies-crazed: In addition to Meyer’s wife and 20th Century Fox Studios’ contract player Edy Williams, the cast features Yvonne De Carlo, John Carradine (the last decent film he was in), the always-welcomed Charles Napier, a self-playing Wolfman Jack, and in another early role, Tom Selleck (Daughters of Satan).
As for Neil Merrryweather: “Midnight Tricks,” from his pre-Mama Lion joint album with Lynn Carey — Vacuum Cleaner (1971) by the concern Merryweather & Carey — appears in the film. (Neil’s works with Heavy Cruiser and Mama Lion were distributed by the Paramount Studios-imprint, Family Productions.)
The duo’s relationship with Meyer goes back to the smut-auteur recruiting Lynn Carey for the Stu Phillips-produced soundtrack to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Battlestar Galactica ’78 is one of his many); Lynn sings (“Find It” and “Once I Had You”) for that film’s character in the faux band, The Carrie Nations, along with Barbara “Sandi” Robison. While Lynn’s voice appears in the film, for legal reasons, she does not appear on the subsequent, original soundtrack album.
As a child actress, Lynn appeared in the ’60s series The Man from U.N.C.L.E and Lassie; in the early ’80s, she had a stint on the U.S. daytime drama, Days of Our Lives. She made her lone film appearances in Lord Love a Duck (1966; with Roddy McDowall) and How Sweet It Is! (1968; with James Gardner). Lynn’s attempt at moving into ’80s AOR (think ’80s glam-bent Heart) led to her songs appearing in I Married a Centerfold (1984), Challenge of a Lifetime (1985), Radioactive Dreams (1985) (“All Talk” appears in the film, but on the soundtrack), Hollywood Harry (1985), and Combat High (1986).
Lita Ford: Out for Blood (1983)
By the mid-70s, Neil resided in the Netherlands, where, through Chrysalis Records in London, he set up an imprint, Clear, in cooperation with the Dutch company, Dureco. While developing new acts out of Chrysalis’ studios in Miami and Los Angeles, he released his 12th album, his three-years later follow up to Kryponite (1975) by the Space Rangers, with the solo album, Differences (1978). He then formed the more timely, new-wave outfit Eyes, which released their lone album, Radical Genes.
Then, with new wave and punk on the downward stroke and glam metal on the rise: a new musical adventure called forth. . . .
You know the story: Lita Ford was a member of the Runaways (duBeat-e-o). Joan Jett was fed up with Cherrie Currie (The Rosebud Beach Hotel) as the frontwoman. Currie was tired of being pushed on back burner. Joan wanted to take the band in a punk vein (which she did: with members of the Clash and the Sex Pistols, which morphed into her solo debut, Bad Reputation). Lita wanted to take the band in a metal direction, which Joan hated.
So, Neil, as he did with Lynn Carey, first with the Vacuum Cleaner duo project, and their two albums with Mama Lion, found a new muse for his next musical direction: a creative detour that returned to his ’70s hard-rock roots first explored in the bands Heavy Cruiser and the Space Rangers.
As the mastermind behind a new, full-metal Lita, Neil served as her manager and producer (Billy Joel’s ex-Svengali, Artie Ripp, co-produced). In addition to playing bass — his career instrument of choice — Neil wrote four of the albums nine cuts: the album’s title cut song (posted above), “Ready, Willing and Able,” “Die for Me Only (Black Widow),” and “On the Run.” If you know Neil’s artistic side: he designed all of his own albums covers, costumes, and stage shows throughout his career: Out for Blood for blood was no exception: he constructed the chain-web, the cover, and the band’s outfits; he also designed the MTV video single.
Sadly, his partnership with Lita Ford was short-lived. The experience was such that Neil retired from the business to work as a graphic artist — his second biggest love — for government agencies in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. He went on to win numerous awards for his paintings and multi-media pieces.
Ash vs. Evil Dead (2016)
What can we say about this Equinox (1970) inspired franchise from Sam Raimi that hasn’t already been said? Well, we finally worked up the courage to say something about the film that started it all, Evil Dead (1981) — at least Sam “the Bossman” Pacino did — of the highly-influential “Midnight Movie” splatter fest.
As for the series, itself: we touched base with the Bruce Campbell-starring series as part of our “Lee Majors Week” tribute blowout — as Lee appeared as Brock Williams, Ash’s pop, in the second and third seasons of Starz’s Ash vs. Evil Dead.
As for the Neil Merryweather connection: “Star Rider,” from the Space Rangers’ 1975 second and final album, Kyrponite, appears in “Home”; the first episode of the series’ second season, it served as the introduction to Lee’s character.
So, wraps up our exploration of Neil’s all-too-brief connection to film.
This is the final segment of our three-part series. We’ve discovered 33 films in the series, with 11 films each over the past three days — at 3 PM — as part of our third “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” installment.
The films are listed by year of release.
Nowhere Boy (2009)
Imagine This: Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon by Lennon’s half-sister Julia Baird fuels this tale. Sam Taylor-Johnson — who earned a Golden Raspberry nod for Worst Director on her sophomore film, Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) — makes her directorial debut with this examination of John Lennon’s (an excellent Aaron Taylor-Johnson) adolescence, his relationships with his aunt Mimi Smith, and his mother Julia Lennon, and the creation of his first band, the Quarrymen, and its evolution into the Beatles.
Lennon Naked (2010)
After watching the early years of Lennon in Nowhere Boy, and one’s left wondering what the final year of Lennon’s life was like in the Beatles, this BBC-TV produced TV movie, which ended up on the U.S. pay cable network Showtime as a first-run movie, answers those questions. Christopher Eccleston as Lennon is excellent throughout, as this clips proves. Chilling.
George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011)
Look, Hollywood is too busy mucking up the histories of Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and Nikki Sixx to give “The Quiet Beatle” a bioflick or Netflix mini-series proper. Besides, when Martin Scorsese takes a break from the mobster flicks to pay tribute to the life and times of George Harrison, you break editorial rules and include the documentary on the list.
This is buoyed by Paul and Ringo showing up, along with Harrison’s widow Olivia, and his son Dhani, as well as Tom Petty and Eric Clapton. Not only do we learn about George’s time with the Beatles; the seven-years-in-the-making film delves deeply into his solo career, including his work with the Concert for Bangladesh and the delightful Traveling Wilburys project.
Good Ol’ Freda (2013)
The subject matter here is such an out-of-left field twist in the history of Beatles flicks, we had to break editorial policy for a third time to mention this fascinating documentary on the life of Fredy Kelly: a fellow Liverpudlian hired by Brian Epstein as the Beatles’ Fan Club secretary. What makes this all work is the lack of sensationalism, courtesy of Kelly’s humble soul in respecting the privacies of her world-famous friends, but still telling us many things we did not know.
Danny Collins (2015)
In 1971, 21-year old Bristol, England, folk musician Steve Tilston released his critically acclaimed debut album, An Acoustic Confusion, and the 1972 sophomore follow up, Collection.
In a 1971 ZigZag magazine interview, Tilston admitted — inspired by the editor/writer’s accolades for Tilson’s work — that he feared wealth and fame might negatively affect his songwriting.
Inspired, John Lennon wrote to Tilston — in care of ZigZag — to offer the upcoming musician encouragement, “. . . Being rich doesn’t change your experience in the way you think,” Lennon wrote. It was signed, “Love, John and Yoko.” It turned out that, upon receipt of the letter, the magazine’s editor, believing Lennon’s letter “had value,” greedily kept the document; it was never turned over to Tilston.
How wicked the Fates: If the Lennon letter had been turned over to Tilston, would he and Lennon have forged a friendship? Would Lennon’s words have encouraged Tilston not to give up on the music business?
Tilston did not become aware of the letter’s existence until 2005, when a collector contacted him to verify the document’s authenticity. When the story was officially reported in the music trades in August 2010, it inspired this 2015 Al Pacino-starring film.
While the movie has it charms, and Pacino is endearing as a non-folkie, but poppy-ersatz Neil Diamond (check out the great original, “Hey, Baby Doll,” which was purposely crafted as a Diamond soundalike to “Sweet Caroline”), the excitement over a movie with such an obscure Beatles connection quickly fades due to us being treated to a film “based on Steve Tilston’s life” and not about Steve Tilston.
No, we don’t see Lennon or Yoko, either.
The Lennon Report (2016)
Pair this Beatles flick with either of the Mark David Chapman flicks to learn of the aftermath of Chapman’s motives. It purports to be the “true story” of the moments after John Lennon was shot. Lennon’s murder is seen through eyes of a young news producer poised to break the biggest story of the year, and the emergency room staff of Roosevelt Hospital realizing the true identity of their “John Doe,” and their race against time to save his life, all the while keeping his identity, private.
Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years (2017)
Okay, so we’re doing Ron Howard solid by mentioning his documentary because of his rock flick pedigree with the very cool NBC-TV movie Cotton Candy (1978). Howard explores the Beatles’ touring years and answers the questions as to why they stopped touring in 1966 to focus solely on recording in the studio. Its expertly assembled, as expected with a Ron Howard production, and well worth the watch, even for those who eschew documentaries of any subject.
Paul Is Dead (2018)
Paul McCartney didn’t die in a car crash, as commonly rumored, in this comedic “What If . . .” flick. And he wasn’t murdered by Billy Shears, either. Paul simply died from a drug overdose during an experimental, countryside musical retreat — the drugs were George’s — and replaced by the look-alike, local sheep herder, Billy Shears.
Produced as part of the U.K.’s SKY Network’s Emmy Award-nominated series Urban Myths, the installments delve into fictionalized stories about the legends of the acting and music industries. Writer Simon Nye (who also wrote the Season 2/Episode 8 installment, “The Sex Pistols vs. Billy Grundy“) weaves this tale (Season 3/Episode 7) based on interviews Paul McCartney has given over the years about how he developed the melody to “Yesterday.” In comical twist: Paul is so dumbfounded that he came up such a mature melody, he drives everyone crazy over his paranoid that he “stole” the melody from another, popular song.
You can learn more about the Urban Myths series at Sky.com. You can also stream it on U.S shores via Showtime and Hulu. You can also stream the full 20-minute film on You Tube, and sample the with film with the highlight reel, below.
So, was it worth shelling $10 million dollars for the rights to the Beatles’ catalog in this Richard Curtis-penned romantic comedy (Love Actually and The Boat that Rocked) directed by Danny Boyle (Oscar-winner Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting)?
Yes. We said “romantic comedy.” Yes, by Richard Curtis, who gave us Bridget Jones movies and hooked up the likes of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in Notting Hill.
And “the Beatles” . . . well, an actor portraying John Lennon (John Lennon scene/You Tube) shows up. But he’s not the “John Lennon” we know: he lives a quite, non-musical life as an artist (at the age of 78) in a beach side cottage sipping tea. Why? Because we’re in an alternate timeline (caused by a bump on the noggin’ during a worldwide blackout) where the Beatles don’t exist . . . but struggling musician Jack Malik, does. And he records a worldwide smash, debut album comprised of Lennon-McCartney compositions, well Jack Malik compositions.
The Beatles: Get Back (2021)
Yeah, we know we said “no documentaries.” But after breaking policy for Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard with their high-quality theatrical documents, how can we pass up Lord Peter Jackson restoring and reediting Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s Let It Be (1970) for a reissue under its original work title. And, as it turns out, in Jackson’s cut, the Beatles were getting along better than we were lead to believe.
Seriously, which you would want: the Beatles getting the “Freddie Mercury” or “Elton John” treatment, or a Peter Jackson document on the Beatles?
If only George and John were here to experience it with Paul and Ringo.
Thank you for joining us in our three part series on the influence of the Beatles on cinema.
Here’s the complete list of the films we reviewed in the series:
Yellow Submarine (1968) All this and World War II (1976) All You Need is Cash (1978) I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) Birth of the Beatles (1979) Beatlemania: The Movie (1981) John and Yoko: A Love Story (1985) Concrete Angels (1987) The Hours and Times (1991) Secrets (1992)
Backbeat (1994) That Thing You Do! (1995) The Linda McCartney Story (2000) Paul Is Dead (2000) Two of Us (2000) I Am Sam (2001) The Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch (2002) Across the Universe (2007) Chapter 27 (2007) Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) The Killing of John Lennon (2008)
Nowhere Boy (2009) Lennon Naked (2010) George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011) Good Ol’ Freda (2013) Danny Colllins (2015) The Lennon Report (2016) Eight Days a Week— The Touring Years (2017) Paul Is Dead (2018) Scrambled Eggs (2019) Yesterday (2019) The Beatles: Get Back (2021)
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
Everyone knows Don Kirshner as “The Man With the Golden Ear” who conceived the music of the Monkees and the animated the Archies, as well as managing ’70s prog-rockers Kansas. Moving into television production, Kirshner also created the MTV progenitors In Concert for ABC-TV and the weekly syndicated Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert as a counter programming to NBC-TV’s The Midnight Special. His other musical endeavors include providing/consulting music to The Flintstones, the children’s productions of Sid and Marty Kroffts, and TV projects starring the Harlem Globe Trotters (cartoon) and the Hudson Brothers (live action).
While there’s a wealth of online materials regarding Kirshner’s musical accomplishments, little — outside of The Monkees — is said about his accomplishments as a producer in developing a wealth of series and TV movies.
So get ready for monkees, bees, and beauty queens, along with Wild West hippies, a Newton-John, a Victorian musician’s ghost, a hippie magician, a killer virus, and Ol’ Scratch. Let’s get to exploring!
