The Beatles in film; the movies they never made (and then some)
January 22, 2011 5:41 PM   Subscribe

The Lord of the Rings wasn't the only movie featuring The Beatles that never happened. Very early in their career, the group signed a three-movie deal with United Artists as a way to get increased publicity, with A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965) being completed in short time. An early contender for their third film was a western comedy. Going quite a different direction was a "morbid and dull" work called Up Against It, seen by others as dated satire that read "like a rather mediocre early [Monty] Python movie." Continue on in for more ephemera from other rejected film projects by The Beatles.

In 1963, The Beatles were offered a cameo role in The Yellow Teddybears (also titled Gutter Girls). The risque nature of the film was a bit much for the Fab Four's image, and they didn't take part in the movie.

The first real contender for The Beatles third film was based on a novel called A Talent for Loving; or, The Great Cowboy Race, by Richard Condon. The group's manager, Brian Epstein, bought the film rights, but the group couldn't agree on the script, and the project was scrapped. The film was finally made in 1969, also titled Gun Crazy, starring Richard Widmark (obit prev.), (Chaim) Topol and Geneviève Page.

There was a brief chance the Fab Four would work with Disney on the animated version of The Jungle Book, complete with appearance by animated counterparts of The Beatles and some original tunes. Following the The Beatles cartoon series (intro, and Beatles-ish cartoon animals in a commercial), which included little involvement of the group, beyond use of their songs, the group wasn't so key on the project. In the end, there was no collaboration, but some singing, mop-topped vultures with vaguely British accents appeared in the film.

Another possible comedic film was an adaptation of The Three Musketeers, with rumors of Beatles'-favorite Brigitte Bardot as Lady De Winter. By this time, there had been a number of film adaptations, and a version with The Beatles never happened (though there were four muskateers in the cartoon series). Richard Lester, who had directed the first two Beatles films, would go on to direct 3 Three Muskateers-based films, in 1973, 1974, and 1989.

Veering sharply from the image of an adorable group of mop-tops, The Beatles (who still hadn't filmed their required third film), looked to be involved with more mature works. One possibility was a movie to be directed by the man behind Blow-Up, Michelangelo Antonioni. Owen Holder wrote the script, eventually titled Shades of a Personality, in which John would play a man with a split personality; those entities would be portrayed by Paul, George, and Ringo. Joe Orton was called upon to revise the script, and either adapted one of his early novels (The Silver Bucket) and added elements of another (which would become Head To Toe in 1971), or re-wrote the Holder's script from top to bottom. However it happened, the resulting script was titled Up Against It.

Orton was big in the London theater world at the time, and McCartney was a fan of Orton's play Loot. Orton didn't have high hopes for the film, and he was correct - it was never made by The Beatles. But Up Against It was performed in 1989, with a less than glowing review (login req, or search for Up Against It review). Part might be due to a soundtrack by Todd Rundgren ("a Broadway kind of guy"). Rundgren's music was released in Japan (and a few tracks are on YouTube: 1, 2, 3). Even reactions from fans was mixed ("an album with rich potential unfortunately unrealised and possibly for completists only" versus "It's most definitely a musical.... But it's Todd, too, so it rocks, at least in places").

Joe Orton died in 1967, well before Up Against It was performed. Brian Epstein died less than a month after Orton, never to see The Beatles movie contract completed.

Neither Magical Mystery Tour nor Yellow Submarine counted towards the United Artists contract. It wasn't until 1970 with the release of Let It Be that The Beatles fulfilled their contract, capturing the end of The Beatles, including their last public performance: part 1, 2, and 3.

If you've stuck around this long, here's some bonus material:
A Hard Day's Night: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9

Help!: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9

Magical Mystery Tour: playlist

Yellow Submarine: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10

Let It Be: playlist, with Anthology

Bonus bonus: Beatles cartoon playlist.
posted by filthy light thief (11 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Brilliant post.

Additional bonus bonus: The Beatles on Doctor Who. (Don't go looking for it on your American DVDs of "The Chase" as the scene has been excised.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:06 PM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I came in here to note that Up Against It was written by Joe Orton, but then was struck speechless at the immensity of this post. Or something like that. Well done.
posted by jokeefe at 6:14 PM on January 22, 2011

And never mind. Comprehensive post is comprehensive.
posted by jokeefe at 6:15 PM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I really have no interest in any of this, but just want to stop in to say damn, great post.
posted by nevercalm at 6:17 PM on January 22, 2011

Not to be outdone, The Rolling Stones very nearly starred in A Clockwork Orange.
posted by punkfloyd at 6:45 PM on January 22, 2011

I came in here to note that Up Against It was written by Joe Orton

I came in to make the same point, and also to say that the screenplay isn't morbid and dull at all. Unless you find the rest of Joe's work morbid and dull, that is.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:55 AM on January 23, 2011

Fantastic post, but best of all is that you included a link to a particularly perfect excerpt from Joe Orton's diaries.

"He was playing the latest Beatles recording, 'Penny Lane'. I liked it very much. Then he played the other side -- Strawberry something. I didn't like this as much."

"I had a last word with Paul M. 'Well,' I said, 'I'd like to do the film. There's only one thing we've got to fix up.' 'You mean the bread?' 'Yes.' We smiled and parted. I got a cab home. It was pissing down."
posted by blucevalo at 9:05 AM on January 23, 2011

PeterMcDermott: I came in to make the same point, and also to say that the screenplay isn't morbid and dull at all. Unless you find the rest of Joe's work morbid and dull, that is.

Or if you're a Beatles fan who was looking for more fun material from the Beatles past, which is the viewpoint of that reviewer. Sorry it was a quote without much background.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:11 AM on January 23, 2011

I apologize if that came across as snippy. My prior comment was intended to be a straightforward reply. On re-reading, it might not seem that way.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:16 PM on January 23, 2011

Filthy Light Thief, you've just given us a masterclass on how to put together a fantastic post. Well done!
posted by New Frontier at 11:43 PM on January 23, 2011

Stunning. Excellent post!
posted by jasonsanders at 1:29 PM on January 24, 2011

« Older Reprobatio Certa Hora Incerta   |   “Listen, those cops are going to have to shoot me... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments