Film: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Cue the insane calliope...

A 1978 movie combining The Bee Gees, Steve Martin, Peter Frampton, Frankie Howard, George Burns and Alice Cooper with the then-11-year-old classic Beatles album, although it also incorporates other late-period Beatles songs. Beatles producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick lent the film their reflected credibility.

This All-Star Cast fantasy tries to wrap a storyline around Beatles songs and characters in them, as a vehicle for popular acts of the time: Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees, Alice Cooper, etc. There is no spoken dialogue aside from that of narrator Mr. Kite (George Burns), the mayor of Heartland U.S.A.

A prologue establishes that the original Sgt. Pepper and his bandmates were able to bring peace and harmony to those around them — even warring armies — with their music. After he died, the magical instruments were given over to the care of his hometown of Heartland, and now Billy Shears (Frampton) and the Henderson Brothers (the Bee Gees) have formed a new version of the band. They're good enough that they attract the attention of unscrupulous producer B.D. Hoffler (Donald Pleasence), and soon they are off to Hollywood to experience the hedonistic side of superstardom.

Alas, back home an evil organization known as "F.V.B." has its sights set on the original instruments, for the joy and love they embody is anathema to them. The mean Mr. Mustard (Frankie Howerd) and his goon the Brute easily overpower Mr. Kite and steal the four instruments for them; soon Heartland has decayed into a sleazy shadow of its former self that Mr. Mustard gleefully dominates. Billy's girlfriend Strawberry Fields runs away from home and tells the band what happened; together they must track down the stolen instruments if they hope to restore Heartland — which won't be easy thanks to all the treachery surrounding them.