Head (1968) The Kowboys (1970) Toomorrow (1970) The Rock ‘N’ Fun Magic Show (1975) Song of the Succubus (1975) Rock-a-Die Baby (1975) The Kids from C.A.P.E.R (1976) The Savage Bees (1976) Roxy Page (1976) The Night They Took Miss Beautiful (1977) A Year at the Top (1977) Terror Out of the Sky (1978) The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal (1979)
Okay, settle down. Settle. We are well aware Don Kirshner had no involvement in this box office boondoogle. There’s a method to the monkey business, here. Patience, ye fellow primates.
Beginning its production with the title Changes (later the title of the Monkees ninth album — and final contractual album for Colgems — when they were reduced to the duo of Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones), what ultimately became Head made its debut in Los Angeles in the summer of 1968 under the title Movee Untitled. The already confusing and perpetual Andy Warhol-inspired non-sequitur that bombed in that L.A. test screening was cut down from a 110-minute length — to an even more baffling 86-minute cut (not that the lost 24-minutes said much, either) — that premiered in New York City on November 6, 1968.
The kid and tweens who loved the TV series hated the film. The mature hippies that the Monkees wanted to reach hated the film. So much for mixing pot, mellow yellow, and reel-to-reel tapes with a Beatles clone and a script by ol’ Jack, who previously gave us the drug-drama The Trip (1967) directed by Roger Corman.
While Kirshner was the creative force behind the multiple hits-packed The Monkees (1966) and More of The Monkees (1967), Mike Nesmith’s constant power struggles with Kirshner led to the Monkees having complete control over their next album, Headquarters (1967). Only one problem: Nesmith and Peter Tork — the experienced musicians of the group who had the biggest issues in being a “prefabricated band” — couldn’t pull off an album on their own devices. So they ended up resorting to the very Kirshner model of using outside songwriters and studio musicians that pissed them off in the first place.
Headquarters was released on May 22, 1967, and charted at No. 1 in the U.S.
Then the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on May 26.
Sing it, with me!
Bye, bye, the Monkees It was nice having you around We’re busy too listening to the Beatles And watching the Beatles’ television film Magical Mystery Tour And their animated feature film Yellow Submarine You know, the films you ripped off As your model in making Head So people wouldn’t see you as Beatles clones
Unlike the hit-packed Kirshner-produced albums — and even with the TV series still on the air to promote the music — Headquarters produced no hit singles — with only the curiosities of “Shades of Grey” and “Randy Scouse Git” to show for it. In fact, the music from the troublesome third album was barely promoted via the series. The Monkees Top 40 hits during this period touted by the series was the single “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You / The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” which reached #2 and #39, respectively; neither were included on the album, as result of being connected to the Kirshner-era.
By the time of the release of the soundtrack to Head, the TV series was over. And without a TV series to promote the music, the album, as did the movie, bombed. Hard. Harder than a day’s night. The album creaked to #45 on the U.S. chart and its lone single, “Porpoise Song (Theme from Head)” was the first Monkees song not to make the Top 40. Both the album and the single quickly dropped from the charts.
As with his perpetual complaining that lead to Kirshner’s firing from The Monkees TV project, Nesmith, initially, wasn’t happy with the behind-the-scenes business dealings with the film production of Head. And now, instead of Tork backing him, as on Headquarters, Dolenz and Jones towed the Nesmith company line over the fact that they — based on their stoned babbling into a tape recorder — wouldn’t received a screenwriting credit. And that Bob Rafelson — the experienced filmmaker that gave them their careers in the first place (and gave us the influential Easy Rider) — would direct, instead of the Monkees themselves.
Disillusioned egos. You gotta love it. How would this saga turned out if the Dave Clark Five or the Lovin’ Spoonful — who were originally wanted as the band for the series — were cast?
So, the band, sans Tork, staged a walkout. To get the film back on track, the studio allowed themselves to be strong-armed into giving the band a higher percentage rate of the film’s net — which was next to nothing, anyway. Now, in addition to alienating Don Kirshner, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider (who co-produced with Rafelson and Nicholson) were pissed. Their relationship with the Monkees was over. So the duo, along with Jack Nicholson, went on to make Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens, and a remake of the noir, The Postman Always Rings Twice to critical and box office acceptance. The Monkees made 33 1⁄3 Revolutions per Monkee, the first in a trio of variety specials for NBC-TV in 1969. And the Monkees — especially Mike Nesmith, big shock — didn’t get along with the program’s writer and director, Jack Good (TV’s musical variety show Shindig!).
Bye, bye, the Monkees. It was nice having you around.
As Sam the Bossman notes in his review of Head, Mike Nesmith said, “By the time Head came out the Monkees were a pariah. There was no confusion about this. We were on the cosine of the line of approbation, from acceptance to rejection . . . and it was basically over. Head was a swan song.”
Cosine of the line of approbation? What the hell, Nesmith? Oh, I get it now: it wasn’t your ego that caused the rejection, it was direction cosines of a line.
The Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma rejection principle.
Z = Don Kirshner, O = Mike Nesmith, X = Headquarters
A = Bob Rafelson (Bert Schneider)
y = Micky Dolenz, α = Davy Jones, β = Peter Tork
Y = Head
Meanwhile, after Don Kirshner formulated the Archies and rode them to #1 with the song “Sugar, Sugar” — a song intended for the Monkees as sung by Davy Jones that sent Nesmith off on one of his rants — he teamed with one of the writers behind one of the Monkees hit singles to formulate his next studio band: the Kowboys.
And you thought Head was a movie out of its mind.
The Kowboys (1970)
The flower power ’60s of the 20th century collides with the post-Civil War Wild West of the late 19th century in this hippie-western parody that served as Don Kirshner’s lone screenwriting credit. Produced by the same production team behind The Monkees, Kirshner and gang — foolishly — hoped for a repeat of that series.
Since you’ve more than likely never heard of this TV movie pilot, guess what happened?
Seriously, who wants to see a weekly series with Jesus Christ Superstar-cum-Hair-inspired hippies battling an evil rancher to save a dusty western town . . . peppered with pop tunes? As with the Australian-bred Toomorrow, this film failed in its bid to manufacture a pop band — one that featured cult actress Joy Bang, who we dig around the B&S About Movies’ cubicles courtesy of her starring in her final feature film, 1973’s Messiah of Evil. (You can learn more about Joy’s career with a great retrospective courtesy of Spectacular Optical.)
The Micheal Martin Murphey heading the cast is the same country-pop musician who wrote the Monkees’ Mike Nesmith-sung hit “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round,” as well as his own ’70s Top 40 solo hit, “Wildfire.” Murphey, along with fellow cast Kowboys’ cast member Boomer Castleman, fronted the Lewis & Clarke Expedition, which recorded one eponymous album for Colgems, the Kirshner-run label that issued the music of the Monkees.
In addition to the Lewis and Clark expedition scoring a minor ’60s chart hit with “I Feel Good (I Feel Bad),” they starred alongside John Saxon in the teen film For Singles Only (1968) to perform “Destination Unknown” (You Tube clip from the film). L&W bassist John London came to be in Mike Nesmith’s post-Monkees First National Band, which had their own minor chart hit with the country-flavored “Joanne.”
Another of Kirshner’s failed, manufactured bands was the band/TV series The Kids from C.A.P.E.R (1976), but first, there’s was his bid to transform Olivia Newton-John into the latest teen sensation.
And you thought Head and The Kowboys were movies out of their minds.
So, what do you get when you put Harry Saltzman, the producer behind the James Bond franchise, and Don Kirshner, the producer of the Monkees, in a room? You get a three-picture deal that barely made it through the production of their first movie — one starring Olivia Newton-John in a hippie-musical about aliens.
Yes. Aliens and music. And you thought Menahem Golan’s The Apple for Cannon Pictures was off the hinges. Toomorrow must be seen to be believed to prove that it actually exists.
Courtesy of its official reissue to DVD, there’s a ripped copy posted to You Tube, as proof.
The Rock ‘N’ Fun Magic Show (1975)
The IMBb lists this as a “TV Movie,” but in reality — or in its non-reality, as we shall soon see — this was actually an hour-long pilot conceived as an early evening, family-oriented TV series to join the parents and kids in front of the TV set. Yes, a then hot hippie magician — in this case, Doug Henning — and hippie-inspired bubblegum rock, together on one show, so as to as to bridge the generation gap. Not only did Doug Henning get the big TV push by NBC-TV, ABC-TV, as this article by Television Obscurities investigates, laid down their cards on breaking David Copperfield to television audiences with his own musical variety show.
At the time, variety shows hosted by then hot musical acts, such as Donnie and Marie, Sonny and Cher, and even one-hit wonder groups such as the Starland Vocal Band (of the ’70s the #1 Top 40 hit “Afternoon Delight”), were all the rage. So Kirshner got the idea to to meld rock music, magic, and comedy into a weekly series co-hosted by musician Doug Henning and the Hudson Brothers (who starred the the previous year’s Saturday morning kids series The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show from the Kirshner brain trust). The pilot also featured the planned, first roster of rotating guest-star comedians with Bill Cosby (Leonard: Part 6) and Avery Schreiber (Galaxina) and rotating musical guests, in this case, ’50s doo-woopers the Tokens. Yes, the Tokens, as in the “o-wim-o-weh” guys from that annoying “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” song. Again, it’s all about “bridging the generation gap” and turning the kids onto their parent’s music, and vice versa.
Yes, you’d need a nice deep toke to digest the psychedelic inanity of it all. Don’t bogart that joint, Nesmith.
Hey, Sam <passing the roach>, dude. How have the mighty B&S QWERTY warriors not reviewed the Hudson’s Brothers in their feature films Zero to Sixty (1978) and Hysterical (1983) — especially when Darren McGavin starred in the first and and Richard “Jaws” Kiel starred in the latter? We need to pencil those in, post-haste.
“Yeah,” Nesmith takes back the roach. “But not until after you do Gymkata. How much longer will that Robert Clouse-Kurt Thomas challenge, stand, R.D?”
From your suitcase to God’s TV tray, Mike. We’re out of weed, bro. Better call Sunset Sam. And tell Lucy and Ramona to come over. Bill Van Ryn is bringing over his ’70s disco albums and we’re firing up the drink blenders.
After the success of the live action The Monkees and the animated The Archies . . . and the failure to bring Toomorrow and the Kowboys to a worldwide audience, Don Kirshner set out to expose ex-Jeff Beck Group vocalist Kim Milford and his real-life band, Moon, to the world with a pair of TV movies. Both aired as part of ABC’s The Wild World of Mystery, a 90-minute late night mystery and suspense anthology series that ran on the network from 1973 to 1978 and aired in the overnights at 12:30 AM—after Kirshner’s In Concert rock program.
Lone before ersatz-rockers Black Roses, Sammy Curr, Billy Eye Harper and Headmistress, Holy Moses, Sacrifyx, and Tritonz possessed our VCRs with their rock ‘n’ horror tales, there was the forgotten, horrific chronicles of Moon, who, after their rearrangement and recording of an old, discovered song, find themselves stalked by the ghost of the Victorian musician who composed the suite. In the sequel, Rock-a-Die Baby, the psychic premonitions of one of Moon’s fans helps the band solve the mystery behind the deaths of their fans that ties back to the Victorian musician.
As result of these two movies airing back-to-back in consecutive weeks during the summer of 1975, many mistook the adventures of Moon as a quickly cancelled weekly TV series. Nope, it was just a pair of movies that may — nor may not — have been intended as series pilots.
So, while Kirshner was musically maturing, vying for the now grown up Monkees fans by cultivating Kim Milford’s career . . . there were still a new bunch of kids and tweens to entertain during the daytime hours. . . .
The Kids from C.A.P.E.R (1976)
Yeah, we’re breaking from this “Exploring” feature’s theme remembering the films — and the assumed films — of Don Kirshner for a quick mention of his third, faux Monkees creation after his film-based the Kowboys and Toomorrow. Oft confused as a Sid and Marty Krofft production (who Kirshner worked with on their 1973 Hollywood Bowl TV special), the show was launched as part of an hour-long, early-evening special, The Great NBC Smilin’ Saturday Mornin’ Parade (the fellow WordPress blog Tune In Tonight has a great, 2017 spread on that Freddie Prinze-hosted event).
Intended as “pop culture parody” of current shows and events of the day, our ersatz Monkees meets the Bay City Rollers meets Scooby Doo not only fought crime with a pinch of ’60s spy shows between the cheeks, they also had “hit” (awful) songs, such as “When It Hit Me (The Hurricane Song).” The Monkees connection comes from, not only Don Kirshner, but his long-time producing and directing partner Stanley Z. Cherry, who helped developed the Beatles knockoff.
A simple Google search of the show will unearth a wealth of retro blogs, photos, and songs. The most extensive, dedicated site is kidsfromcaper.com. The show’s thirteen episodes have never been released to video and, to date, never reissued on DVD. As with many U.S.-bred TV series — as well at TV movies — Caper may have been cut into an overseas theatrical feature (see Battlestar Galactica, TV’s Captain American and The Amazing Spiderman as examples), but there’s no evidence to suggest such. (We discovered the show’s opening and theme song on You Tube.)
Eh, in a ratings battle between The Kids from C.A.P.E.R . . . I was always a Hot Hero Sandwich kinda kid, anyway.
The Savage Bees (1976)
Ah, the feared African Bee craze of the ’70: the little buggers were going to advance to U.S. shores and go all “biblical plague” on our Western asses. Yeah, sure . . . there was the Freddie Francis-directed The Deadly Bees (1966), but that was before the bees craze of the ’70s. So, first, there was the Gloria Swanson-starring TV movie The Killer Bees (1974). And there was the Irwin Allen disaster movie flop for Warner Bros. that was The Swarm (1978). Then there’s Roger Corman’s knockoff of that film for New World Pictures with the John Saxon-starring The Bees (1978). In between was this Don Kirshner-produced tale starring Ben Johnson and Michael Parks — as our requisite sheriff and doctor — battling nature in a New Orleans besieged by killer African bees unleashed from a foreign freighter during Mardi Gras. Why, yes, the “Walter Murphy” credited for the score is the same guy who unleashed that annoying disco-inflected “A Fifth of Beethoven” from Saturday Night Fever up on the world.
