Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a 1978 American jukebox musical film.
Its soundtrack, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, features new versions of songs originally written and performed by The Beatles. The film draws primarily from two of their albums, 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and 1969's Abbey Road. The film covers all of the songs from the Sgt. Pepper album with the exceptions of "Within You, Without You" and "Lovely Rita", and also includes nearly all of Abbey Road.
The production is somewhat adapted from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, a 1974 off-Broadway production directed by Tom O'Horgan. It tells the loosely-constructed story of a band as they wrangle with the music industry and battle evil forces bent on stealing their instruments and corrupting their home town of Heartland. The film is presented in a form similar to that of a rock opera with the Beatles' songs providing "dialogue" to carry the story, with only George Burns having spoken lines that act to clarify the plot and provide further narration.
The film was produced by Robert Stigwood, founder of RSO Records, who had earlier produced Saturday Night Fever. RSO Records also released the soundtrack to the film Grease in 1978, which had Barry Gibb producing and Peter Frampton playing lead guitar on the title track. In 1976, the Bee Gees had recorded three Beatles cover songs "Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight", "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" and "Sun King" for the musical documentary All This and World War II.
The Beatles producer George Martin served as musical director, conductor, arranger and producer of the Sgt. Pepper film soundtrack album.
- The Bee Gees, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, whose music had been integral to Saturday Night Fever (released by this film's international distributor, Paramount Pictures), play Mark, David and Bob Henderson, members of the re-formed Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
- Peter Frampton, whose album Frampton Comes Alive! was the biggest-selling live album ever at the time, plays Billy Shears, leader of the re-formed band and grandson of the original Sgt. Pepper character.
- Steve Martin's A Wild and Crazy Guy was released the same year as the film, reaching number two on the music-dominated Billboard 200 album charts. His performance as Dr. Maxwell Edison, singing "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", foreshadows his zany dentist role in Little Shop of Horrors.
The cast also featured British comedian Frankie Howerd as Mean Mr. Mustard (his only major U.S. film appearance; he later quipped about the film "It was like Saturday Night Fever, but without the fever"), Paul Nicholas as Dougie Shears, George Burns as Mr. Kite, Donald Pleasence as B.D., referred to in Burns' narrative voice-over as B.D. Hoffler, but officially known in the film's credits, publicity materials, and in-film posters as B.D. Brockhurst, Sandy Farina as Strawberry Fields, Dianne Steinberg as Lucy, Aerosmith as Future Villain Band (FVB), Earth, Wind & Fire, who appear as themselves, Billy Preston as the magical Sgt. Pepper golden weather vane come to life, Alice Cooper as Father Sun, and Stargard as the Diamonds.
Additionally, the film becomes a time capsule of late 1970s pop culture with the last scene in which the cast is joined by "Our Guests at Heartland" to sing the reprise of the title track while standing in a formation imitating the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album cover. The scene was filmed at MGM Studios on December 16, 1977; indeed, according to co-star Carel Struycken (Mustard's henchman, "Brute"), Sgt. Pepper was the last film to be made at MGM under that studio's then existing management.
The "guests" were:
Peter Allen, Curtis Mayfield, Keith Allison, Cousin Bruce Morrow (Cousin Brucie), George Benson, Peter Noone, Elvin Bishop, Alan O'Day, Stephen Bishop, Lee Oskar, Jack Bruce, The Paley Brothers, Keith Carradine, Robert Palmer, Carol Channing, Wilson Pickett, "Charlotte, Sharon, and Ula", Anita Pointer, Jim Dandy, Bonnie Raitt, Sarah Dash, Helen Reddy, Rick Derringer, Minnie Riperton, Barbara Dickson, Chita Rivera, Donovan, Johnny Rivers, Randy Edelman, Monte Rock III, Yvonne Elliman, Danielle Rowe, Jose Feliciano, Sha-Na-Na, Leif Garrett, Del Shannon, Geraldine Granger, Joe Simon, Adrian Gurvitz, Seals & Crofts, Billy Harper, Connie Stevens, Eddie Harris, Al Stewart, Heart, John Stewart, Nona Hendryx, Tina Turner, Barry Humphries, Frankie Valli, Etta James, Gwen Verdon, Dr. John, Diane Vincent, Bruce Johnston, Grover Washington, Jr., Joe Lala, Hank Williams, Jr., D.C. LaRue, Johnny Winter, Jo Leb, Wolfman Jack, Marcy Levy, Bobby Womack, Mark Lindsay, Alan White, Nils Lofgren, Lenny White, Jackie Lomax, Margaret Whiting, John Mayall, and Gary Wright.
The film began as a 1974 live Broadway show called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, which was produced by The Robert Stigwood Organization. Stigwood had purchased the rights to use 29 Beatles songs for the play and was determined to do something with them, so he brought the songs to Henry Edwards to write a script. Edwards had never written a script for a film, but had impressed Stigwood with musical analysis he'd written for The New York Times. "I spread the songs out on my apartment floor and went to work," said Edwards. "Mr Stigwood wanted a concept. I told him I'd like to do a big MGM-like musical. We'd synthesize forms and end up with an MGM musical but with the music of today."
With a script in place, the cast was assembled. In the spring of 1977, Peter Frampton, The Bee Gees, and George Martin met to begin work on the soundtrack. Filming started in October 1977 on the backlot of MGM Studios in Culver City, where the set of Heartland, USA was built. Interiors were filmed at Universal City Studios.
Upon release the film received scathingly negative reviews, with critics taking issue with its thin plot and incomprehensibility. The film has however been praised for its musical renditions of classic beatles songs, and has since gained a cult following. As of September 1, 2014, review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes reports that 15% of 20 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 2.9 out of 10.
According to movie historian Leonard Maltin, the picture "...ranges from tolerable to embarrassing and just doesn't work. As for the Bee Gees' acting talents, if you can't say something nice..."
Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that the film's "musical numbers are strung together so mindlessly that the movie has the feel of an interminable variety show"; while it may have been "conceived in a spirit of merriment, ... watching it feels like playing shuffleboard at the absolute insistence of a bossy shipboard social director. When whimsy gets to be this overbearing, it simply isn't whimsy any more." She complimented Martin on his "completely unhinged rendition of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," but pointed out that his scene is a "reminder that the film is otherwise humorless."
Newsweek's David Ansen called Sgt. Pepper "a film with a dangerous resemblance to wallpaper."
Rolling Stone writer Paul Nelson shredded virtually every aspect of the production, from stars Peter Frampton (of whom he wrote had "Absolutely no future in Hollywood") to director Michael Schultz ("Would seem to need direction merely to find the set, let alone the camera") to the soundtrack album ("The album proves conclusively that you can't go home again in 1978. Or, if you do, you'd better be aware of who's taken over the neighborhood.").
Perry Seibert of Allmovie called the film "quite possibly the silliest movie ever conceived," with a "handful of high camp moments" featuring Martin, Burns; Earth, Wind & Fire; Aerosmith, and Billy Preston who "somehow transcend the jaw-dropping inanity that poisons the rest of the cast."
The Intelligencerâ'âs Lou Gaul called the film "A sort of modern Fantasia for today's teens." The Valley Independent's Ron Paglia called it "Good, campy fun," citing Steve Martin's performance as "a high point," and the celebrity filled finale as "something special" before concluding "there's much to enjoy."
- Across the Universe, a 2007 musical film that also used the concept of using Beatles songs to tell a story.
- List of cover versions of Beatles songs
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at the Internet Movie Database
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at the TCM Movie Database
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at AllMovie
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at Rotten Tomatoes
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at Box Office Mojo
- Theatrical Trailer on YouTube