While Aerosmith's take on "Come Together" and Earth Wind & Fire's cover of "Got to Get You Into My Life" are well-regarded, this movie also gave us George Burns singing "Fixing a Hole" and Steve Martin performing "Maxwell's Silver Hammer". The silly story and frequent poor match-ups of songs to situations render it all So Bad, It's Good at best, and it was a major flop, swiftly overshadowed by another rock musical, Grease, at the summer box office. Capitol records re-released the Beatles' album with the label "The Original Classic" as impressionale teenage girls were under the impression that the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton thought up Sgt. Pepper first, and Yellow Submarine (which bears the credit "starring Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band") made the rounds on TV in syndication.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The original album is more or less a fantasy concert. The movie starts with a concert…and then there's the whole plot. Also, it incorporates songs from other Beatles albums as well (Abbey Road in particular).
  • All-Star Cast
  • Big Bad: F.V.B., which stands for Future Villain Band (Aerosmith).
  • Bitter Sweet Ending: Zig Zagged: The insturments have been recovered, but Strawberry Fields died in the process... then Billy Preston appears. (see Deus ex Machina below)
  • Bound and Gagged: Mr. Kite after Mustard and the Brute steal the instruments, and Strawberry Fields in the lair of Future Villain Band.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: B.D. is the sort who will spike your drink with drugs to make you less resistant to signing his contract (he does this to Billy); Mr. Mustard becomes a smaller-scale version of this within Heartland, opening arcades and fast food restaurants as the town decays without the magic instruments.
  • Cosmic Keystone: A small-scale version — the four magic instruments protect Heartland USA's Sugar Bowl status.
  • The Cover Changes The Meaning: "When I'm Sixty-Four".
  • Cult: Reverend Sun leads one that preaches the love of money.
  • Deus ex Machina: And it's a whopper. Sgt. Pepper is reborn as Billy Preston and stops Billy Shear's suicide, restores Strawberry to life, punishes the supporting baddies, and returns the town to its original state. Whew!
  • Dirty Old Man: Mean Mr. Mustard was described as a "dirty old man" in the original song, and the film version bears this out when he kidnaps Strawberry Fields — his advances towards her are how "When I'm Sixty-Four" is incorporated into the film. (It's interesting how they managed to take a happy song Paul wrote about his father and turned it into an extremely creepy song about an old man stalking a young woman. Kudos to the acting talents of the late Frankie Howerd in his last film.)
  • Disney Death: Strawberry Fields, and the last quarter of the film deals with the aftermath of the "death" part.
  • Disney Villain Death: The lead singer of Future Villain Band and, in a rare heroic example, Strawberry Fields; unusually for this trope, we see the dead bodies on the ground. The heroine gets better.
  • Driven to Suicide: Subverted with Billy. He attempts suicide after Strawberry Fields dies until Sgt. Pepper reincarnates and saves him.
  • Fembot: Mustard's assistants.
  • Freudian Excuse: Parodied with Reverend Sun: He used to be Marvin Sunk, a crossing guard who was always teased by the children, so he decided to drop the "k" from his name and become a cult leader in order to brainwash all young people to serve FVB. Makes perfect sense.
  • Greed: All the villains love money, the Big Bad most of all.
  • Grief Song: "Golden Slumbers" and "Carry That Weight" at Strawberry's funeral.
    Snob: Really? That's what "Carry That Weight" is about? Pallbearing!?
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Poor Strawberry Fields.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: "When I'm Sixty-Four" is used for this trope.
  • The Ingenue: Strawberry Fields is a "free spirit" example.
  • Jukebox Musical: One of the earliest examples.
  • Loads And Loads Of Cameos: At the end of the film, the "SPLHCB Reprise" is sung by many, many, many rock musical acts. And Carol Channing.
  • Magic Music: The original band's special instruments can produce this.
  • Magical Negro: At the end, Billy Preston comes out of nowhere and fixes everything.
  • Narrator: George Burns as Mr. Kite.
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: Most of the cast members are musicians with little or no acting experience; tellingly, they originally had spoken dialogue, but it was all dropped during filming.
  • Novelization: Yes, there was a novelization of the film. It gives some backstory and justification for F.V.B.'s desire to Take Over the World via music.
  • The Power of Love: When Billy is left unconscious after his fight with Father Sun, Strawberry's love — and the song that gave her her name — brings him around.
  • Race Lift: In-story — Sgt Pepper was white; when he's reborn, he's black!
  • Remake Cameo: Billy Preston as the reborn Sgt Pepper, the only person on-screen with a true Beatles connection, singing a song ("Get Back") that he in fact contributed to on the original recording even.
  • Saving The World With Art: The film ends with Sgt. Pepper magically coming back to life and restores Heartland back to the way it was, rewinds Billy Shears' suicide, and brings Strawberry Fields back to life by singing "Get Back."
  • Stepford Smiler: Strawberry can be seen as this at times. She wants the best for Billy and the band, but isn't happy being separated from them.
  • Steve Martin: Making his feature film debut as Dr. Maxwell Edison.
  • Spiritual Successor: Producer Robert Stigwood had previously had a huge hit with the 1975 film adaptation of Tommy and was trying to repeat its success.
  • Sugar Bowl: Heartland USA.
  • Self-Deprecating Humor/Affectionate Parody: The logo for B.D. Records is a spoof of RSO Records' mascot, which was the Bee Gees' label.
  • Telegraph Gag STOP: The protagonists receive a telegram from BD Hoffler, president of Big Deal Records.
    Telegram: We hear your music is great STOP We need a tape of your songs and we need it now STOP And if we like your music we'll make you superstars and the money will never stop STOP Signed BD Hoffler, Hollywood
  • Tie-In Novel: Yep, it had one....and neither Billy Shears nor the Hendersons speak in that version either. As with the Tie-In Novel of Stigwood's Grease, this one has VERY little resemblance to the movie, and seems to be screenwriter Henry Edwards' attempt to fix what was wrong with the film by adding characters and making the story considerably more elaborate. Strangely, the book manages to reference the film in its narrative — the book ends with Sgt. Pepper's band gaining an all-star line-up, as in the film, except the list of celebrities in this unseen band stretches for several pages, ending with the Beatles, the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, and other figures associated with the film.
  • Title Drop: A visual example....we see the printing of the actual SPLHCB Soundtrack album during the "Good Morning, Good Morning" sequence.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future: A Real Life example. The movie was based on a stage show called Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, the type of musical built around a single artist's/group's works which was innovative in the early '70s, yet commonplace now (Mamma Mia!, Stepping Out, Jersey Boys, etc.)
  • Unholy Matrimony: Lucy and Dougie Shears (Billy's brother and the manager of the new Lonely Hearts Club Band) are brought together by their mutual love of money.
  • The Vamp: Lucy and the Diamonds.
  • Villain Love Song: "When I'm Sixty-Four" for Mr. Mustard.
  • Villain Song
    • "Mean Mr. Mustard" is sung by his robot servants and would ordinarily be a case of The Villain Sucks Song, but he wholeheartedly, cheerfully agrees with its description of him.
    • "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" for Dr. Maxwell Hammer.
    • "Because" for Reverend Sun.
    • "You Never Give Me Your Money" for Lucy and Dougie.
    • "Come Together" for Future Villain Band.
  • Villain Recruitment Song: "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" (the opening section) for B.D.
  • World-Healing Wave
  • World-Wrecking Wave