You know director Bruce Geller primarily as the writer who developed and executive produced the 1966 – 1973 TV series Mission: Impossible (1966 – 1973). He made his first venture to the theatrical world as the producer of the “Fast and Furious” precursor Corky (1973) starring Robert Blake. In addition to fronting the long-running TV series Mannix (1967 – 1975; Kim Milford starred in an episode as a stalked musician, natch), Geller also produced the failed, late ’70s series pilot adaptations of the successful feature films The Supercops (1974) and Mother, Juggs and Speed (1976). While The Savage Bees proved to be his final feature film as a director (it was a TV movie in the U.S., but a feature film in overseas markets), Geller made his feature directorial debut with the box office hit Harry In Your Pocket (1973) starring James Coburn.
Kirshner’s bee epic proved to not only be a U.S. TV ratings blockbuster, but an overseas box office hit. And you know what that means: a sequel, which we will discuss in a few moments. But first, there’s that Mary Tyler Moore, wait, Marlo Thomas, rip off to check out.
Roxy Page (1976)
How obscure is this series and the short-lived anthology series programming block in which it aired? Our crack team of cubicle farmers were unable to track down a TV Guide or newspaper advert. So all we have is this screen cap from the series’ opening throes that we discovered on You Tube. And if it all looks A LOT like the ’60s series That Girl starring Marlo Thomas (about another actress trying to make it in New York), then it probably is. Why Kirshner didn’t have Roxy written as a musician trying to make it in Los Angeles — which is the sure bet with ol’ Golden Ears — is anyone’s guess, but he solves that issue with another failed TV pilot, which we will soon discuss.
Roxy Page is oft-noted as a TV movie in the Don Kirshner canons by fans, but it was actually a half-hour TV pilot aired as of NBC-TV’s Comedy Theatre programming block that first aired in 1976, then and again in 1979. During the 1976 season, there were a total of 12 pilots aired across six episodes between 8 to 9 PM.
Roxy Page starred daytime TV/soap actress Janice Lynde (The Young and the Restless, Another World, One Life to Live) as an actress who wants to be on Broadway, much to the chagrin of her family. The other series pilot aired during the block was Local 306 starring Eugene Roche (The Ghost of Flight 401) as an Archie Bunker-styled head of the local plumber’s union. You can learn more about NBC-TV’s Comedy Theatre block and other unsold TV pilots at site Television Obscurities.
Uh, Sam? How is it that we’ve never reviewed the divine Miss Lynde in Herb Freed’s Beyond Evil, especially when it stars John Saxon and Lynda Day George for cryin’ out loud! But at least we reviewed Freed’s Graduation Day, Tomboy and Haunts, so Freed’s representin’ at B&S. (Don’t worry, Sam. I’m obsessed now. I am on the Beyond Evil case!)
The Night They Took Miss Beautiful (1977)
When a movie — be it TV or theatrical — stars Chuck Connors (Virus, Tourist Trap) and tosses in Gary Collins (Hangar 18) along with Stella Stevens (Las Vegas Lady), you do not ask questions and just accept the absurdity of it all. The “absurdity,” in this case, is the logic in transporting a top secret biological organism on the same plane as beauty contestant finalists.
Who came up with this insanity?
Well, the reason — beyond having Chuck, Gary, and Stella helping us swallow the baloney — is TV series and telefilm scribe Robert Michael Lewis in the director’s chair. Lewis made his debut with the much-loved The Astronaut, the even better Prey for the Wildcats, and Flight 90: Disaster on the Potomac. In the theatrical realms, Robert gave us the bonkers-trashy S*H*E – Security Hazards Expert. As for writer George Lefferts, he also penned the TV movie oddball we love that is Alien Lover, which aired as part of ABC’s Wide World of Mystery programming block that also aired Kirshner’s two Kim Milford flicks.
A Year at the Top (1977)
Yes. Paul Shaffer, who we came to know as David Letterman’s longtime musical director and comedic sidekick (1982 – 2015) and as part of the Saturday Night Live‘s house band (1975 – 1980) had the lead in television series. While Shaffer occasionally stepped away from the SNL Band to participate in that show’s occasional skits as a Not Ready For Prime Time Players satellite member, this Don Kirshner project served as Shaffer’s official acting debut. We, of course, came to love Shaffer best for his work as clueless music promoter Artie Fufkin in This Is Spinal Tap. And do we have to mention that Greg Evigan eventually hit series pay dirt with the Smokey and the Bandit-inspired B.J. and the Bear (1978 – 1981)? Well, we just did.
As many of Don Kirshner’s fans recall Kim Milford’s two rock films as a lost “TV series,” just as many recall A Year at the Top as a lost “TV movie” — and it was, to a degree.
Conceived by Norman Lear on the story end and Kirshner on the music end, A Year at the Top began as a one-hour pilot special. So, with commercial spots, it’s a 50-minute short film, if you will, that settled into a half-hour sitcom format. Unlike Lear’s other successful TV series, such as the All in the Family and its spinoff Maude, and that series spinoff, Good Times, A Year at the Top aired for five, low-rated episodes from August 5th to September 2nd, 1977, and was quickly cancelled. The chief writer behind the musical fantasy goings-on was ex-Milton Berle and long time Lear cohort Heywood “Woody” Kling. In addition to writing the late ’60s The Beatles cartoon series, he also wrote for the ’70s animated series Josie and the Pussycats, Speed Buggy, and other Lear and Kirshner productions.
The show followed Greg (Greg Evigan) and Paul (Paul Schaffer) as two struggling musicians from Boise, Idaho, who arrive in Hollywood with the hopes of making it big. They come to meet Frederick J. Hanover (Gabriel Dell, an ex-Dead End Kid and The Bowery Boys; ask your dad or granddad about it), the head of the world famous Paragon Records, who has made many a musician famous. The catch: Hanover is the devil’s son. And D. Jr. duped Greg and Paul into signing their souls away to be famous for one year. And they spend the rest of the series being famous and getting out of the contract.
Yes. This is a comedy. Maybe it’s “comedy” in the ’50s with Danny Kaye (again, ask pop or grand-poppa) as the ne’er-do-well musician and Milton Berle (the old crusty dude in those RATT videos) as ol’ Bub, but not in the ’70s with a guy from the SNL house band and a grown-up Dead End Kid.
Keep your eyes open for Mickey Rooney and Robert Alda (Lisa and the Devil) in the cast, as well as Nerda Volz, who was the replacement housekeeper on TV’s Diff’rent Strokes, and Julie Cobb, who was the mom (I think, or replacement mom, but who cares) on TV’s Charles in Charge. You may also remember Gabriel Dell for his work as Sal, the agent for Richard Roundtree’s motorcycle stuntman in the ’70s proto-disaster film, Earthquake.
Outside of the few photos on the show’s IMDb page, all that exists of A Year at the Top is the TV promotional ad we’ve included, and this TV spot promo posted on You Tube.
Terror Out of the Sky (1978)
The bees from The Savage Bees are back! Only with a whole new cast headed by Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Dan Haggerty (The Chilling). Also appearing are TV series and telefilm mainstay Tovah Fedshuh (The Idolmaker with Ray Sharkey, TV’s Law and Order franchise), and Efrem’s daughter Stephanie (The Babysitter), who also starred in Kirshner’s next project, The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal. Be sure to keep your eyes open for always welcomed TV actors Richard Herd (Hey, Sam, it’s Wilhelm from Seinfeld!) and Charles Hallahan (the guy from John Carpenter’s The Thing whose head sprouted spider legs and ran away).
This time out, Efrem is Dr. David Martin, the head of the National Bee Center (eye roll; was there, is there, such a place) who has discovered a new queen bee that’s repopulated a new, more deadlier strain. Along with his assistant and ex-wife (Tovah), and her new lover (Haggerty), they head off to California for the ultimate man vs. nature battle.
Why does this all sound a lot like Twister from 1996 — only with tornadoes instead of bees?
The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal (1979)
It’s wild to see a review by a French critic on the IMDb for this American TV film, but that how it was with U.S. TV movies released during the ’70s through the ’90s: what was a television film in the states became a theatrical feature in the overseas markets.
While Kirshner’s previous executive produced films were fiction pieces that bordered on the enjoyable-ridiculous with killer bees and beauty queens battling a deadly virus, this time he drew from the tragic, true story about New York’s first “9-11” embodied in the notorious, 1911 Triangle Shirt Mfg. Co. factory fire. The tragedy saw over a hundred people, most of them young immigrant girls, perish — most by jumping from the building to their deaths. The ensuing investigation revealed the company’s disregard for its worker safety in pursuit of increased production and profits, and resulted in the passage of new worker safety laws and the formation of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.
As with any TV movie based in fact, those “facts” were skewed for dramatic effect, but this is still one of the best TV movies based in fact produced during the ’70s. And that quality comes courtesy of the always reliable — and familiar faces of — Tom Bosley and Charlotte Rae (Mr. Cunningham! Ms. Babbit!) starring alongside Ted Wass (TV’s Soap in the ’70s, Blossom in the ’80s, and his failed theatrical attempt, Sheena — with Tanya Roberts! — in between) and Stephanie Zimbalist. And it doesn’t hurt having Mel Stuart, of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory fame, in the director’s chair. The daytime soap opera writing team behind the tale is Mel and Ethel Brez, who also developed and penned Roxy Page for Kirshner.
A company by the name of SOFA Entertainment & Historical Films recently acquired the rights to ABC-TV’s Rock Concert from the late-Kirshner’s estate for a box-set release on DVD. Hopefully, SOFA purchased not only Rock Concert, but Kirshner’s entire TV program catalog, which includes The Savage Bees (1976; You Tube film), The Night They Took Miss Beautiful (1977; film), Terror Out of the Sky (1978; film), and The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal (1979; film). As we discussed in this expose on Kirshner’s film production career, each appeared as theatrical features in overseas markets, as well as on the U.S. VHS home-video market and low-powered UHF television replays. As result, you can find those films on a wide variety of imprints — especially as grey market DVD rips of the initial ’80s VHS issues and UHF replays of those films.
This is the second installment in our three-part series. We are discovering 33 films in the series, with 11 films each over the next three days— at 3 PM — as part of our third “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” installment.
The films are listed by year of release.
Ian Softley (Hackers) makes his feature film writing and directing debut in this chronicle on the early days of the Beatles in Hamburg, Germany — the relationship between Stuart Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff, S.F.W.), John Lennon (Ian Hart, again), and Sutcliffe’s German girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr (Sheryl Lee, U.S. TV’s Twin Peaks), in particular.
While the movie’s production values are stellar and the accents are spot-on (well done, Mr. Dorff) — and it’s based on interviews conducted by screenwriter Stephen Ward with Astrid Kirchherr — the real gem of the film is the Backbeat “alt-rock supergroup” on the soundtrack. The band is comprised of Dave Pirner of the Soul Asylum (as Paul McCartney), Greg Dulli of the Afghan Wigs (as John Lennon), along with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and Don Flemming of Gumball on guitars (Moore and Fleming also worked in a “supergroup” capacity on Velvet Goldmine), Mike Mills of R.E.M on bass, Nirvana’s Dave Grohl on drums. On lead vocals for Dorff’s Sutcliffe: Black Flag and the Rollins Band’s Henry Rollins.
Steven Dorff lip syncing Henry Rollins? Awesome.
That Thing You Do! (1995)
Okay, so the Beatles’ personas or music doesn’t show up (but they’re mentioned several times) in this writing and directing debut love letter to the Beatles and the Beatlemania-inspiring “one-hit wonder” craze of the 1960s. Our “Fab Four,” here, are Erie, Pennsylvania’s the Wonders — who shoot to the top of the charts with their ersatz-British Invasion rave-up, “That Thing You Do.” The film works its wonders (sorry) courtesy of its spot-on production design in conjunction with a brilliant soundtrack composed by bassist Adam Schlesinger of the alt-rock bands Fountains of Wayne (with their own “one hit wonder’ in 2003’s “Stacy’s Mom”) and Ivy (whose music appears in There’s Something About Mary; they also scored Shallow Hal). Mike Viola of Sony Records’ the Candy Butchers (later of Panic! at The Disco and Fall Out Boy) provides the vocals for the Wonders.
Sadly, we lost Adam Schlesinger on April 1, 2020, due to COVID compilations. Listen to this soundtrack — and anything from Fountains of Wayne — for great, goes-down-like-gumdrops tunes.
The Linda McCartney Story (2000)
Armand Mastroianni — yes, the one and the same who made his debut with the ’80s slasher He Knows You’re Alone (yep, the acting debut of Tom Hanks!) — directs this adaptation of the best-selling book Linda McCartney: The Biography that dispels of the Beatles — even Paul’s solo career — instead centering on Linda’s life with Paul.
The soundtrack, featuring the Beatles’ originals “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me,” along with the Beatles’ covers “Kansas City,” “Yeh Yeh,” and Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man,” are interpreted by acclaimed Southern California-based Beatles tribute band, the Fab Four.
The Google rabbit hole that opens for the “Paul Is Dead” legend is twisted and deep, so search with caution — or least do it on your day off, because you’ll be instantly hooked and surfin’ until sunset.
