Rock 'N Roll Case Study: Rejected Film Projects by the Beatles
During the time period that the Beatles were a functioning band, they only had five officially released film projects: "A Hard Day's Night," "HELP," "Magical Mystery Tour", "Yellow Submarine" and "Let It Be." A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965) were the first two of a three-picture deal that the group had entered with United Artists. Finding a third film that could be agreed on by all four Beatles had become difficult. Remember, the search for this third film fell during the final touring years of the Fab Four, when the band was ready to shed the lovable moptop image that had been portrayed in the first two films.
In 1967 Brian Epstein negotiated “Yellow Submarine”, an animated picture that the Beatles agreed to do, mistakenly thinking that this would satisfy the third picture of their contract. The death of Brian Epstein temporarily put “Yellow Submarine” on the backburner and pretty much was the nail-in-the-coffin in the serious search for a third film. The Beatles concentrated on “Magical Mystery Tour”, which debuted on the BBC on Boxing Day in 1967. First shown in black and white, the hour-long psychedelic-home-movie baffled the largely conservative TV audience, while giving critics the “much-needed” ammunition to try and deflate the ego of the Beatles. Work on “Yellow Submarine” was finally resumed, with minimal involvement from the Beatles themselves. Although the voices of the Beatles were portrayed by actors, the group did make a short live appearance at the end of the film. And of course the group was thrilled by the success of the film, which they had originally viewed with disdain, only giving “Yellow Sub” some of their “throwaway” songs (supposedly, the joke amongst the group was, “it’s good enough for ‘Yellow Submarine’”). The last feature film portraying the Beatles was “Let It Be”, a depressing film which pretty much documented the disintegration of the Beatles. It was originally planned as a TV documentary, until they realized that this would satisfy the terms of their three-picture deal. However, it is the one Beatles’ film which won an Academy Award (Best Score Academy Award in 1970).
In addition to the official Beatles films, each member participated in individual film projects, with two Beatles pursuing acting and the other two composing soundtracks. In 1966, John appeared in Dick Lester's film “How I Won The War”. Also in 1966 Paul composed music for the film “The Family Way”. George supplied the music for the feature film “Wonderwall” in 1967. Ringo, the Beatle given the best reviews for his acting ability, appeared in the films “Candy”, “The Magic Christian” and “Blindman”.
You might be surprised by the numerous “rejected” film projects that the Beatles pondered. Especially considering the five official film releases and the various acting and film composition projects by the individual Beatles. This essay will concentrate on rejected film and soundtrack projects of the Beatles, with an emphasis on the elusive “third” Beatles movie.
The Yellow Teddybears
A year before “A Hard Day's Night”, the Beatles were offered a cameo role in the 1963 film called “The Yellow Teddybears”. The premise of the movie was about a group of teenage girls who wore yellow teddy bear pins as their badge of carnal knowledge. Since 1963 was the year that Beatlemania originated, its not surprising that the band turned down involvement in this film in which they would not be the stars. Also, the possibility of performing other people’s songs probably killed serious consideration. In regards to this film Paul McCartney said, “we turned that offer down and waited until something far better turned up.”
A Talent For Loving
Once announced in 1965 as the Beatles third movie, “A Talent For Loving” would have been the Beatles experiment in the genre of the Western film. Richard Condon, the writer of “The Manchurian Candidate”, was the author of the novel “A Talent For Loving”. The script was based on a true-life horse race in the 1870’s in which the prize was a wealthy girl! The Beatles would play pioneers in the old West who had tralleled from Liverpool, so the accent problem was bypassed. The Beatles fascination with the cowboy west was evident when you see the group decked out in cowboy attire in various photo shoots from 1964-54 (and on the back of their RUBBER SOUL album). And Ringo Starr (in his pre-Beatle days) once wrote to the Houston Texas chamber of commerce about possible immigration. Although the rights to film were acquired, they finally rejected the film and “A Talent For Loving” was released by someone else in 1969 .
The Jungle Book
The Beatles sing for Disney? Well, at one point it seems that it was a remote possibility. It appears that Brian Epstein and Walt Disney met in late August 1965 to discuss The Beatles appearing and/or supply some music for Disney’s next film, “The Jungle Book”. However, “The Beatles” cartoon series was set to premier on the ABC network in September and Lennon was especially bitter about the project. When Epstein mentioned the Disney project to him, John exploded. He was probably in no mood to hear of yet another “cartoon” project. Lennon screamed, “There’s no way The Beatles are gonna sing for Mickey fucking Mouse. You can tell Walt Disney to fuck off. Tell him to get Elvis off his fat arse, he’s into making crap fucking movies.”
