Film scholars seem to always look back at the 1970s as that glorious time when the studio system fell, and the freaks took over the asylum. In fact, it was this kind of, “just let the inmates do what they want,” attitude that gave us masterpieces like “Easy Rider” and “Mean Streets,” but it also gave us films that make one wonder if the entire hospital administration just ran away. I imagine the pitch that Russ Regan, the president of 20th Century Fox Records, gave to the empty board roam went as such, “So, everyone loves the Beatles right? And it is the bicentennial, right? And everyone is super patriotic right now, so why not get clips of old Twentieth Century films and newsreel footage from World War Two and lets glue it all together and make a hit that won’t cost a ton of money?…right?”
The first problem, besides the concept of the film, was the reality that many filmmakers discover when trying to acquire original versions of Beatles songs: the cost. The 2010 Steve Carrel comedy “Dinner for Schmucks” paid out 1.5 million dollars for the use of the Beatles “Fool on the Hill,” and if you are talking about an 86 minute long movie that is comprised of nothing but Beatles songs, well even in 1976 dollars I doubt that they could’ve done all this with a total budget of just 1.3 million. Immediately, producers scrapped the idea of Beatles performing the songs, and instead convinced many of the 70s top musical stars such as Elton John, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, and (gulp) Helen Reddy to record versions of the Beatles classics. This may have been the only intelligent production move because the soundtrack eventually made more money than the film, a phenomenon which had happened before with Gordon Parks, Jr.’s 1972 Curtis Mayfield scored blaxpolitation film, “Superfly.”
Helming this mess would be first time director, Susan Winslow, who had just worked as a researcher on the 1975 Phillip Mora documentary, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” which also blended newsreel footage and film clips in a nostalgic and satirical way, that time about the great depression. I guess that subject wasn’t dour enough for film audiences, so let’s turn to everyone’s favorite war for some smiles and a gentile poke in the ribs.
The film opens with Germany preparing for war, manufacturing munitions and mounting Panzer tanks as the smooth rock sounds of Southern California’s Ambrosia performs “Magical Mystery Tour” in the background. At one key point, “Load up for the mystery tour” is sung while solider loads his rifle…yikes. Though this sounds like a bad idea, and it is, it pales in comparison to the musical/visual matchups that later follow in this film. I would suppose that the overarching peace sentiment of the film was due to our withdrawal from Vietnam a year earlier in 1975, but there are just too many scenes coupled together that I feel are supposed to make you get a tad happy about our involvement in the big show. For example, I assume Hitler is played off as a bad guy here as “Fool on the Hill” is added during newsreel footage of Adolf gazing out from his mountain home above Berchtesgaden, but why is “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” being played as Americans line up at the recruitment office? There are a lot of contradictory moments in this film that seem to come out of a need to play some of the songs that had been recorded as opposed to writing songs based on the footage that was to be used. By the time you get to Elton John performing “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” while allied planes get ready to bomb Germany, you know that we are not dealing with surrealism here but a truly deranged mess of a movie that has no central idea.
If the horrors of war were to be contrasted against genuine human suffering for the sake of comedic irony, then why aren’t we seeing actual human suffering in the film? With the notable exception of Japanese Americans being taken to internment camps (with The Brothers Johnson performing “Hey Jude” in the background?), you never actually see a person in peril or pain, so what you are left with is a bunch of fair to poor Beatles covers and a poor excuse for an anti-war work of art that does not even have the courage to make the audience endure true suffering to complete the satire.