If you know your basic Beatles trivia: The band left “clues” in the 1968 John Lennon-composition “Glass Onion,” on the cover of Abbey Road, and in the backmasked grooves of “Revolution 9,” all which fueled the urban legend that Paul McCartney died on November 9, 1966, in car crash. To spare the public from grief, the Beatles replaced Paul with a lookalike, alternately known as William Campbell and the more widely accepted, Billy Shears. While the rumors got off and running in 1967, it really took off on Detroit radio stations in 1969 (which also birthed the “Jim Is Alive” urban legend in 1974 — and that Morrison recorded albums as “The Circuit Rider” and “The Phantom”), then spread via U.S. college newspapers.
In this German-shot/language film, Tobias, our young Beatles fan in an early 1980s German town, describes (in the scene, below) his conspiracy theory about how Paul McCartney died in the 1960s and was replaced his murderer.
The tale, while with its share of against-the-budget faux pas, is intelligently written and enjoyable, with imaginative plot twists: Paul is not only dead and replaced by Billy Shears, Shears murdered Paul; Shears — still alive — arrives in town driving a yellow, ’60s VW Beetle with the license plate “LMW 281F” — the car from the cover of Abbey Road.
While this impressive movie plays as a mystery-drama, the urban legend returns in a comedic take in 2018.
Two of Us (2000)
This Beatles “What If” comes courtesy of MTV’s softer sister station, VH-1, back in the days when the music channel produced original movies to a meandering-shrug effect. (However, their Def Leppard bioflick, Hysteria, is pretty good; Daydream Believers, their take on the Monkees, is also decent enough.) In this, the channel’s third film, the smart bet was placed on hiring Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the director of the Beatles’ chronicle Let It Be (1970). What makes this all work: Jared Harris and Aiden Quinn as Lennon and McCartney are excellent in their roles — especially Harris, the son of the great Richard Harris (Ravagers). No, we do not see them sing, well, lip sync, in the film.
As with 1978’s I Wanna Hold Your Hand using the Beatles’ 1964 New York television appearance, and 1987’s Concrete Angels using the Beatles historical folklore regarding their first Toronto concert appearance that same year, this time, the folklore concerns the mid-’70s public demand for a Beatles reunion show. One of those offers came from Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels on April 24, 1976, who made an on-air offer of $3,000.
The script is based on a 1980 interview with John Lennon in the pages of Playboy, in which Paul McCartney, then on the road with his Wings Over America tour (promoting 1975’s Venus and Mars and 1976’s Wings at the Speed of Sound), visited with John Lennon at the Dakota when Michaels made the offer. And they almost took up the offer. . . .
VH-1 was unable to obtain the rights to the Beatles’ catalog, so none of their songs appear in the film. And ghost of Let It Be is coming back a little later in another film.
I Am Sam (2001)
If you’re searching for a primer to help you swallow Across the Universe, the later-produced “film based on the Beatles’ songs,” and if All This and World War II wasn’t enough to send you reeling back to your VHS copies of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, this overwrought (Tell it, Sgt. Osiris!) saccharine hokum, is it.
Sean Penn performance (Tell it, Sgt. Osiris!) as a Beatles-obsessed, mentally-challenged man fighting for the custody of his bright, young daughter is not outweighed by the Beatles’s tunes expertly covered by alt-artists such as Nick Cave, Ben Folds (of the Ben Folds Five), Heather Nova, Paul Westerberg (of the Replacements), and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.
Writer-director Jessie Nelson, she, the force behind 1994’s incredible Corrina, Corrina (her daughter is Molly Gordon, of Booksmart), later produces a tale based on ’70s folk musician Steve Tilson almost meeting John Lennon. . . .
The Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch (2002)
Is there such a thing as Rutlemania? Well, not in the U.S. where the 1978 original, All You Need Is Cash, bombed with the lowest ratings of any show on U.S. prime time television that week. However, in the U.K., the film’s intended audience, the mania led to Eric Idle and the Python troupe to embark on tours and recording full-lengths albums as their mock-Beatles.
As with Spinal Tap diluting the brilliant joke with an ABC-TV spoof concert special, The Return of Spinal Tap (1992), this Rutles sequel also dilutes the once brilliant gag — and it’s nothing more than a new edit of All You Need Is Cash, presented in the same chronological order, with a few new interviews, a couple faux celebrity insights (SNL’er Jimmy Fallon and Steve Martin show up; even Tom Hanks of That Thing You Do!), and a couple scenes cut from the first movie, as the Rutles embark on a reunion tour of America.
As Robert Stigwood’s debacle based on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band wasn’t enough . . . and with Sean Penn’s Oscar-bait still wormed in your brain . . . we get another musical drama written “around the music” of the Beatles. As with the later “alternate universe” romp, Yesterday . . . the Beatles “don’t exist” in this film’s verse: a “jukebox musical” that features 33 Beatles songs to weave the tale of two lovers, Jude and Lucy.
While it had a tumultuous studio vs. creative post-production process over the film’s length (it was intended to be longer), the film none the less won over Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, and George Harrison’s widow Olivia.
Still no word on what Ringo thinks.
Chapter 27 (2007)
Jared Leto gives a bravo performance as Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman in this adaptation of the best-seller Let Me Take You Down (1992). While the book pinches its title from the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the film’s title references J.D Salinger’s 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, which has 26 chapters — with the film’s title suggesting a “continuation” of the book, which was an obsessive favorite of Chapman’s. Another Lennon fan is portrayed by Lindsay Lohan — and she’s actually good, here, for you Lohan detractors.
Chapman’s psyche is also explored in 2006’s The Killing of John Lennon — but we didn’t see it U.S. theaters until after the release of Chapter 27.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
“Spinal Tap” does not strike twice in this Judd Apatow-backed mockumentary concerning an ersatz-hybrid of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. The film barely cleared $20 million against is $35 million budget.
The Beatles appear in the form of Paul Rudd as John Lennon, Jack Black as Paul McCartney, Justin Long as George Harrison, and Jason Schwartzman as Ringo Starr. Sadly, their time is brief . . . and we wished the producers realized what they had, ditched John C. Reilly (an acquired taste that inspires more passes than watches), and just gave us a “What If” Beatles flick about the band moving on after the death of Paul McCartney . . . of which there is one. . . .
The Killing of John Lennon (2008)
While this was completed first, and released first in the U.K. and overseas markets in 2006, it was released in the U.S. in 2008 — after the 2007 release of the (much) better and better known, Chapter 27. Lennon, Harrison, McCartney, and Starr appear as themselves via 1960s archive news footage, but actors Richard Sherman and Tom J. Raider dually portray John Lennon against Jonas Ball’s Mark David Chapman.
This is the first in a three-part series. We are discovering 33 films in the series, with 11 films each over the next three days— at 3 PM — as part of our third “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” installment.
As we developed this third “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” in February, the 52nd anniversary of the Beatles’ final live performance in 1969 — shot for Let It Be (1970) — passed on January 30.
As you can tell by this article’s title, this isn’t about the Beatles’ movies, such as A Hard Day’s Night or Help! or Magical Mystery Tour or Yellow Submarine (well . . .) or Let It Be or any of the wealth of theatrical, television, and direct-to-video documentaries on the band.
And we are passing on John Lennon in Richard Lester’s How I Won the War (1967) and his work with the “supergroup” the Dirty Mac in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1968/1996), as well as Paul McCartney’s vanity piece, Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984).
And we are passing on chronicling the works of George Harrison’s Handmade Films, so nothing on Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), The Long Good Friday (1980), and Time Bandits (1981), or his production of Shanghai Surprise (1986), in which he appeared and recorded five new songs.
And we are passing on Ringo Starr’s resume with Candy (1968), The Magic Christian (1969), and Blindman (1971), as well as his co-starring roles in That’ll Be the Day (1973) and Son of Dracula (1974), his work as the Pope in Lisztomania (1975), his starring role in Caveman(1981), his appearance as Larry the Dwarf in Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels (1971), and his work on Harry Nilsson’s animated film The Point! (1971). We’re also passing on Ringo’s appearances in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, his document on the 1976 farewell concert of the Band, and the Who’s The Kids Are Alright (1979). And how can we forget, Ringo (1978), Starr’s made-for-television adaptation of The Prince and the Pauper, and Princess Daisy (1983), with wife Barbara Bach. And Ringo’s appearance in Sextette (1978), and directing debut of the T.Rex concert document, Born to Boogie (1972).
This exploration is concerned with the speculative biographical flicks, the films using the legend of the “Fab Four” as plot fodder, and the historical sidebars to their careers — both as a band and solo artists.
We each have our fond memories of this sort of . . . and it’s not . . . but it is . . . Beatles film. Sam the Bossman remembers watching it on UHF-TV as his dad and grandad fixed the furnace. Me? My sister still doesn’t let me live down my nightmares . . . of the Blue Meanies coming to get me. What did my parents know about LSD trips? It’s those loveable moptops from A Hard Day’s Night, after all . . . and it’s a cartoon. What’s the harm . . . and I am still scarred by it, for life.
Initial press reports stated that the Beatles themselves would provide their own character voices. But all was not well at Apple Corp. and the lads weren’t enthusiastic about working on a new motion picture to fulfill their three-picture deal with United Artists, having been dissatisfied with their second feature film, Help!.
So, the Beatles bailed on project, giving the over 200 artists — who crafted the film across 11 months — all the creative space they needed. John, Paul, George, and Ringo composed and performed the songs (a mere six that comprises 22 minutes of Side One; the other half was comprised of George Martin orchestral compositions). As actors, the “real” Beatles only participated in the film’s closing scene, while their animated doppelgangers were voiced by other actors.
Obscure Beatles cover song hokum: There’s been a LOT of covers of Beatles tunes over the years . . . but one of the coolest covers of “Yellow Submarine” was done by Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s More Fiends from their album, Toad Lickin’ (1990). Here’s the rub: The song, titled “Yellow Spades,” is actually a cover of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” backing Paul McCartney’s lyrics.
I wonder if Paul has ever heard it? Did Micheal?
Micheal Jackson sold Northern Songs, Ltd., the publisher of the Beatles’ catalog, in 1995; the More Fiends, it seems, escaped the Gloved One’s legal wrath. The same can not be said of New York’s SST recording artists Das Damen. On their Marshmellow Conspiracy EP (1988), they recorded “Song for Michael Jackson to $ell,” which was actually an uncredited cover of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour.” After discovering the unlicensed cover, Jackson’s lawyers assured the track was removed from future editions of the album.
Still, I wonder if Micheal would have unleashed the legal hounds of war on the More Fiends? “Yellow Spades” is still commercially available on Apple Music or Spotify. So, either no one cared or the legalese was settled.
And yes. There is a band called, Blue Meanies, a ska-core band from Illinois, U.S.A. that recorded several albums between 1988 to 2007 — with no illegal Beatles covers from Yellow Submarine.
So, before the creation of the abyssal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the sappy-hokey I Am Sam, and the not-much better Across the Universe — and before Robert Stigwood gave record executives a bad name by ravaging the Beatles — Russ Regan, president of both UNI Records and 20th Century Records, and vice-president of A&R at Motown, came up with the idea to document the horrors of war through newsreels. He wondered, “What if The Beatles provided the soundtrack?”
Instead of real Beatles tunes — and in a warm up for their later work with Robert Stigwood — the Bee Gees stand in for the Fab Four, initially contracted for the entire soundtrack. In the end, the Brothers Gibb recorded six songs; three ended up in the film: “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” and “Sun King”; their versions of “Lovely Rita,” “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,” and “She’s Leaving Home” didn’t make the cut. Elton John, Ambrosia, Rod Stewart, and a host of other chart-topping musicians take care of the rest.
All You Need is Cash, aka The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash(1978)
Eric Idle and the Monty Python troop devised rock mockumentary of skits and gags chronicling the fictional tales of Dirk, Stig, Nasty, and Barry, aka the Rutles, a band whose career mimics the Beatles’. Airing as an NBC-TV special, the movie earned the lowest ratings of any show on U.S. prime time television that week.
Are the proceedings are better than that? Yes. On equal with Spinal Tap’s exploits? No. But it’s darn close.
The ersatz Beatles tunes were written by ex-Bonzo Dog Band (friends of the Beatles appearing in Magical Mystery Tour) member Neil Innes, who portrayed John Lennon to Eric Idle’s Paul McCartney. Ex-Beach Boys drummer Rick Fataar portrayed George Harrison; Lou Reed band member John Halsey (1972’s Transformer) parodied Ringo Starr.
Robert Zemeckis, later of the Back to the Future franchise and awards-sweeper Forrest Gump (and Used Cars is pretty fine, too), makes his feature film writing and directing debut with this examination of the hysteria of Beatlemania. It’s seen through the eyes of four teenagers (headed by Nancy Allen and the always-great Wendy Jo Sperber) as they try to meet the Beatles during their time in New York to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 8, 1964.
The Beatles show up, as well as Brian Epstein, in archive footage, while William Malone cameos in an uncredited role as George Harrison. And yes, we are taking about the writer and director behind Creature. And we get a “Ringo” in the form of Eddie Deezen’s nicknamed Richard Klaus in the film, so all is well. The soundtrack features seventeen original recordings — covers and originals — by the Beatles.
The Beatles’ cover tunes by the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, as well as Aerosmith showing up for an “evil” rendition of “Come Together,” for this tale about Billy Shears and the “band” of the title, are quite good; it’s the celluloid wrapped around it that stigs, uh, stinks. Oh, the overwrought Frankie Howerd (as Mr. Mustard) and ham-fisted Steve Martin (murdering “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”), why?
It’s been 43 years since seeing this in a theater — and never on cable or tape, no way; for once was enough for me. For the memory . . . the horror . . . is still burned into my cerebrum. I need a Beatles lobotomy, Joey. Where’s the Pepperland-invading Blue Meanies to stop the Bee Gees when we need ’em?
