Rockin’ in the Film World #15: THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS (Apple Corps/Imagine Entertainment 2016)

Beatle fans will have a blast watching THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS, director Ron Howard’s 2016 rock doc covering the Fab Four’s career from their earliest club days through the height of Beatlemania, until they stopped touring for good in 1966. The film features rare and classic footage of The Beatles live in concert around the globe, juxtaposing their rise with news events of the day and interviews with all four members.

Howard conducted brand-new interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and included archival interviews with the late John Lennon and George Harrison. Through these and behind the scenes clips and press conferences, we get a sense of what it was like to be at the center of all the Beatlemania  madness. Ringo says it best: “We just wanted to play… playing was the only thing” far as these talented musicians were concerned, but the hype and hysteria, with screaming teenage fans drowning out the music, led the boys to stop touring and become a studio only band. George: “There wasn’t any joy in it, the music wasn’t being heard… it was just a freak show”.

We also get a sense of the camaraderie between the four lads from Liverpool, thrust from their working class roots into the spotlight of stardom. If you weren’t around then, I don’t think you can fully comprehend how big they were… all in a time before social media and the 24-hour news cycle. The Beatles’ popularity was strictly organic, and spread like wildfire not only in America, but globally. It took a wry, cheeky sense of humor to cope with the craziness surrounding them and trying to stay true to their art. That didn’t always go over well, as there was a Beatle backlash when John made the remark they were “more popular than Jesus” to a magazine writer, a quote that saw many Bible Belt states holding Beatle record burning parties.

The band always said it’s all about the music, and this film has plenty of it, from seldom seen performances of “She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”,  and “Twist and Shout” to more familiar ones to fans like their rendition of “All My Loving” on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. There’s clips from the movies A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP!, and tunes such as “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Boys”, and “Day Tripper”, among others. The film covers their final ’66 stadium tour, the first of its kind in rock history, from the insanity at New York’s Shea Stadium to their farewell to concerts at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. By this time, the band had had enough, and retreated to the studio, evolving into a more experimental, avant-garde style, culminating with their masterpiece “Sgt. Pepper” .

Credit is given to manager Brian Epstein, a visionary who knew The Beatles had that something special and groomed them for success, and record producer George Martin, who became their musical mentor and guided them through their career. The film has some talking head sequences (no, not David Byrne and company), including famous people like Elvis Costello, Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Izzard, and Sigourney Weaver. It concludes with The Beatles’ last live performance on the rooftop of their Apple Corps building (used in the 1970 doc LET IT BE), singing and playing “Don’t Let Me Down” and “I Got a Feelin'” like it was 1964 all over again. But  by this time, the band was being pulled apart by internal egos and outside influences, and the entity known as The Beatles was dissolved. The band is gone, Lennon and Harrison are dead, but the music remains eternal, a joyful noise that rocked the world for a brief, shining period of the 1960’s. Ron Howard has put together a film Beatle fans of all ages will cherish, whether you were there at the beginning or discovered them after the fact. It’s one of the best rock docs I’ve seen, mostly because of the music.


Rockin’ in the Film World #14: SKI PARTY (AIP 1965)

American-International Pictures takes the “Beach Party ” concept to the slopes in 1965’s SKI PARTY, an endearingly goofy ball of fluff headlining Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Deborah Walley , and a pre-‘Batgirl’ Yvonne Craig . It sells itself with a sly wink to the audience that says, “We know the whole thing’s absurd, and we don’t care”! Besides the off-the-wall comedy, the film features above average musical interludes by guests Lesley Gore and the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown.

Frankie and Dwayne play a pair of slightly overage college students (Avalon was 25, Hickman 31!) trying to woo Deborah and Yvonne. The two knuckleheads can’t figure out why they can’t get to first base, while college Romeo Aron Kincaid scores with every babe on campus. When the whole gang (including Beach movie regulars Luree Holmes, Michael Nader, Salli Sachsee , and surfing champ Mickey Dora) go on a skiing vacation during mid-term break, Frankie and Dwayne disguise themselves as British birds “Jane” and “Dora” in an attempt to learn the secret to achieving paradise by the dashboard lights!

Avalon and Hickman make SOME LIKE IT HOT’s Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon look like a couple of Playmates, but that doesn’t stop Kincaid from falling madly in love with “Dora”! ‘Beach’ girl Bobbi Shaw plays a sexy Swedish ski instructor (“Yah, yah”) who Frankie seduces to make Deborah jealous, with  him entering a ski jump contest even though he can’t ski! His brilliant idea is to jump in a helium-inflated suit, with disastrous results. Funnyman Robert Q. Lewis is on hand as the screwball ski lodge director, and a yodeling polar bear keeps popping up for no reason except to add even more surrealism to the story. If you’re wondering where Annette is, she has a cameo in the beginning as a college biology professor (!!), and the ubiquitous Dick Miller appears towards the end as a cab driver.

SKI PARTY was the first feature film for director Alan Rafkin, whose TV resume reads like a Sitcom Hall of Fame. Just a small sampling: MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW (27 episodes), GET SMART, THE ODD COUPLE, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW , THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, SANFORD & SON , M*A*S*H, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, IT’S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW, COACH (87 episodes), and SUDDENLY SUSAN. Rafkin’s also responsible for a pair of Don Knotts movies, THE GHOST & MR. CHICKEN and THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST.

Also making his first movie straight from the TV ranks was screenwriter Robert Kaufman. Kaufman fared better in his film career, writing the DR. GOLDFOOT spy spoofs starring Vincent Price , DIVORCE AMERICAN STYLE, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES TO WASHINGTON, the vampire comedy LOVE AT FIRST BITE, and HOW TO BEAT THE HIGH CO$T OF LIVING. His script finds Avalon and Hickman frequently breaking the Fourth Wall, along with a slew of slapstick hijinks (and you all know how much I love slapstick hijinks!).

As I said before, the music is solid 60’s gold, with Lesley Gore doing her big hit “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows”:

The whole things ends up on the beach (where else?) with The Hondells doing a couple of surf numbers. The four main stars get a few decent rocking tunes to sing, but the highlight comes when James Brown and The Famous Flames, playing the resort’s ski patrol, perform the smash “(I Got You) I Feel Good”. And on that note, take us home, James:

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Rockin’ in the Film World #13: Elvis Presley in KID GALAHAD (United Artists 1962)

Let’s face it – with a handful of exceptions, most of Elvis Presley’s  post-Army 1960’s movies are awful. They follow a tried-and-true formula that has The King in some colorful location torn between two (or more!) girls, some kind of vocational gimmick (race car driver, scuba diver), and a handful of forgettable songs. KID GALAHAD is one of those exceptions; although it does follow the formula, it’s redeemed by a stellar supporting cast, a fair plot lifted from an old Warner Brothers film, and a well choreographed and edited final boxing match.

The movie’s very loosely based on 1937’s KID GALAHAD, a boxing/gangster yarn that starred Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Wayne Morris in the role now played by and tailored for Presley. He’s a young man fresh out of the Army (how’s that for typecasting?) who returns to his upstate New York hometown of Cream Valley looking for work as a mechanic. He wanders into in a boxing camp run by glib Gig Young, who has a penchant for betting on horses, and gets roped into being a sparring partner, despite the fact he has little ring experience. Gig throws Elvis to the lions and discovers the kid has a devastating right and so, together with trainer Charles Bronson , begins grooming the naïve youngster for pugilistic stardom.

There are subplots galore, as Gig has run afoul of some crooked fight promoters, and has issues with his ladylove Lola Albright to boot. Gig’s kid sister Joan Blackman (costar of Elvis’ hit BLUE HAWAII) comes to camp to straighten out her brothers finances, and of course falls in love with Presley, to big bro’s displeasure. Trainer/cornerman Bronson has his hands broken before the eve of the big fight by goons, but you just know Presley’s gonna come out on top, and win the girl as well… you do know that, right?

The supporting players make the film a cut above the usual Elvis pic. Gig Young’s fight manager is a smooth-talking hustler, in up to his neck with trouble from both the mob and the feds, and takes gal pal Lola Albright for granted. Young gives a good performance, as does the sexy Lola, an actress who deserved a better career than she had. Charles Bronson was still a second-stringer at the time, and is totally believable as the veteran fight trainer. He and Presley work well in their scenes together; it’s too bad they never costarred again, preferably in a Western (Curse you, Col. Tom Parker!). Joan Blackman, making her second appearance with The King, had a few good roles (GOOD DAY FOR A HANGING, CAREER, TWILIGHT OF HONOR), but like Albright never reached the heights her talent deserved. Some Familiar Faces bobbing and weaving through the plot include Edward Asner , Michael Dante, Richard Devon, Robert Emhardt, David Lewis, Bert Remson, and Roy Roberts.

