10 Bizarre Movie Musicals
You Have to See to Believe
Part 3 of 3
As demonstrated last time, it’s not always so easy to transform a Hollywood star into a singing and dancing sensation. Well, what about in reverse? Surely musicians are used to being on stage in front of others and can be directed to a passable film performance, right? In other instances, big shot musicians just want to play dress-up and make believe, so they put together a humble little project for just $18 million or so to bring their dream to the screen.
3. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)
I wouldn’t go across the street for The Beatles, never mind “across the universe.” Sue me, I’m more of a Stones man, honestly, but even I’m not so pig-headed as to undercut their influence or achievements.
“What, then,” you ask, “is a Beatles movie doing on this list?!” Hold your horses, Eleanor Rigby. There isn’t a single goddamn Beatle in this thing. Not even Stuart Sutcliffe or Pete Best. No, Sgt. Pepper’s the film is based on Sgt. Pepper’s the off-Broadway stage production, which is inspired by the beloved album.
No, Yellow Submariners, this film is a vehicle for the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton. “That changes everything,” you say? I thought so. If Spice World had too much testosterone for you, then this is your new jam.
Steve Martin turns in a bizarre performance of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” some eight years before his role as sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello in Little Shop of Horrors. Aerosmith shows up as FVB: Future Villain Band, shades of the Riverbottom Nightmare Band in Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, but it’s hard to root against them, really, especially when they turn in a perfectly acceptable cover of “Come Together”. Here, they’re accused of being sell-outs. Curiously, after appearing in this film, they wouldn’t have another Top 40 hit until “Walk This Way” with Run D.M.C. in 1986. Ouch.
Rest in peace, Robin Gibb. This was the same year he recorded “Trash” for Oscar the Grouch, so he’s totally off the hook. No hard feelings, mate.
2. Son of Dracula (1974)
In 1972, good friends Harry Nilsson (“Best Friend”, “Coconut”) and Ringo Starr (The Beatles) hit on the same strange idea seemingly simultaneously, a rock n’roll version of Dracula Nilsson paid homage to the idea on the cover to his album Son of Schmilsson, so when Ringo asked him to join in his vanity film project, Count Downe and Son of Dracula were born.
Well, at least this film had an actual Beatle in it, as well as Keith Moon of The Who, John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, the everpresent Peter Frampton, and George Harrison… no bovo… on the cowbell. Forget about putting the lime in the coconut, the only prescription is more cowbell.
Alas, it is not enough to keep this film from succumbing to ennui. Nilsson plays the heir to the throne of the netherworld and detached rock star over a decade before Anne Rice made readers’ loins moisten with thoughts of her beloved Lestat. “Detached” is perhaps a bit generous. All of the acting appears as stiff and wooden as a coffin filled with native earth, even Ringo as Merlin. Yeah, Merlin.
1. Sextette (1978)
Back in her day, Mae West was quite the seductress. Unfortunately, this isn’t her day. If you had any inclination to “come up and see her some time,” hopefully that time was before 1978, when an 84-year-old Ms. West clawed her way on board this train wreck. Described as a sexy musical comedy, the filmmakers and audience aren’t laughing with Ms. West, but AT her. It would be like taking grandma out for some old fashioned line dancing and then laughing when she strokes out during “Copperhead Road.” Thankfully, we have come a long way in our standards of elder care.
Timothy Dalton was producer “Cubby” Broccoli’s hand-picked successor to the role of James Bond after the departure of Sean Connery. Dalton turned the role down, believing he was too young to fill Sean’s shoes. Tim-Tim spent most of the 1970s in the theatre, but decided to make his American debut in this little gem as Mae’s latest conquest, Sir Michael Barrington.
Much like Son of Dracula and Sgt. Pepper’s, Sextette provides ample opportunity for musicians to camp it up. Ringo Starr, Alice Cooper, and Keith Moon surely couldn’t resist. Moon in particular hams it up as the dress designer to Marlo Manners (Mae West). His enthusiasm is almost contagious as he breathlessly proclaims “That dress is so fantastic, that even I would wear it! In fact… I have!” RuPaul would be proud.
WARNING: Slightly NSFW because of some realllly forced innuendo. Of course, even in her youth, that was what Mae was known for. Unfortunately, what was once sexy and sly is now sleazy and creepy. I guess that’s the natural progression, eh?
So, how many of these have YOU seen? I can confess to seeing Can’t Stop the Music, Grease 2, Streets of Fire, and Rhinestone in their entirety. I’ve never been able to get all the way through Xanadu. At this point in my life, I imagine it’d only happen if Marvel Comics tasked me to write their resident disco diva, Dazzler.
I blame mid-80s HBO (back when there was only one) for my fascination with musical movie disasters. I would hold a grudge, but it’s not like they used the Ludovico technique to pry my eyelids open. Nah, it must be part of my deeply ingrained masochism. C’est la vie.
There are some notable intentional omissions from my list. I avoided both The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horrors because they’ve developed quite the fan following and debatably accomplish exactly what they set out to do. Besides, both have catchy tunes, and that’s something.
Any others I overlooked? Any of these you think are being unfairly maligned? Let me know in the Comments. Toodles.