Birth of the Beatles (1979)
Dick Clark (who also made Copacabana . . . based on the Barry Manilow song) hired ex-Beatles’ drummer Pete Best as a Technical Advisor and Richard Marquand (Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi) as his director to give us this take on the early history of the Beatles — then known as the Silver Beatles. The film is noted as the first biographical drama on the band, released nine years after the announced break-up of the Beatles themselves, and is the only Beatles biopic to be made while John Lennon was still alive. While it was released as a worldwide theatrical feature, this was issued as a TV movie on ABC-TV in the States.
Courtesy of a publishing loophole — unlike the later and similar early-days-of-the-Beatles Backbeat, which used songs the Beatles recorded as covers — the songs in Birth of the Beatles were written by the Beatles themselves, only interpreted by the Beatles tribute act, RAIN.
The “loophole” of using cover versions of Lennon-McCartney compositions, of course, backfired. As result, Birth of the Beatles has fallen out of print and will more-than-likely never be reissued to DVD or Blu-ray. But there’s a TV rip uploaded to You Tube.
Marquand, who made his made his debut directing Roger Daltry in The Legacy, also directed ’60s folkie Bob Dylan co-starring with ’80s pop singer Fiona (the 1985 Top 15 hit “Talk to Me”) in the pretty awful, Joe Esztherhas-penned flick, Hearts of Fire (1987).
Beatlemania: The Movie (1981)
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, 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 albums 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 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 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, Bealtlemania: 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.
And Ringo hated the concept, in whole.
You can learn more on the making of Beatlemania (the Broadway show) with this Chicago news station-produced TV documentary on You Tube.
John and Yoko: A Love Story (1985)
This NBC-TV effort chronicles the relationship between John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The movie was made with the co-operation of Yoko Ono, who controlled the song rights. The film begins on August 19, 1966, in the wake of a protest initiated by Lennon’s (misunderstood) comment that the Beatles “were more popular than Jesus” and end with Lennon’s murder in 1980.
In a production twist: Actor Mark Lindsay booked the role of John Lennon. When Ono discovered that was his professional name — and that his birth name was Mark Lindsay Chapman — the similarity gave her “bad karma,” so he was recast with Mark McGann.
In 2007, Mark Lindsay was cast as an “older” Lennon in Chapter 27 (2007) — the tale of Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman.
Robert Zemeckis scripted his Fab Four tale, I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), around the Beatle’s historic February 8, 1964, appearance on CBS-TV’s Ed Sullivan Show. In that tale, a group of friends schemed 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 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?
The Hours and Times (1991)
Christopher Munch makes his writing and directing debut with this fictionalized account of “what might have happened” during a real holiday taken by John Lennon and (the homosexual) Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, in 1963. Ian Hart, who stars as John Lennon, portrays him one more time, in Backbeat. The film was restored for a 2019 DVD release.
Secrets, aka One Crazy Night (1992)
As with the previous Beatles-inspired films I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) and Concrete Angels (1987), this Australian production works as a coming-of-age drama — a retro ’80s John Hughes coming-age-drama — backed by Beatles folklore. Now, instead of trying to meet the Beatles at their first New York and Toronto concerts, we have five teens who sneak in, then find themselves trapped in the bowels of a Melbourne concert venue where the Beatles are set the make their June 11, 1964, Down Under debut. Saccharine soul bearing, ensues.
As with most Beatles films, you’re getting covers (most outside of the timeline of the movie) — this time from Dave Dobbyn, of New Zealand’s Th’ Dudes (their hit, “Bliss“) and DD Smash (the latter swept the New Zealand Music Awards in 1982 and 1983, but a Men at Work or Split Enz crossover to American wasn’t meant to be). The Judd Nelson/John Bender of the bunch comes in the form of an antithesis Elvis fan stuck in the ’50s. Another looks like Wolowitz from The Big Bang Theory — only with out the nose (because he’s obsessed with George, not Ringo), who always wears Fab-inspired suits.
Impossible to find on U.S. shores as a VHS or DVD on home video shelves, we found a copies on You Tube HERE and HERE. Sorry, no trailer. But here’s a DD Smash video (that never aired in the States on MTV).
Why have we spent an entire week on the films of someone who is almost universally critically savaged, who has been called the Italian Ed Wood, who would rather outright steal footage from other movies than shoot them himself?
Because Bruno Mattei understood what he was doing, saying “Movies are supposed to be entertaining. So, they have to be made with that kind of spirit.”
Mattei’s movies may never be art. Or even competent filmmaking. But you cannot deny that they will do everything and anything to entertain you, even if that means upsetting, arousing and shocking you, often within the very same scene.
Bruno Mattei was born in Rome on July 30, 1931 to a father who owned an editing studio. Between the family business and classes at the national film school Centro Sperimentale Centrale, Mattei learned how to write and edit films. In fact, he would claim that he edited nearly a hundred movies, a claim that is difficult to fact check. He did, however, edit at least 56 films, including Revenge of the Black Knight; Desperate Mission; Agent 3S3: Passport to Hell; Goldface, the Fantastic Superman, The French Sex Murders, Black Cobra Woman and Jess Franco’s 99 Women. For that film, he also went behind the camera, shooting the adult inserts that show up in the French cut of this women in prison epic.
Of course, those inserts featured actors and actresses who looked nothing like the people they were supposed to be and there was no continuity at all, with scenes that were in the dark of night suddenly appearing in broad daylight, but these trivial things never seemed to phase Mr. Mattei.
Around this time, Bruno also edited several episodes of Gerry Anderson’s U.F.O. TV series into five feature films that were released by Avofilm.
His first documented experience as a director was Armida, il Dramma di Una Sposa. He used the name Jordan B. Matthews to make this cover version of the Greek movie* O Lipotaktis (which was released as The Deserter in the U.S.). He went so far to remake the film that he even used the same star, Franca Parisi.
Speaking of Emmanuelle, Mattei’s career would then see him make several films with Laura Gemser, Notti Porno nel Mondo (AKA Sexy Night Report and Emanuelle and the Porno Nights) and Emanuelle and the Erotic Nights(a movie in which Mattei would co-direct with Joe D’Amato, perhaps the only director to use more pseudonyms and have less of a filter). This also led to another adult mondo, Libidomania (AKA Sesso Perverso) and its sequel Sesso Perverso, Mondo Violento (Perverted Sex, Violent World), as well as the mainstream film** that Ilona Staller made before she became Italy’s most famous adult star, Cicciolina Amore Mio.
After one outright adult outing — 1980’s La Provinciale a Lezione di Sesso, Mattei would begin collaborating with screenwriter Claudio Fragasso. Often, they would be making two films — like The True Story of the Nun of Monza and The Other Hell — and each directing scenes. They would work together until 1990’s Three For One.
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Mattei’s movies started showing up all over the world, such as Hell of the Living Dead(AKA Virus, Night of the Zombies and Zombie CreepingFlesh) and the aforementioned Violence in a Women’s Prison, which I still cannot believe played American multiplexes. What was it like for people who wandered into the wrong screen and were confronted by that absolute assault on decency? The Other Hell even played in the U.S. as Guardian of Hell!
Unlike many Italian exploitation directors who retired or went into adult films, Mattei kept on making movies. When the VHS and cable era started, he was ready to answer with a multitude of Rambo takeoffs like the two StrikeCommando films, Double Target, Cop Game and Born to Fight.
While many knock Mattei for not only stealing ideas but also outright taking footage from other films, my joy in watching his movies lies in just how many movies he can take from sometimes making you wonder what movie you’re really watching. Robowar is Predator yet with rich floral notes of both Robocop and Terminator. And speaking of Terminator, Mattei had the absolute bravery to title Shocking Dark — a movie that rips off Aliens throughout — as Terminator 2.
Cruel Jaws may be Mattei’s most amazing case of theft. It starts by stealing the plot of Piranha, then using the Mafia subplot from the novel Jaws was based on before outright using the actual footage of the windsurfing race from The Last Shark and a Regatta stolen from Jaws 2. Is it any wonder that this movie is also known as Jaws 5?
Bruno even found the time to make two giallo efforts — in the 90s no less! There was Madness, a movie that goes so far as to steal two murders from A Blade in the Dark, and Omicidio al Telefon, a story of a killer who is obsessed with phone sex and dressing like a clown.
By the point, Mattei was in his mid 70s, but when the rest of the world slowed down and forgot Italian horror, he was a force, heading to the Philippines to make another series of erotic thrillers like A Shudder on the Skin and Secrets of a Woman before reminding the world of his ability to shock, awe and generally lay waste to good taste with a new series of cannibal and zombie films, often starring Yvette Yzon as a 2000s era Laura Gemser.
A master of stock footage and making unofficial sequels on the cheap, there’s not really anyone else quite like Bruno Mattei in the annals of filmmaking. There’s a real sense of fun in his films for me, as you’re watching someone of the rails that is not concerned about focus groups or test scores. He’s only worried about finding something taboo-breaking so his audiences will keep coming to see his movies or renting them from the video store or watching them late at night on cable.
As Mattei was quoted as saying, “Il talento prende in prestito, il genio ruba.” Actually, I’m making that up. No one knows who really said “Talent borrows, genius steals.” But wouldn’t it just like Bruno to outright steal a great line and present it as his own?
When one mentions the name Tawny Kitaen (born Julie), the first image that pops into another’s head are the MTV memories of an enchanting “video vixen” oozing alongside David Coverdale in the videos for Whitesnake’s 1987 hits “Still of the Night,” “Is This Love,” and “Here I Go Again,” and then “Fool for Your Loving” and “The Deeper the Love” from their 1989 follow up album, Slip of the Tongue. But everyone seems to forget that, before her dating and eventual 1989 to 1991 marriage to David Coverdale, she got her start in rock videos with Ratt.
She started dating Ratt’s future guitarist Robbin Crosby in high school in their mutual hometown of San Diego, then traveled with the remnants of Mickey Ratt to Los Angeles. She came to appear as the cover model (that’s her rat covered legs) on the band’s self-titled EP (1983) and their debut album, Out of the Cellar (1984). Both album’s featured versions of “Back for More” and the subsequent video not only starred Tawny, but Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee, who starred as two abusive cops. (The model on the cover, and in the video single “Lay It Down,” for Ratt’s sophomore album, Invasion of your Privacy (1985), was Playboy model Marianne Gravatte. She was the Playmate of the Month in October 1982 and Playmate of the Year in 1983.) With those Ratt covers and one rock video on her resume, as well as appearing in commercials for exercise guru Jack LaLanne’s European Health Spas, Tawny began her acting career.
She made her debut in a minor support role in the ABC-TV nighttime mini-series, Malibu (1983), alongside Susan Day and James Coburn (both also starred in Looker), and ubiquitous character actor William Atherton (Die Hard). She later returned to daytime serial television in the CBS-TV drama, Capitol (during its 1986 – 1987 final season), as the recurring Meredith Ross, then as Lisa DiNapoli during the 1989 season of NBC-TV’s Santa Barbara.
Gwendoline, aka The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak(1984) Ah, yes. After catching our eye in Ratt’s “Back for More,” we, the dateless wee teen pups of the analog ’80s got our first major dose of Tawny Kitaen in her feature film debut — a softcore nudie ripoff of Raiders of the Lost Ark that, although it failed theatrically, found a home as an “after hours” programmer on HBO and Cinemax.
Look, if you want a film where Tawny’s captured and sold into white slavery, only to be rescued by Brent “Nine Deaths of the Ninja” Huff, then this is your picture. Oh, and like Sam said in his review: If you want all of the softcore shenanigans (yes, Tawny’s tied up along the way; this is based on the bondage-themed comics of John Willie, after all), you want the 105 minute European cut vs. the 87 minute U.S theatrical cut. Yes, since this movie isn’t all that great (IMO; it fared better with Sam), you do need those extra 28 minutes to hold your interest — even though it’s all courtesy of the French dude who gave us the successful soft-core romps Emmanuelle and Lady Chatterly’s Lover with Sylvia Kristel.
Bachelor Party (1984) So, back in the day — before his Oscar years — Tom Hanks, who made his acting debut in He Knows You’re Alone, became a pretty big deal courtesy of his starring role on the ABC-TV sitcom Busom Buddies and finding box office gold with Ron Howard’s Splash. So, in the wake of the success of Police Academy, Hanks hooked up with Broadway producer Bob Isreal for his brother Neil’s celluloid preservation of the wild bachelor party thrown by producer Ron Moler for Bob.
The plot, such as it is, concerns Tom Hanks’s Rick Gassko, a ne’er-do-well party animal who — to the dismay of his friends — is shanghaied by Tawny Kitaen’s Debbie Thompson. So, Rick’s best bud, Jay (Adrian Zmed), throws an epic bachelor party — with a bet Rick can’t remain faithful to Debbie. Complicating matters is the ‘ol evil, future father-in-law who recruits Debbie’s ex-fiancé to sabotage the nuptials. Light comedy of the non-Judd Apatow gross-out variety, as we say to wrap up a review, ensues (because we are, in fact, lazy, trope-laden, brain dead lazy journalists in the ol’ B&S cubicle farm).
As with Tawny’s debut film featuring a future action star in Brett Huff, one of Tom’s best-buddies, here, is soon-to-be-go-to-Cannon-action star Michael Dudikoff (Musketeers Forever) in one of his rare, non-action roles. And, if Tawny doesn’t get you through the turnstile, then the presence of the always welcomed Wendie Jo Sperber, surely will (she also starred in Neil Isreal’s next Police Academy-inspired romp, Moving Violations).
A well-deserved box office hit ($40 million against $7 million), Bachelor Party was buoyed with a great, new wave soundtrack tie-in featuring music by The Fleshtones, Oingo Boingo, Jools Holland and his Millionaires, and The Alarm (Vinyl). In the film, but not on the soundtrack was the first appearance of Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days.”