As for Elvis… well, he’s basically playing Elvis, and as such he’s fine. There are echoes of some of his earlier characters, but after 1960 his screen persona had mellowed. No longer the hot-headed rebel of JAILHOUSE ROCK or KING CREOLE, here he’s just a good ol’ country boy who wants to work on cars, and happens to have a powerful right hook. The songs aren’t all that memorable, but I did like the jaunty “I Got Lucky” (co-written by Ed Wood’s ex-girlfriend Dolores Fuller!) and the wistful “A Whistling Tune”. The boxing scenes were staged by former welterweight turned bit player Mushy Callahan, who plays the referee in Elvis’s big bout with “Sugar Boy Romero”, played by then-current welterweight champ Orlando De La Fuente. And yes, that’s renowned boxing announcer Jimmy Lennon Sr. as the ring announcer.

All of this is put together with style by veteran director Phil Karlson , who I’ve discussed several times and whose filmography is worth looking into. KID GALAHAD is the last really good Elvis movie, thanks to that cast and crew, before he settled into the predictable formula for the rest of the 60’s. It’s a pity Col. Parker didn’t let Presley spread his thespic wings, because Elvis coulda been a contender with the right balance of script, cast, and direction. But as they say in Hollywood, that’s show biz.

Rockin’ in the Film World #12: The Monkees in HEAD (Columbia 1968)

The Monkees (Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith) brought rock’n’roll to TV with their mega-successful 1966-68 musical sitcom. Inspired by The Beatles’ onscreen antics in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP!, producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider cast four fresh-faced youths (Jones was a Tony nominee for OLIVER!, Dolenz had starred in TV’s CIRCUS BOY, Tork and Nesmith were vets of the folk-rock scene), hired some of the era’s top songwriters (Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson) and session musicians (Hal Blaine, James Burton, Glen Campbell  , Carol Kaye), and Monkeemania became a full-fledged teenybop pop phenomenon.

Detractors (and there were many) in the music biz called them ‘The Pre-Fab Four’, looking down their noses at The Monkees while looking up as hits like “I’m a Believer”, “Daydream Believer”, and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” climbed to the top of the charts. But like all fads, Monkeemania quickly died out, and NBC cancelled the show in 1968. Rafelson, Schneider, and the group (who by this time were writing and playing their own music) decided an image makeover was needed, and together with co-screenwriter Jack Nicholson (yes, THAT Jack Nicholson) concocted the psychedelic, surrealistic feature film HEAD.

The movie is a completely plotless, colorful swirl of imagery, blackout skits, and satire focusing on The Monkees’ attempt to be taken seriously. To try and describe this mélange of trippy 60’s bizarreness would be pointless, which features everything from clips of film classics (Bela Lugosi in THE BLACK CAT, Rita Hayworth in GILDA ), footage of Monkee concerts and the Vietnam War, spoofs of movie genres (westerns, boxing epics, war films, musicals, science fiction, AIP/Poe horrors), guest stars ( Victor Mature , Annette Funicello , Sonny Liston, Frank Zappa, Tor Johnson , and a totally insane Timothy Carey !), and songs. Yet somehow, it all works as an entertaining piece of LSD-inspired lunacy that may be jarring to some but is never boring!

Despite this stab at something different, HEAD totally tanked at the box office. The Monkees’ teenybopper fan base didn’t know what to make of it, and the older hippies wouldn’t give them the time of day. As for the adults… fuggetaboutit!! The Monkees gradually disbanded, only to reunite decades later after the ironic crowd rediscovered them via reruns on Nickelodeon and MTV (which Nesmith had a hand in creating). Davy Jones died in 2012 and Nesmith’s now too rich to care, but Dolenz and Tork still carry the Monkee torch, touring as recently as 2016 for the group’s 50th anniversary.

As for the producers, each went on to success. Schneider won an Oscar for the 1974 documentary HEARTS AND MINDS, while Rafelson directed films like FIVE EASY PIECES (1970), STAY HUNGRY (1976), THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1981), BLACK WIDOW (1987), and BLOOD AND WINE (1996). That guy Nicholson did okay for himself, too! HEAD is truly too unconventional for words, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by it, especially if you’re a classic film fan. Just turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream… oops, sorry, wrong band!