It is ironic that the main aspect of The Jungle Book, which garners praise, is its incredible song score and the film was the first animated film ever to achieve gold record status. The song, “Bare Necessities” was even nominated for an Oscar. The Jungle Book proved to be Walt Disney’s last animated film as he died during the shooting of the movie in December of 1967. The film was released in October of 1967 with box-office receipts of $142 million in the U.S., $206 million worldwide. Had The Jungle Book not been a commercial success, Disney Animation would have been closed.
Lord of the Rings
As strange as it sounds, John Lennon was once pushing for a Beatles version of “Lord of the Rings." McCartney said, “John wanted us to buy the film rights to Lord of the Rings. It was very much his idea.” It seems that Lennon had the intent of casting himself in the most attention-getting role. The Beatles version would have had John Lennon playing the grasping, thieving creature Gollum, Paul McCartney as the hero Frodo, George Harrison as the wise wizard Gandalf and Ringo Starr playing Frodo’s devoted sidekick Sam. The Beatles plan fell flat when the author J.R.R. Tolkein, who still had the film rights, rejected the idea of the Beatles doing it. Also the possibility of Lennon getting the staring role might not have set well with the other Beatles. “The strength of the other films which we made is that we’re all equal”, was Paul’s thoughts on the matter. Although the soundtrack would have certainly been interesting, can you imagine the Beatles doing this film with 1960’s the special effects? This was a few years before “2001: A Space Odyssey”, considered as the first of the “modern” special effects films.
The Three Musketeers
The Beatles also turned down a comedy version of Alexander Dumas' classic novel, 'The Three Musketeers'. Supposedly, Brigitte Bardot would have starred as Lady De Winter, which was probably a big selling point for the Bardot-obsessed Lennon. There had already been three versions of “The Three Musketeers” filmed before the Beatles considered it, finally rejecting the idea. Perhaps the film would have required more psychical comedy than the amateur acting Beatles were capable of? Did Richard Lester (director of “A Hard Day’s Night” and “HELP”) suggest this film to the Beatles? No one knows, but Lester did eventually end up directing the 1974 version of “The Three Musketeers”!
Shades of a Personality
At the end of 1966 producer Walter Shenson announced, “we are more less agreed this time that the Beatles should not play The Beatles. They will play four characters who look, think and talk like The Beatles but are different characters.” This was the mindset of the working script for the third Beatles movie, tentatively titled “Beatle 3”. Since schedule conflicts prevented Richard Lester from directing the new Beatles film, Michelangelo Antonioni was announced as a possible director. The storyline sounds like an early version of the Quadrophrenia project, realized by the Who in 1973. The script called for a man (to be played by Lennon) suffering from a three-way split personality, with the remaining Beatles playing each of these personalities. The project wasn’t rejected outright, but simply fell between the cracks in the hectic schedule of the Beatles in 1967.
Up Against It
The final attempt at the third Beatles movie was "Up Against It". At the same time that "Shades of a Personality" was still being considered, playwright Joe Orton was approached about writing a screenplay for the Beatles. Orton was an up-and-coming new playwright in the theater world and the Beatles and Epstein probably considered him the logical choice to write a "serious" third movie. Additionally, McCartney had invested in one of Orton's plays.
Orton received a $12,000 advance from Walter Shenson for a screenplay and set about writing. Although he took the basic idea from "Shades of a Personality", he adapted it using elements of two of his other projects, "The Silver Bucket" and his 1961 novel, "The Vision of Gombold Proval" (later published as "Head To Toe"). The final title was "Up Against It", which Orton described, "with its political assassination, guerilla warfare, and transvestitism, it might have been designed with the Beatles in mind!" Orton delivered the script in late February, 1967 and it was returned from Brian Epstein's office in April without a reason for its rejection.
In reading "Up Against It", there is no surprise why it was rejected. Brian Epstein was still very much in control of the bands image and the themes in the screenplay would have shaken the image too severely. Especially with its dark humor take on adultery, cross-dressing, sexual inferences and political assassination. However, it would have made a perfect vehicle for the Rolling Stones and I'm curious why the film was never offered to them! At one point it was intended for Mick Jagger and Ian McKellen, but that plan eventually fell through.
In hindsight, McCartney explained why "Up Against It" was rejected: "The reason why we didn't do Up Against It wasn't because it was too far out or anything. We weren't gay and really that was all there was to it. Now, it wasn't that we were anti-gay -- just that we, The Beatles, weren't gay." Richard Lester reasoned, "I don't think that it would have worked at all. I don't think they possessed the acting skills to deal with those linguistic acrobatics that Orton demanded."
In a bizarre twist of events, Orton's murdered body was found on August 9, 1967, just 18 days before Brian Epstein's death. A chauffer was sent to pick up Orton to discuss the "Up Against It" script and found the body. Finally, Epstein's death was the single most reason for the end of the search for the third Beatles movie.
Finally, it is fun to look over this list of movie possibilities and imagine what a Beatles soundtrack would have sounded like!
Credits and Sources:
A special thanks to Carla Marshall for supplying me with some of the reference materials!