You can easily stream this on Amazon and Netflix.
California Girls (1984) In 1965, the Beach Boys rose to the top of the charts with the song “California Girls.” Then David Lee Roth ditched Van Halen (check out our Exploring: Eddie Van Halen on Film tribute) to start his solo career with a hit cover of the song, which was first released on December 19, 1984 (the EP Crazy from the Heat was issued in January 1985). In between, ABC Circle Films, which released this Robby Benson (The Death of Richie) starrer as an overseas theatrical, issued it stateside as an ABC-TV movie in March 1985.
Also starring Martin Mull (FM) and Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) alongside Tawny, it’s a lighthearted drama concerned with Benson’s immature-to-dreaming New Jersey auto mechanic who ditches his girlfriend and heads to California to find the girl who stars in the California Girl cosmetics commercial (Tawny). And Robby’s mom is Doris Roberts from CBS-TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond. Does this all play a little bit like Saturday Night Fever — only without the disco and innocuous-suitable for the under 18-crowd? Yeah, a little bit.
Turner Classic Movies owns the rights, so no luck on any online streams — free or pay. And it’s never been released to DVD or Blu, either, but the VHS tapes are out there for the taking. We did, however, find the opening 10 minutes of the film on You Tube. Oh, and don’t confuse this with the 1983, new wave-inspired T&A comedy of the same name, about a sex-up T&A lovin’ disc jockey. And don’t confuse this film’s alternate title of California Dreams with the superior California Dreaming (1979), which stars Dennis Christopher alongside Glynnis O’Connor — who starred alongside Robby Benson in Ode to Billy Joe (1976).
Crystal Heart (1986) If you’ve seen John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (how have we not reviewed that one), then you’re up to speed on this film’s musical slant of that same material — with Tawny’s rock star Alley Daniels falling in love with a songwriter afflicted with auto-immune deficiency syndrome (Lee Curreri of TV’s Fame) forced to live inside a plastic bubble, aka a crystal room, aka “heart,” as it were. It’s directed by TV series purveyor Gil Bettman (The Fall Guy, Knight Rider, and Automan), who directed one more feature with the James Bond spoof Never Too Young to Die, which starred soap heartthrob John “Uncle Jessie” Stamos (but we only cared that it starred Gene Simmons of KISS as the villain).
Not that it matters to your interest-cum-enjoyment of the film: If you’re into the six-degrees of film trivia: Glynnis O’Connor, who starred with Benson in Ode to Billy Joe, starred alongside John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. So, there’s that to mull over.
You can watch this oft-HBO programmer as a free stream on You Tube.
Instant Justice, aka Marine Issue, aka Madrid Connection (1986) Tawny goes . . . Semper Doh! in this Michael Paré (Moon 44) vehicle shot in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on Spain’s southern coast — and the film is noted as the first feature film shot on the location.
Now, we love Michael (who’s into Eric Roberts-mode these days with 30-plus films in various states of pre-production, filming, and post-production), but in this ’80s action pastiche of First Blood, Commando, and Missing in Action . . . Paré is no Stallone, Arnie, or Norris, which is this film’s raison d’être. To put it bluntly: Paré is the pits, here. “Top Gun Entertainment,” indeed, Mr. Copywriter. Indeed.
While he’s certainly been better on camera (Streets of Fire), and Tawny’s not showing us any of the skin we came for (and tries — woefully — to “act”), the blame for this inert action mess is solely on the shoulders Craig T. Rumar, who (if we believe the digital content warriors of the IMDb, came to manage the early careers of . . . Stallone, Arnie, and Fred “Hunter” Dryer) broke away from his managerial and producer duties to scribe this, his lone screenplay. And don’t go looking for the other works of director Denis Amar, whose resume is comprised of French-language films and TV series that never made it to the international marketplace. And with good reason.
Michael Paré is Sgt. Scott Youngblood, a rogue U.S. Marine who travels to Spain to find those who murdered his long-estranged sister — a victim of the evil (of course) drug runners who kidnapped her as part of their modeling agency that fronts as a prostitution/white slavery ring. He comes to rescue their latest victim (Kitaen) and takes a scored earth vigilante approach to revenge — with Kitaen stappin’ it on — to the cheesy, Z-Grade AOR ’80s stylings of Lea Hart with “Danger in the Streets.”
Not that it matters to your interest-cum-enjoyment of the film: Lea Hart, who got his start as a guitarist in Joan Jett’s band during her Bad Reputation to pre-Light of Day years, came to replace Dave King in (then washed up) Fastway — yes, the band that portrayed Sammi Curr in Trick or Treat. So, there’s that to mull over.
There’s no online streams, but here’s the overseas trailer on You Tube.
Happy Hour, aka Sour Grapes (1986) So, you say you only know writer-director John De Bello for his Killer Tomatoes franchise (with movies in 1978, 1988, and 1992)?
Well, amid those one-joke veggie rants — made to less and lesser and lesser effect — here’s De Bello’s attempt at an ’80s T&A comedy, in a tale about a beer company chemist whose latest — and accidental — brew works like that ol’ Larry Cohen desert treat in The Stuff. Yep, anyone who drinks this strange brew becomes addicted. But since this is an ’80s comedy, they also become horny. (Where have I heard this chemical-makes-guys-horny plot before? I’m too lazy to look it up.)
Anyway, along the way, Tawny meets the down on their luck and slummin’ Rich Little (a HUGE ’70s impressionist noted for his frequent Johnny Carson appearances), as our “James Bond,” and Jamie Farr, as our master villain (who wished M.A.S.H never left the air). Wow. Even for an Eddie Deezen (Beverly Hills Vamp) flick, this is pretty bad . . . so bad that it gives the term “mugging for the camera” a bad name. Yeah, never a film — with Tawny sportin’ a Glock 9mm tucked in her bikini bottom — could be so bad. Sour Grapes, indeed.
You can enjoy this oft-run HBO ditty on You Tube, if you must.
Witchboard (1986) Well, when it comes Tawny’s resume, this is really the whole enchilada, ain’t it? Next to Bachelor Party, this is her most successful and best-known film (one that cleared $8 million on a $2 million budget).
Well, okay, we, the wee dateless pups also loved Tawny for her works in the oft HBO and Cinemax-run Crystal Heart and Gwendoline, but when a studio casts her in a faux The Exorcist redux — complete with a Ouija board, before that now Hasbro-owned “toy” became a film franchise — everybody is going to see that movie — Tawny’s presence, be damned.
So, between the romantic triangle shenanigans of Tawny and actors Stephen Nichols (Patch from TV’s daytime drama Days of Our Lives) and Todd Allen (too many TV series to mention), they like to play with Ouijas and summon lost and lonely ten-year-old boy ghosts. And the ghost wants Tawny for a mommy. And Kathleen Wilhoite, aka Carol Ann the waitress from Road House, as a punk rock psychic, takes a header out a window for an impalement-by-sundial.
See, there’s something for everyone.
Yeah, this is — thanks to Kevin S. Tenney of Night of the Demons and Brain Dead fame — the best movie Tawny ever made. And you can watch it on Tubi.
Glory Years (1987) Imagine a film that stunt casts championship boxer Larry Holmes, ’70s pop crooner Engelbert Humperdink, ’50s sex kitten Mamie Van Doren, ’70s comedian Avery Schreiber, and washed up ’60s comedian Joey Bishop — and then tosses in B&S About Movies beloved character actors George Dzundza, Tim Thomerson, Archie Hahn, Beau Starr, and Chazz Palmineri, along with Franklyn Ajaye, Donna Pescow, and Tawny Kitaen. Well, wait a minute . . . this isn’t a TV movie . . . this is a long-forgotten and short-lived HBO series that aired in 1987 and later compiled into a whopping two and a half-hour programmer for the home video market.
The series followed the Las Vegas exploits of three reunion-bound high school buddies (Dzundza, Thomerson, Hahn) who, in trying to increase their school’s alumni fund to create a bigger bash, loses it on the crap tables; they spend the rest of the series trying to win the money back — as comedy, again as we say to get it over with, ensues.
White Hot, aka Crack in the Mirror (1988) Remember, in the wake of Quentin Tarantino making a splash with ReservoirDogs (1992), when everyone tried to make their own “Tarantinoesque” knock off? Remember when the Q was then replaced by filmmakers evoking the Coen Brothers’ Fargo (1996) to lesser and lesser effect? Well, before the Q and the Coens, Robert Madero — who gave us Ulli Lommel’s Blank Generation (1980) and Mausoleum (1983) — took his “crack” at it with this . . . crack addiction . . . comedy . . . uh, morality tale . . . er, drama.
Of course, Robby Benson, who seen “something” in Madero’s script, decided this would be perfect fodder for his feature film directing debut. And he called up his old California Girls co-star Tawny Kitaen to be his female lead (complete with the biggest hair, ever). This is a film where you say, “Thank God, Danny Aiello is here,” then you realize Danny’s presence as the ubiquitous, drug-pushing Italian gangster doesn’t help — at all.
As with Tawny’s Gwendoline back in 1984, our exposure to this not-so-erotic thriller was result of it airing nights on Cinemax. Yes. We said “erotic thriller” — one that stars and is directed by by Robby Benson — with Benson and Kitaen expanding their thespin’ skills as a coke-addicted yuppie couple. To finance their dreams of having a family, Benson takes a job with Aiello’s drug kingpin that he’s indebted to, and sees his life fall into a temptation-laden tailspin, one rife with Coen-styled noir double crosses and Tarantinoesque loopy characters.
So . . . somewhere in this thespin’ mess is a morality tale, with characters named The Tin Man and The Wiz (take that subtext as you will), which wants to be a gangster tale of the Goodfellas (1990) variety (and Tony Sirico, aka “Paulie Walnuts” on HBO’s The Sopranos, is here as an Aiello henchman), but fails to . . . well, it fails at everything it attempts to convey. Sorry, but if Tommy Wiseau made a “serious drama” about crack addiction — that subsequently turned into an unintentional “dark comedy” — White Hot would be it. Only without the Wiseau charms, but better acting than a Wiseau joint.
Sorry, no streams. And no DVDs or Blus, either. But the VHS tapes are bountiful in the online marketplace, so go for it, Dorothy.
Hercules: And the Circle of Fire/In the Underworld/In the Maze of the Minotaur (1994) Sam Raimi, wearing his producer’s hat, made an excellent choice with his prefect casting of Tawny Kitaen — who is very good, here — as Deianeira, the girl of Zeus’s dreams (played by Anthony Quinn!). Her Herc flicks are three parts of a five-movie miniseries, which takes place before the timeline of the syndicated Hercules: The Legendary Journeys series, which ran from 1995 to 1999. The other two films in the series — parts one and two, sans Tawny — are And the Amazon Women, and And the Lost Kingdom, if you need ’em. And Tawny would also appear in the subsequent series every now and then.
The movies — and series — are easily streamed on numerous digital platforms.
Playback (1996) Nothing says “soft core erotic thriller” more than Shannon Whirry (okay, well Jewel Shepard, too). Shannon, who made her featured film debut alongside Steven Seagal in the mainstream legit Out for Justice (1991), found her niche in a slew of Cinemax “After Dark” programmers with titles such as Body of Influence (1993), Mirror Image II (1993), Animal Instincts II (1994), and Private Obsession (1995). (Be sure to check out our overview of the genre with 1994’s Disclosure and the and the Exploration of the “Erotic Thrillers” of the ’90s featurette.)
So, in keeping with the rock video beginnings of Tawny’s career, the director here is Oley Sassone, who got his start directing mid-to-late ’80s videos for the Romantics, Mr. Mister (oh, frack me; the bane of my existence), Autograph, and Wang Chung (ugh, not them again). Marvel Comics fans know Oley best for his directing the Roger Corman tax shelter-cum-rights holding first stab at The Fantastic Four (1994).
So, how in the hell did George Hamilton and Harry Dean Stanton end up in a film produced by Playboy? Well, that’s not why we’re here, remember? We are here for Tawny Kitean — who kills the trope that women who wear glasses aren’t sexy . . . and makes us loose it when she shows up in a push-up bra. (For the record: Tawny goes full nude, but that’s probably a body double; meanwhile Shannon, who we expect to give us a peek, never drops a thread.)
As is the case with these Cinemax romps, the Z-Grade noir is the thing, so we get the usual web of lies, deception, and sex club-made sex tapes ready-for-blackmail, and, in this case, corporate espionage, but wow . . . for a Playboy-financed production made for after hours pay cable spins, where’s the sex scenes? And what man (Charles Grant of Chuck Norris’s The Delta Force and David Carradine’s P.O.W the Escape), regardless of his executive stresses in organizing a major telecom merger and having Harry Dean’s private dick on his tail (employed by slimy CEO George Hamilton, natch), would reject the likes of Tawny Kitaen, only to go to strip clubs with his work buddies — and even consider the seductive advances of femme fatale executive Shannon Whirry?
Eh, it’s all put together well enough, but this is truly for Tawny completists only. Nope, sorry. There’s no free or pay online streams on this one — at least not on sites I’d trust clicking though. But the VHS tapes abound on Amazon and eBay.
Dead Tides, aka White Tides, aka Swept Away (1996) Sure, Roddy Piper was acting to lesser and lesser effect after the highs of Hell Comes to Frogtown and John Carpenter’s They Live, with such C-Grade action fodder as Resort to Kill (1992), Back in Action (1993), and No Contest (1994), but I kept on renting them: for I love Roddy.
