In the wake of all the new Beatles news because of the new release Get Back, just released is this amazing new story on the Beatles as we look back ast some of the most interesting and best characters that appeared in Beatles movies outside of the Beatles themselves. 2021 was another difficult year in the world, but for Beatles fans there was an undeniable bright spot with Get Back, the three-part, eight-hour documentary on the Fab Four which premiered on the Disney+ streaming service in November. First shot in early 1969, some of the footage was originally used to create the feature documentary Let It Be, which was released in movie theaters the following year.
Prior to that, The Beatles were featured in several scripted movies. In the early days of Beatlemania in 1963 the group signed a deal to star in three feature films, which were originally envisioned as low-budget quickies made primarily to promote the accompanying soundtracks. The first of these, A Hard Day’s Night, was indeed shot quickly on a shoestring and spawned a successful album. However, a funny thing happened – literally – as the four musicians surprised everyone (probably including themselves) by exhibiting an unmistakably solid comedic sensibility (which immediately drew comparisons to the Marx Brothers). Not only that, but the black & white movie’s understated and stylish look and feel also appealed to adults – hardly The Beatles target audience at the time.
No doubt encouraged by the success of the first film, the follow-up, Help! (1965), was a bigger and splashier color extravaganza, an action/adventure comedy set in a number of exotic locals which was in part a send-up of the era’s other cultural phenomenon, the James Bond series. Ideas being considered for the next Beatles movie became even more outlandish, and included having the group star in an adaptation of The Three Musketeers and even – we kid you not – J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Still, no third Beatles movie had materialized in theaters by the end of 1967, when the group instead starred in Magical Mystery Tour.
Originally aired as a special on British TV, the fifty-two minute Magical Mystery Tour would come to be considered a “movie” after it received a theatrical release in the US. A bit of an underdeveloped and unfocused mess, it’s also generally viewed as the group’s only true commercial and artistic failure (with its sole saving grace being – naturally – the music, which included the classics “The Fool on the Hill” and “I Am the Walrus”).
Magical Mystery Tour probably could have benefitted from the help of an experienced filmmaker, since The Beatles wrote and directed it themselves. By contrast, the group had little direct involvement with the cartoon feature Yellow Submarine (apart from contributing four new songs and filming a brief tag scene), but the quasi-psychedelic fantasy film ended up being a masterpiece of animation and design. It also definitely captured the essence of the group, which is why it’s considered by most people to be a “real” Beatles movie.
Despite their varying quality, these four movies did introduce an assortment of colorful characters, from Beatle “family members” to wacky villains to just the weirdest creatures imaginable. Here are ten of the most memorable characters (other than of course the Beatles themselves) to come out of the original Beatles movies.
[THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MOVIE SPOILERS]
HONORABLE MENTION – ROGER THE TIGER (HELP!)
Among the countless perils faced by the Fab Four in Help!, Ringo at one point finds himself trapped alone in the basement of a pub with Roger, the man-eating Bengal tiger. Roger, who had apparently escaped from the London Zoo that morning, was originally a gift from the Berlin Zoo when he was reared on classical music, particularly Beethoven (we gotta say, that’s actually a lot of backstory for a character who appears onscreen for less than a minute!)
# 10 – BUSTER BLOODVESSEL (MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR)
Even with an entire busload of people, Magical Mystery Tour didn’t really offer much in the way of unique original characters. However, the name “Buster Bloodvessel” alone does manage to capture some of the whimsy that the movie was going for. Played by actor Ivor Culter, Bloodvessel is potentially a love interest for Ringo’s aunt (Jessie Robins), but the character mainly just ends up behaving in a bizarre and unexplained manor.
# 9 – FRED (YELLOW SUBMARINE)
After receiving a battlefield promotion to lord admiral during the Blue Meanie attack, Fred takes sole command of the long out-of-commission Yellow Submarine and sets out to find help in saving Pepperland. Journeying to England, he recruits the assistance of first Ringo then the rest of the Beatles, even if when he meets them Fred is so panicked he has trouble verbalizing the crisis at hand (although he does manage to clearly get out the words “Blue Meanies!,” which is really all his new allies needed to hear).
