Directed By: The Beatles
Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
Line from the film: "I am your friendly Courier. Mister Bloodvessel is my name. Buster Bloodvessel"
Trivia: One artist who was cast in this film but didn't appear was Jimi Hendrix. Paul McCartney wanted him in the film, but Hendrix was already committed to play at the Monterey Pop Festival
After appearing in A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, both of which were directed by Richard Lester, The Beatles decided it was time to make a movie on their own. With a handful of new songs and a basic outline of what was to follow, the boys from Liverpool hopped on a bus and, with a few of their friends, made Magical Mystery Tour, a comedy / musical that gets more surreal with each passing scene.
There’s not much of a premise: Richard Starkey (RIngo Starr, using his real name) buys a bus ticket for himself and his Aunt Jessie (Jessie Robins) for what’s promised to be a “Magical Mystery Tour”, a trip with no real destination during which anything can happen. Along the way, they pick up Paul (McCartney), John (Lennon), and George (Harrison), who, with tour guide Jolly Jimmy (Derek Royle) and his buxom assistant (Miranda Forbes) in tow, pay a visit to a military post; take part in a bizarre race; and even swing by a strip club. There’s action (somehow, during the race, Ringo ends up driving the bus), fantasy (the lads also play a troupe of magicians who’ve taken a special interest in the mystery tour), romance (Aunt Jessie is wooed by a very serious-minded passenger named Buster Bloodvessel, played by Ivor Cutler), and, of course, lots of music, with The Beatles performing a number of new songs that would go on to be hits, including “The Fool on the Hill”, “I Am the Walrus”, and the title tune, “Magical Mystery Tour”.
Originally a TV special (it first aired on the BBC in December of 1967), Magical Mystery Tour teeters back and forth between lighthearted whimsy and all-out lunacy for most of its running time. There are quiet scenes, like when John and George entertain a young girl on the bus; and some noisy ones as well, including a sing-along in which every passenger sings standards like “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” as loudly as they can. Interspersed between the insanity are what amounts to music videos for the band’s various numbers, the most memorable being “I Am the Walrus”, which, with its animal costumes and guys dressed as eggs, comes closest to matching the film’s frenzied tone. Yet as much as I like this rendition of the classic Beatles song, I find myself enjoying “The Fool on the Hill” even more, a sequence that features Paul McCartney and some lovely images of the French Countryside (it was shot in the South of France).
Definitely a product of the late ‘60s, Magical Mystery Tour may be a bit too trippy for modern viewers, but with everyone involved clearly having a good time, the film also has an infectious quality that, more than likely, will bring a smile to your face.