Such is the case with his role as Mick Leddy, a down-and-out ex-Navy Seal who takes a captain’s seat on a pleasure cruiser for a crime lord (the always fine, ubiquitously crazy Juan Fernandez) — and falls down a noir spiral by way of the deceptive charms of the lord’s wife, played by Tawny. The wrath of the drug lord’s minions and the DEA, as we say to just get it over with, ensues.
Next to Bachelor Party and Witchboard, this is my next favorite of Tawny’s flicks. And that’s thanks to the fact that, regardless of Roddy’s presence, Dead Tides isn’t a balls out action flick, with Roddy pulling it back (and trying) to play the role of a noirish, water rat schlemiel — only not as spineless as the usual noirish, land lubbin’ loser (like Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity, for example).
Now, that’s not saying this Kitaen entry is any good, it ain’t, as your own nostalgic miles for all things WWE — and ex-rock video babes — may vary. But writer and director Serge Rednunsky, an ex-associate of Russian ballet dancer Mikail Baryshnikov, must be doing something right, as he’s made 40-plus adult noir-cum-erotic thrillers and his productions have never lost a dime. And he’s still making them.
No streams for Dead Tides, but we found the trailer on You Tube.
After Midnight (2014) Hell, yeah! Two movies with Tawny tuckin’ Glocks down the bikini line. We ain’t hatin’. And, well, you know us and Fred Olen Ray (search our database; we’ve reviewed a lot of his works) around the ol’ B&S About Movie cubicles: this is an instant watch. And when you get Richard Grieco in the “erotic thriller” bargain, what’s not to like? Well, everything, but Olen Ray and the ol’ Grieco (Inhumanoid, The Journey: Absolution) get wide berths in the Three Rivers’ confluence.
Yeah, sure, the minute one says “strippers,” another thinks of the stripper pole noirs Showgirls (1995) from Paul Verhoeven and Striptease (1996) starring Demi Moore. And as with those adult T&A romps, murder and mystery is adrift in a sea of red herrings as a TV newscaster (Catherine Annette) goes undercover in the erotic worlds of adult entertainment to investigate the murder of her ne’er-do-well stripping sister. However, considering Olen Ray has made more than his share of Lifetime thrillers, while the directing is solid enough against the budget, this is all pretty lightweight with less gratuitous T&A that we expect from a direct-to-video thriller.
No free streams, kiddies, but you can watch it on You Tube for a fee, which also carries the trailer.
Come Simi (2015) While this is, without a doubt, the least-seen film of Tawny Kitaen’s career (I never heard of it until being assigned this “Exploring” feature), it’s also the best-made of her career — courtesy of writer-director Jenica Bergere in her feature film debut. Bergere certainly isn’t a household name (and an acquired taste; thus the vanity of this project), but once you’ve seen her face, you’ll recognize her from her numerous (comedic to dark comedic) network and cable television acting gigs since the mid-’90s, on shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Shameless, as well as the surprise low-budget sci-fi indie hit, Safety Not Guaranteed (2012).
However, since this is a vanity-cum-industry showcase to better thespin’ things for our writer-director: Bergere also stars (as a loose version of herself) as a neurotic, pregnant actress on a quest to reunite her estranged, dysfunctional family before the birth of her first child. So she packs up her terminal and wheelchair-bound, Alzheimer-stricken mother for a road trip to Simi Valley to visit her mother’s obnoxious sister. Tawny — with obvious, visible plastic surgery work by this point — stars as Dee-Dee, Bergere’s aging porn star sister.
Hey, it’s pretty cool to see Tawny in a sweet, sentimental indie dramedy — and you can stream for free on Tubi, so what’s to hate, when it’s free? Come on, do it for Tawny, will ya? She’s actually very good here, IMO, and nails the porn actress role — and gives it some nice, non-trope (damn it, used the “t” word, again) layers. You can watch the trailer on You Tube. (Oh, and if you’re keeping count, we used the “e” word, aka “ensues,” six times. Doh!)
Julie E. “Tawny” Kitaen August 5, 1961 – May 7, 2021
Heaven just got a little bit louder . . . and a whole lot sexier.
And the wolves are howlin’ . . . in the still of the night.
When Fred Silverman became president of NBC in June 1978, he immediately ordered sixty pilots for new shows, as he felt that nearly the entire roster of 1978-1979 shows might not make it. Seeing as how he couldn’t start until June after leaving ABC, that meant that he’d need to be ready for mid-season replacements.
The network canceled Chico and the Man, The Bionic Woman, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, Police Woman, CPO Sharkey, What Really Happened to the Class of ’65? and James at 16, proposing to replace them with The Waverly Wonders, Legs, Coast to Coast, The Eddie Capra Mysteries, W.E.B., The Sword of Justice, Dick Clark’s Live Wednesday and Operation Runaway.
As the jiggle trend faced backlash — Silverman had been the proponent of these shows where shapely women showed up in little to no clothing — he decided to tone down Legs, changing it from a tale of women doing anything to make it as chorus girls and re-emerging as a sitcom called Who’s Watching the Kids? Operation Runway and Coast to Coast were dropped and an educational show about doctors, Lifeline, was added.
Within weeks, W.E.B. — a series about the inner workings of a television network — and The Waverly Wonders were both canceled. And by November, Grandpa Goes to Washington, Swords of Justice, Lifeline, The Eddie Capra Mysteries and Who’s Watching the Kids were all canceled. Even two fill-in shows, David Cassidy–Man Undercover and Project U.F.O. also died.
Replacing them would be one of the biggest mid-season replacement orders of all time. They would be Diff’rent Strokes (one of the few bright spots on NBCs 1979 lineup), newsmagazine Weekend being given a weekday show and nine new programs: Supertrain (one of the biggest failures in TV history), Little Women, Mrs. Columbo, Sweepstake, Hello, Larry (which was another botch for McLean Stevenson after leaving M*A*S*H*), Turnabout, Brothers and Sisters, B.J. and the Bear and Cliffhangers*.
Cliffhangers was three simultaneous chances at making a hit for the network, taking three different genres — science fiction, adventure and horror — and making three unique stories, which would be The Secret Empire, Stop Susan Williams and The Curse of Dracula.
You can only imagine how excited a seven-year-old version of me was, someone who stayed up until 4 AM to watch the old Flash Gordon serials on Sunday mornings, now getting to see three totally new serials.
Well, I was excited until this show ran up against Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, getting destroyed in the ratings and ending after only ten episodes.
It had plenty of talent on board. Beyond series creator Kenneth Johnson, who also created The Bionic Woman, V, the Alien Nation TV series and developing The Incredible Hulk for TV, writers included Andrew Schneider (Northern Exposure, The Sopranos), Sam Egan, Richard Christian Matheson (the son of Richard Matheson) and Jeri Taylor (Star Trek).
The three stories (which we will get more in-depth on later today) were:
The Secret Empire: A new version of The Phantom Empire, in which a cowboy learns of an alien city underground. This series had a cool trick where the scenes above ground were in sepia and the secret empire was in color.
The Curse of Dracula: After six hundred years, Dracula (Michael Nouri) has grown tired of immortality and is looking for the love of a woman to make him mortal. This was edited into two movies, Dracula ’79 and World of Dracula. It’s the only story that reached its conclusion by the end of the series.
One of the major issues audiences had with this show was that the stories began in the middle, with Williams beginning with “Chapter 2: The Silent Enemy,” Empire with “Chapter 3: Plunge Into Mystery” and Dracula presenting “Chapter VI: Lifeblood.” You can only imagine that people felt confused and left pondering if they’d missed something.
The goal was for these shows to gain in popularity and spin-off to make their own shows, at which point they’d be replaced by new cliffhangers. Sadly, this never happened.
Thanks to “The Gates” and “The Jobs,” we have a little A.I. in our life.
But before Tim Berners-Lee invented HTML and fired up the first Web server and browser at CERN in 1991. Before Benoit Mandelbrot discovered fractal geometry and unleashed the M-Set on the world and made your selfie-self a reality. Before Robert Cailliau. Before Larry Page. Before Vint Cerf. Before then Senator Al Gore first proposed the High Performance Computing Act of 1991. Before there was HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey . . . there was The Interocitor in This Island Earth (1955), the built-inside-the-planet-thought-manifesting The Great Machine in Forbidden Planet (1956), the computer-with-its-human-private-army The Brain in Billion Dollar Brain (1967), the subterranean OMM 0910 from THX 1138 (1971), the The Tabernacle from Zardoz (1974), Zero from Rollerball (1975), The MCP from Tron (1982), SkyNet from The Terminator, and WOPR (aka Joshua) in WarGames (1983).
Those are the A.I.’s most sci-fi cinephiles know.
For this latest installment of our “Exploring” featurettes at B&S About Movies, as we discuss the “Ancient Future” of computers and information technology on film, we’ll discuss the lesser known “brains” that are NOVAC, Alpha 60, Proteus IV, and Colossus, as well as the early humanoid A.I.s the Clickers and the Roboti.
Gog is the third and final feature in a loose film trilogy chronicling the exploits of the OSI, the “Office of Scientific Investigation.” While The Magnetic Monster (1953) dealt with a radioactive-magnetism experiment gone wrong and Riders to the Stars (1954) dealt with a meteor-retrieval gone wrong, Gog dealt with a rogue A.I. gone bad in an underground military bunker.
The A.I. in this case is NOVAC (Nuclear Operative Variable Automatic Computer) with a “physical extension” of its self: two multi-armed half-tracked, biblical-dubbed robots Gog and Magog. And when a series of unaccountable malfunctions begin to plague the facility, the OSI dispatches Dr. David Sheppard and Joanna Merritt to get to the bottom of the A.I. tomfoolery.
Shot in 15 days at the cost of $250,000 ($2.4 million in today’s money) and released in 3D color, Gog is the best of the three “OSI” films produced by United Artists. Sadly Ivan Tovar’s scientifically accurate screenplay and decent direction by Herbert L. Strock (1957’s Blood of Dracula and 1963’s The Crawling Hand) is undermined by its utter failure of the Bechdel Test.
As with Ib Melchoir’s later and better known Angry Red Planet (1960), we have one red-rinsed female among all the men (Ivan Tovar’s soon-to-be-wife Constance Dowling) who must faint and be fireman-carried through the complex to safety. Of course, while all the men wear standard military issue, baggy flight suits and clunky G.I boots, the women’s flight suits are tailor cut to accentuate their breast lines and pegged to show off some ankle. And, instead of Naura Hayden’s smart n’ sassy ballet flats in Angry Red Planet, Dowling runs around the complex in a sensible pair of open-toe wedge mules. And you thought the women in Project Moonbase has it rough.
Jean-Luc Godard’s neo-noir Alphaville, like Elio Petri’s pop-art romp The 10th Victim (1965), and Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1967), are each the prefect combinations of film noir and dystopian fiction. (Toss the later made Docteur M and Kamikaze ’89 on that list.)
The lead character in the film, Lemmy Caution (American actor Eddie Constantine), is a private detective-government operative that came from the mind of British writer Peter Cheney and served as the source of 15 Euro films released between 1952 to 1991. While all of those films were straight noir-detective films, Godard penned his own Cheney-script that placed the Caution character in a dystopian set, technocratic dictatorship.
Caution, aka Agent 003, is dispatched from “the Outlands” to the futuristic city of Alphaville overlorded by a sentient computer, Alpha 60 — which has outlawed the human concepts of emotion, free thought, and individuality. Caution’s mission: find a missing agent, kill Professor von Braun, and free the citizens of Alphaville by destroying Alpha 60.
As with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie and Alex Cox’s Walker, Godard’s world is rife with anachronisms: for example, Caution arrives in town driving a then “futuristic” ’65 Ford Galaxie. As a result of budgetary limits, Godard uses no special props or any “futuristic” builds; everything is shot in real locations — with the newly built and elegant, Frank Lloyd Wright-modernist glass and concrete structures popping up around ’60s Paris doubling for the city of “Alphaville.”
Then there’s Godard creation of Alpha 60: Just one watch of the clip below (in lieu of a trailer) and you can see the brilliance of Godard. With a simple use of an electrolarynx (on his own voice) and the finger-like movement of overhead recording studio microphones and a spinning cooling fan as the “physical extention” of Alpha 60 . . . just wow. Low budget filmmaking at its finest that’s effectively chilling and creepy.
There’s no online freebies for Alphaville, but you can easily stream it on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and You Tube Movies. As of September 2020, the fine folks at Kino Lorber now offer Alphaville on Blu-ray and DVD, the new 4K restoration features both the Original French (with optional subtitles) and English Versions of the Film.
Take a soupçon of the multi-armed robots from Gog and a dash of the narcissistic A.I. from Alphaville and you get a horny supercomputer (voiced to creepy perfection by Robert Vaughn) that kidnap and rapes, oh, excuse me, “imprisons and forcibly impregnants” a woman (movie semantics) with the help of its “physical extension” known as Joshua — a robot consisting of a mechanical arm attached to a motorized wheelchair (an admittedly lame effect; where’s Gog when you need ’em?).
When Dr. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver of Jaws of Satan, Creepshow), the computer-obsessed developer of Proteus IV, the world’s most advanced form of organic-artificial intelligence, demands “new terminals” and to be “let out of this box,” he realizes Proteus is more powerful than he imagined — too late.
Of course, any computer-obsessed scientist, complete with a fully equipped “mad scientist” basement laboratory, would have his home conveniently wired — via his home security system ALFRED — into his “Frankenstein,” making it easy to kidnap his wife (Julie Christie), construct itself a new modular polyedron body (an awesome, in-camera special effect; listen for the repurposed Star Trek “door swoosh” sfx), and an incubator to create a clone of the Harris’s late daughter — with the “mind” of Proteus itself.