# 8- AHME (HELP!)
The resident femme fatale of Help!, Ahme (Eleanor Bron) is a member of the cult which is after the Beatles (in particular Ringo), but then essentially becomes a double agent who’s also trying to aid the Fab Four in evading their captors. Ahme is motivated towards this action, it seems, by her crush on Paul, even though in the movie it never goes beyond flirting (probably to avoid upsetting all of Paul’s young female fans in the audience).
# 7 – NORM (A HARD DAY’S NIGHT)
Stern and focused Norm (Norman Rossington) is the Beatles’ manager in the classic A Hard Day’s Night, whose job it is to make sure the lads do what they need to show up where and when they’re supposed to. This proves not always easy, since the four all still very much have a youthful rebellious streak. Norm in particular has an ongoing conflict with John Lennon, who constantly pranks and antagonizes him. Still, the movie ends with Norm turning John’s favorite insult (“You’re a swine!”) around on him.
#6 – CLANG (HELP!)
Clang (played by Leo McKern) is the leader of the Eastern cult which is after the Beatles (in particular Ringo). They can’t perform their ritual sacrifice without the ring on the drummer’s finger, and after discovering it can’t come off (even after numerous, comedic efforts), they shift their focus to making Ringo himself the sacrifice (gasp!). Despite coming off as buffoonish, Clang is actually pretty clever in his attempts to outsmart our heroes, using a barrage of disguises and gadgets (luckily the Fab Four still manage to stay one step ahead).
#5 – THE CHIEF BLUE MEANIE (YELLOW SUBMARINE)
After encountering mostly inept, bumbling villains in Help!, our heroes face a bit more of a challenge in Yellow Submarine from the evil Blue Meanies, particularly their fearsome leader (voiced by Paul Angelis). The Chief Blue Meanie hits all the checkpoints for a classic baddie: an overpowering presence, a deceptively quiet manner at times, and an oh-so-important maniacal laugh. And of course there was his appearance: with his long nose, devilish grin, large spurred boots (mismatched but still both blue), long black ears and clawed hand, our baddie very much resembles an Sixties underground comix take on a classic Disney character.
#4 & 3 – FOOT AND ALGERNON (HELP!)
Just what would a Sixties action/adventure/comedy be without a mad scientist bent on world domination? After originally trying to aid the Beatles with getting the ring off Ringo’s finger, Foot (Victor Spinetti) instead turns on them after surmising that the ring is his ticket to ruling the world. Or as his hapless assistant Algernon (Roy Kinnear) puts it: “He’s out to rule the world, if only he could get a government grant.” (The two actors would reunite twenty years later to appear in the Mike + the Mechanics video “All I Need is a Miracle”).
#2 – JEREMY HILLARY BOOB (YELLOW SUBMARINE)
Travelling through a land seemingly comprised of quite literally nothing, the Beatles encounter Jeremy (voiced by Dick Emery), a minute creature with the body of a small furry animal and the face of a sad clown. Talking mostly in rhyme, Jeremy is a super-intellectual (“he’s so smart, he doesn’t even know what he knows”) who still hungers for more knowledge. Trying to figure out the best way to describe their new friend, the Beatles break into the classic song “Nowhere Man” (although John Lennon originally wrote it about himself, it’s safe to say that many people now identify the song with this character).
#1 – PAUL’S GRANDFATHER (A HARD DAY’S NIGHT)
“Pardon me for asking, but who’s that little old man?” is the first line of dialogue spoken in the first Beatles movie. Paul provides the answer: “That’s my grandfather.” Paul – and by extension, the rest of the group and their entourage – is stuck babysitting the old man (played by Wilfrid Brambell), which proves surprisingly difficult: the old man disappears frequently, announces his engagement to a girl who looks around twenty-two (Paul: “That’s what you think, Gramps!”), antagonizes Ringo into wandering off himself (despite the drummer’s responsibility to the group), and even manages to escape from handcuffs in time to crash the Beatles’ on stage performance during a live TV broadcast.
Top 10 Non-Beatle Characters In Beatles Movies article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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