More “Rockin’ in the Film World”:

Rockin’ in the Film World #11: HAVING A WILD WEEKEND (Warner Brothers 1965)

For those of you who weren’t around during the heyday of the 60’s British Invasion, The Dave Clark Five were second only to The Beatles in popularity. The group came hot on the heels of The Fab Four, appearing on Ed Sullivan for two straight weeks, and had a solid string of hits from 1964 to 1967: “Glad All Over”, “Bits & Pieces”, “Because”, “Any Way You Want It”, “Over & Over”. Yes, they were BIG, folks!  Propelled by Clark’s up-front drumming and lead singer Mike Smith’s growling vocals, The Dave Clark Five had the teenyboppers screaming in the aisles, and since A HARD DAY’S NIGHT was a smashing success, a movie starring the boys was the next logical step.

Director John Boorman

HAVING A WILD WEEKEND begins like it’s going to be a clone of that film, then turns into something completely different thanks to first-time director John Boorman, who would later give us POINT BLANK , DELIVERANCE, EXCALIBUR, and HOPE AND GLORY. Boorman sets the conventional 60’s rock film on its ear with his skewering of social conventions, sexual mores, the advertising world and the price of celebrity. Boorman’s debut is a lot bolder than something like HOLD ON (Herman’s Hermits), or even A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, and though The DC5 have long left the scene, this is a movie that can be enjoyed on its own merit.

The band play a group of “stuntboys” doing commercial work with the face of the day, model Dinah (Barbara Ferris of CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED). She’s the spokesmodel for the meat industry, with her face plastered all over England in a “Meat for Go!” ad campaign. Stuntboy Steve (Clark, a former stuntboy himself) is bored with the whole thing, and he and Dinah take off in a spiffy Jag, heading for the coast of Devon where she’s planning to buy her own personal island to get away from it all, pursued by ad exec Leon’s minions.

Their adventure takes the couple to a deserted village where they meet up with a scraggly bunch of proto-hippies who ask if they’ve got any “spliffs” or “horse”. The village is being used for maneuvers by the British Army, who start bombing the hell out of the place, forcing Steve and Dinah to split the scene on foot. They thumb a ride from a pair of upper-class dilettantes (Yootha Joyce, Robin Bailey), who try separately to seduce the youngsters, than take them to a costume party with a classic film theme, with the attendees dressed as Groucho Marx, Jean Harlow, Frankenstein’s Monster, Charlie Chaplin, and Laurel & Hardy, among others!

Steve and Dinah finally make it to her island paradise, only to discover it no longer remains an island when the tide goes out. Leon is there waiting for them, along with the press, having planted a story of Dinah being kidnapped. Soon she’s swept up in all the publicity and hoopla, and Steve, realizing the journey always far outweighs the destination, takes off with his stuntboy brethren for sunny Spain.

The DC5’s hit “Catch Us If You Can” serves as the theme song, and was the movie’s UK title. Other songs interspersed into the movie are “Having a Wild Weekend”, “Sweet Memories”, “Time”, “On the Move”, “When”, “Ol’ Sol”, “I Can’t Stand It”, and “Move On”. The Dave Clark Five didn’t have the personalities of The Beatles or The Stones, nor did they move forward musically as the decade progressed, but for a three-year span they were on top of the pop world, and HAVING A WILD WEEKEND is a true 60’s time capsule of Swingin’ London. Even if you’re not familiar with them, the film’s worth watching for Boorman’s neo-realistic take on pop culture. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, and rightly so. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite DC5 songs, “Because”, from a 1964 Ed Sullivan appearance:

Rockin’ in the Film World #10: THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT (20th Century Fox 1956)

Frank Tashlin  combines two of 50’s America’s favorite obsessions, sex & rock’n’roll, in THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, Jayne Mansfield’s first headlight headlining role. When Jayne sashays across the screen, turning heads, melting ice, boiling milk, and cracking eyeglasses a star is born, in CinemaScope and gorgeous DeLuxe color. But the film is stacked with more than just Jayne’s Twin Peaks; it features performances from rock royalty like Little Richard, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, The Platters, and a host of others.

The plot is very simple (and very familiar): a goony gangster (broadly played by a hilarious Edmond O’Brien ) hires a down-on-his-luck agent (Tom Ewell of THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH) to make a singing star out of his honey (our girl Jayne). Only problem is, Jayne can’t carry a tune in a bucket, shattering lightbulbs whenever she starts to warble. Seems she doesn’t want to be a star anyway, just to settle down and be domestic. Tom and Jayne quietly fall in love, the gangster gets jealous, and you just know that by film’s end everything will turn out for the best.