Critics across the board hated this debut book-to-screen adaptation of Dean Koontz’s 1973 novel (Watchers, Servants of the Twilight) of the same name, which was written off as a sci-fi version of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby — only with a “satanic” computer (the book was a best seller; when the movie came out in ’77, the book was reissued; Waldenbooks promoted the book/film via an advertisement on its carryout paper bags). Released during the same year as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Demon Seed, sadly, wilted at the box office. The director, Donald Cammell, was a protégé of Nicolas Roeg (the big budget American Giallo Don’t Look Now, also starring Julie Christie); the duo worked together on the Mick Jagger-starring Performance (completed in 1968, released in 1970). Cammell faired better with the pre-Basic Instinct psycho-thriller White of the Eye (1987) starring David Keith.
A film “classic” is always in the eye of the beholder: so you may think I’m a bit celluloid blind on this one. But there’s worst things to blow an hour and a half on, which you can do for free over on TubiTV. But if you prefer an ad-free experience, you can stream it on Amazon Prime and iTunes. I rank Demon Seed as essential sci-fi viewing alongside 2001: A Space Odyssey, Soylent Green, Silent Running, and the next film on this evening’s program.
Opinions are mixed on this granddaddy of sentient computer thrillers, which served as the second writing project by James Bridges (wrote and directed the back-to-back hits The China Syndrome and Urban Cowboy) after 1966’s The Appaloosa. And as with that Marlon Brando-starring film, this tale about a 1990s-era American Defense System computer becoming aware was also adapted from a novel, in this case, the 1966 science fiction novel Colossus by Dennis Feltham Jones — which was followed with two novel sequels: The Fall of Colossus (1974) and Colossus and the Crab (1977). And would you believe this was helmed by the director from the 1955 Frank Sinatra-starring wartime romance flick From Here to Eternity? True story. And while James Sargent also directed Burt Reynolds in the influential hicksploitation classic White Lightning, he also racked up a Razzie nod for Jaws: The Revenge.
As with Dr. Alex Harris and Proteus IV in our previous entry, Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden, aka Dr. Otto Hasslein in 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes), underestimates the intelligence of his own “Frankenstein” and Colossus starts to refuse orders and making its own demands. Of course, double agents leaked “The Forbin Project” and Colossus discovers the Russians have constructed their own sentient defense system, known as Guardian. The now two merged supercomputers, which now identify as Colossus, come to realize that man is a wasteful, warring creature and subjugate the world to do their bidding.
A remake has been in development hell since 2007 at Universal Studios (who released the original) through Imagine Entertainment to be directed by Ron Howard — and Will Smith attached to star as Dr. Charles Forbin. The last word on the remake dates back to 2013, with Will Smith bringing on Ed Solomon, who wrote Smith’s Men in Black, to do rewrites. The poor critical and box office showings of Smith’s sci-fi forays I Am Legend (2007) and After Earth (2013) once again stalled the production. And the since poor showings of Smith’s Bright (2017) and Gemini Man (2019) only piled more dirt on the development grave. (You can read up on the last word of the remake in detail with this 2013 Screen Rant article.)
Courtesy of the fine folks at Shout Factory, a remastered high-definition widescreen Blu-ray was released in 2018 — and that remaster is not currently offered as an online stream? Anywhere? How is that possible? Ah, we found a freebee over on Vimeo.
Prior to Phillip K. Dick’s dreams of androids dreaming of electric sheep, dreams that later birthed Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Roger Corman associate Wesley Barry and his Genie Studios gave U.S. audiences their first vision of “fleshed-out” humanoid androids not aware that they’re androids. In addition: Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was published six years afterCreation hit drive-in screens. And Barry’s vision, while not an adaptation of, brazenly pinches elements from Jack Williamson’s 1948 novel, The Humanoids.
Barry’s post-apocalypse tale concerns itself with the themes of racism and man’s loss of humanity against the scornfully-referred “Clickers,” a man-made race of bald, blue-gray, synthetic-skinned, silver-eyed humans (read: blacks) whose population is increasing, while humanity—who’ve developed a technological codependency on their robot slaves—sees their own birth rate decreasing. This triggers the creation of the human-terrorist paranoia-organization (read: the ‘50s “Red Scare”) “The Order of Flesh and Blood” (read: the Klu Klux Klan).
Amid the sociopolitical upheaval, a scientist faces resistance in expanding the “labor force” Clickers’ programming for emotions—going as far as to transform them into human replicas (read: Ash from Alien). Dr. Raven, with mad-scientist tenacity, intends to “thalamic transplant” the personality and memories of recently deceased humans into a robot-replica of that person. However, the human-humanoids have one flaw: like their “Clicker” brethren, they must go to “temple” (recharging stations), which also serves as information exchange terminals with the “father-mother” central computer (read: cyber-theology/church).
Courtesy of its financial shortcomings, instead of a sci-fi classic in the vein of the groundbreaking black-and-white post-apocs Metropolis (1927) and Things to Come (1936), which it seems Wesley was attempting to achieve, we’re instead left with the ambitious, cardboard incompetence of a stale, Aldous Huxley-vision of a not-so-Brave New World of humanoids wearing latex bald-wigs and matching-color rubber gloves, along with a military topped-off with Confederate Army caps left over from Gone with the Wind.
You can watch Creation of the Humanoids for free on You Tube.
All of this robot, genetic-biological engineering exposition of the “Ancient Future” films we’ve enjoyed this week can be credited to one man—who really did “create” the humanoids: Nobel Prize-nominated and award-winning Czech writer Karel Čapek. His 1920 stage play/book R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) introduced the word “robot” and many of the concepts used in today’s science fiction. You can read the free eBook online at Gutenberg.org or buy a copy at Amazon. A new version of the film—in the wake of two English-language television versions (1938/30 minutes; 1948/60 minutes) and a feature-length Hungarian telefilm (1976)—a new English-language version is currently languishing in development hell.
. . . And we wait with binary-coded breath for that remake.
Update: June 20, 2021: Courtesy of one of our readers, Tereza Sklenářová, we’ve come to know that Karel Čapek was born in 1890, when the Czech Republic was not independent, yet (in 1918), and was a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire; Čapek was born to Czech parents, and spent his entire life working in the Czech Republic (called Czechoslovakia then) and writing in the Czech language. Čapek was Nobel Prize-nominated seven (!) times. When he was to finally receive the prize (nominated in the autumn of 1938), it came too late: Čapek died in the winter of 1938 caused by complicated pneumonia. On the other hand, it was his luck: the Nazis wanted to send Čapek to a concentration camp, but the order came soon after his death. Who died, then, in the camp, was his brother: painter and poet-writer Josef Čapek.
Our many thanks to Tereza for her continued readership and her positive contribution to make B&S About Movies even better, with her assistance in helping the B&S staff honor the writers and filmmakers behind our favorite books and films.
As you can see, Karel Čapek is a (well-deserved) national treasure in his homeland. Let’s hope the newest film planned on R.U.R. serves in his honor.
Here’s the complete list of our reviews for our “Ancient Future Week.” Enjoy!
EDITOR’S NOTE: The crew at the new magazine It Came From Hollywood asked if we’d be interested in running an interview with Dardano Sacchetti and my answer was, “Why are you even asking this question?” Thanks for sending this!
The name Dardano Sacchetti needs little introduction to fans of the 80’s post-apocalyptic movies that followed in the wake of Mad Max (1980) and Escape from New York (1981). In a very short time, Sacchetti wrote a number of action pictures set in a not-so-distant future rife with nuclear fallout, demented overlords, and bands of mutated survivors. 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) is probably the one fans are most familiar with, featuring such genre luminaries as Fred Williamson, Vic Morrow, Luigi Montefiori (better known as George Eastman) and Christopher Connelly as well as serving as the first film appearance for fan-favorite Marco di Gregorio (Mark Gregory).
With the launch of the magazine It Came From Hollywood, Sacchetti agreed to an epic, two-part interview. Rather than rehashing the titles he has talked about in various print and screen interviews, It Came from Hollywood explores how he worked all those years in the world of Italian cinema, quickly learning that on-screen credits aren’t always correct, and then diving into a number of films for which he has rarely commented. What follows is an excerpt from our interview, covering the less than bright future of our world as created from Sacchetti’s typewriter.
Releasing in Spring 2021, It Came From Hollywood will be available from Amazon in print and digital editions. You can keep up with the mag’s Facebook page and website.
Without further ado, the future worlds of Dardano Sacchetti.
Although the film was partially shot in New York City, do you know how much of it was shot in Rome?
Producer Fabrizio De Angelis’s technique was simple: shoot a week in America with a very small crew. Sometimes it was only the director, the camera operator, and an actor. There was a lot of material to steal, that is, to shoot without permits. (The famous scene of the zombies on the bridge in Zombie was shot at four in the morning with the bridge closed.) Then the film was completed in Italy, paying close attention to the locations and the costumes. Usually there was always a baseball bat, a university or fan cap, some posters, etc. The rest was all an illusion, but it worked.
Did you have much contact with director Enzo G. Castellari after you delivered the script for any rewrites?
Whenever Italian directors ask for changes or rewrites on set while filming, it is because they either have little ideas to add or they take suggestions from the actors for a few lines, but more often it is for production problems. It happened that you came in the morning to shoot a scene with a horse, and you found yourself without a horse.
Did Fabrizio De Angelis give you guidelines for the movie he wanted, or did he just ask you to write about gangs in a future New York City?
For horror films, of which he didn’t understand anything, he gave me maximum freedom. He just invented the titles that were in fashion. For all other films he told me, “Dardano, make it like Rambo, or something like that.”
Actor Marco di Gregorio’s (Mark Gregory) career was made up mainly of appearances in films you wrote. To this day he is a mystery to fans. Did you ever have the opportunity to meet him?
Marco di Gregorio was a boy who belonged to the same gym as Castellari, who noticed him and used him first in 1990: The Bronx Warriors. He was a good guy, unable to act and with a serious defect in that he did not know how to run. He had agility. He had a nice physique, a nice face and he cost nothing. I think I met him once in production just to say hello, but I don’t think he even understood who I was or what I was doing.
Fred Williamson is another actor who has starred in many films that you have written. Have you ever met him?
Never met, but we became friends on Facebook a few years ago.
You know, I don’t remember, but maybe Dario Argento has something to do with it because I think he was a producer of a couple of Argento’s films, and he looked for me.
How did Exterminators of the Year 3000 come about?
The film was born as a catastrophe and it was a catastrophe because of Teti, director Giuliano Carnimeo, and me too.It simply shouldn’t have been made.
The biggest surprise was when Tommy’s secret was revealed. Was that always the challenge with these films, inventing new surprises to keep the audience entertained?
I always try to include surprises in all my scripts. In my scriptwriting courses I explain that every scene is a small film. It must have a beginning, an end, and a central idea. I have never written transition scenes. There was a director, Giorgio Capitani, who said, and he was right, that my scripts were a series of crucial scenes, and it is true.
The heroine’s name is Trash, the same name as the hero in 1990: The Bronx Warriors. Was it just a coincidence or at any point was this script conceived as a possible third installment of the Bronx films?
I always reused names in my scripts. It is a little cunning way to prove, if anyone would like to steal, that I am the creator of the character.
With 2073, Rome AD: New Gladiators, it appears that you are commenting on how large corporations only seek profits and ratings, at the expense of their workforce, as well as a comment on the situation at the time of the collapse of the Italian film industry when television took over?
It was a great movie, which Americans later copied with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man (1987). It was very anticipatory of the future, but Fulci made it a mess. He had signed two contracts for two different productions, Blastfighter and this one, The New Gladiators. He was convinced he could fool the producers by doing one after the other. Fulci had to give up Blastfighter, but when it came to making The New Gladiators, the atmosphere had turned negative. Fulci’s name at that moment was no longer sought by foreign buyers. The budget was cut in half and the story was about the future fight against the domination of TV. The film’s advertising partially transformed the film into a mediocre thriller, losing sight of the central nucleus of the idea. But I was already pissed off because without any fault I had lost a contract and the good relationship I had with a producer. There was the clamorous quarrel between me and Fulci, that led to ten years of coldness between us.
Was this script an original script you wrote or was it a job of doctoring an existing script?
It was an original story of mine that Fulci wanted to make. Blastfighter was the only apocalyptic movie I wrote that I liked a lot, but Fulci made a mess of it and it was diverted to Lamberto Bava. Then the story changed completely. There was no longer anything similar to my original story, but the title remained because the film had been sold with that title.
There is a lot of speculation that the original script was a science fiction story similar to Mad Max but set in the woods.
That is a mistake. The location was a desert covered in a huge cloud of sand and fog. There were two cities that were a cluster of car carcasses piled on top of one another, that moved slowly in the desert. The car-city was like a sort of western village and in the center there was a saloon. The most valuable thing were the batteries because there was more energy.
So, Blastfighter ‘s original concept was a post-apocalyptic desert world, and cities were literally made up of thousands of cars stacked on top of each other, with an entire city inside, and these gigantic traveling cities moved slowly across the desert. This is a fantastic concept!
Exactly. In my opinion it was a spectacular idea, a very strong one that maybe I will take up again. The only one who came close to capturing a similar spirit of the film is the Canadian director David Cronenberg with Crash (1997). I say that meaning, Crash has absolutely nothing to do with my original story to Blastfighter, but the overall atmosphere of “a place of death where life is remembered” is the same, even if developed with different visions.
You were credited as Frank Costa on the finished film, but in the print of the movie I saw, that credit doesn’t appear.
Frankly, I don’t know. Frank Costa was a pseudonym invented by producer Amati. Another time he made me say I was John Gould or something, for Cannibal Apocalypse (1980). They were little cheats, like when they gave Italian actors American names to fool both Italian viewers and U.S. buyers.