Interspersed in all this are the cream of classic 50’s rockers belting out their big ti.. er, hits! Little Richard does the title tune, “Ready Teddy”, and “She’s Got It”. The Three Chuckles (whose lead singer Teddy Randazzo costarred with Tuesday Weld in ROCK ROCK ROCK  ) perform “Cinnamon Sinner”. Fats Domino lends his New Orleans-flavored R&B to “Blue Monday”. Gene Vincent blasts his mega-hit “Be-Bop-A-Lula”. Eddie Cochran belts out “Twenty Flight Rock”. Abby Lincoln does a Gospel-tinged “Spread the Word”. The Platters doo-wop to “You’ll Never, Never Know”, and Nino Tempo, Johnny Olenn, Eddie Fontaine, The Treniers, and Freddy Bell & The Bell-Boys also appear.

Tashlin’s trademark cartoony gags bounce playfully throughout the film, beginning right off the bat with the pre-credits introduction by Ewell. It’s packed with double entendres by the truckload, most of them involving Jayne’s ample endowments. There’s a funny fantasy scene where Ewell, still carrying the torch for ex-client Julie London, sees her everywhere singing her own big hit, “Cry Me A River” (and by the way, the future Nurse Dixie McCall of TV’s EMERGENCY was pretty darn hot herself!). Surpassing that is the sight of O’Brien gyrating wildly and croaking out the song “Rock Around the Rock Pile”, a precursor of sorts to Elvis Presley’s showstopping number in JAILHOUSE ROCK .

Despite the classic rockers, Tashlin’s Looney Tunes humor, and a beautiful pastel color scheme, all eyes will be on Jayne Mansfield. She’s really good in this, giving a sweet-natured performance as the girl who just can’t help it. Jayne was red-hot at the time due to her Broadway smash WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? (later filmed by Tashlin), and 20th Century Fox signed her as a rival to Marilyn Monroe. She was a good actress, though now best remembered for her sexpot image, and it’s a shame her career took such a downward trajectory so fast. With the right material, we’d probably be looking at Jayne Mansfield today for more than her obvious assets.

Legend has it when THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT was released in England, a 16-year-old kid in Liverpool saw his rock idols perform for the first time. The lad’s name was John Lennon, and soon he met 15-year-old Paul McCartney, who auditioned for Lennon’s teenage band by doing an imitation of Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” from the film. McCartney got the gig, and within a few years The Beatles  were the biggest rock’n’roll band in the world. That’s how influential THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT was in the history of rock’n’roll, and any fan of rock music, Jayne Mansfield, or Frank Tashlin needs to put it on their must-see list.


Rockin’ in the Film World #9: JIMI HENDRIX: ELECTRIC CHURCH (2015)


Back in March, I attended the “Experience Hendrix” live show, featuring guitar gods Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Buddy Guy, Zakk Wylde, Dweezil Zappa, Jonny Lang, and others jamming to the music of Jimi Hendrix. But as they say “Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby”, and the documentary JIMI HENDRIX: ELECTRIC CHURCH is a full-on aural assault chronicling Hendrix’ 1970 performance at the Atlanta Pop Festival.

Director John McDermott begins the film with some famous talking heads (Paul McCartney, Steve Winwood, Susan Teschi, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Rolling Stone writer Anthony DeCurtis), as well as residents of the tiny town of Byron, where the festival was actually held (and they seem to be having a ball reminiscing!). There are clips of Hendrix on THE DICK CAVETT SHOW and of segregationist Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox (who hates them damn hippies!).


Then it’s showtime, as Jimi and his band dive into classics like “Fire”. “All Along the Watchtower”, “Foxy Lady”, “Purple Haze”, “Hey Joe” , ‘Voodoo Child”, and “Stone Free”, which segues straight into “The Star Spangled Banner” and “‘Straight Ahead”. Jimi’s at the peak of his powers, using every trick in his repertoire, playing with his teeth, bending over backwards, working that whammy bar to bend those beautiful notes. It’s easy to forget what a powerhouse drummer Mitch Mitchell was in light of Jimi’s brilliance, but damn if he doesn’t approach Keith Moon territory with his furious playing. Billy Cox keeps a steady bass beat while Hendrix and Mitchell bounce off each other into the stratosphere.


The performance was filmed on July 4, 1970, and less than three months later Jimi Hendrix was dead at age 27 of a barbiturate overdose. The footage for this film sat in filmmaker Steve Rash’s barn for over thirty years before being made into this documentary and released on the Showtime network. It’s been a long time coming, but now fans can enjoy this seminal piece of rock’n’roll history. It’s on DVD and Blu-Ray, and would make a fine Christmas gift for the classic rocker in your life.