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Magical Mystery Tour

Catalog Number
M 430
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Primary Distributor (If not listed, select "OTHER")
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VHS | SP | Slipcase
60 mins (NTSC)
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Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

Additional Information

Additional Information
Magical Mystery Tour is a 52-minute long British television film starring the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr) which originally aired on BBC1 on Boxing Day, 26 December 1967. Upon its initial showing, the film was poorly received by critics and audiences.[1] The film received an American theatrical release in 1974 by New Line Cinema. and in select theatres worldwide in 2012 by Apple Films

The situation is that of a group of people on a British mystery tour (in a 1967 Bedford VAL Panorama coach), focusing mostly on Mr Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) and his recently widowed Aunt Jessie (Jessie Robins). Other group members on the bus include the tour director, Jolly Jimmy Johnson (Derek Royle), the tour hostess, Miss Wendy Winters (Mandy Weet), the conductor, Buster Bloodvessel (Ivor Cutler), and the other Beatles.

During the course of the tour, "strange things begin to happen" at the whim of "four or five magicians", four of whom are played by the Beatles themselves and the fifth by long-time road manager Mal Evans.

During the journey, Ringo and his Aunt Jessie argue continually. During the tour, Aunt Jessie begins to have daydreams of falling in love with Buster Bloodvessel, who displays increasingly eccentric and disturbing behaviour. The tour involves several strange activities, such as an impromptu race in which each tour group member employs a different mode of transportation (some run, a few jump into cars, a group of people have a long bike they pedal, while Ringo ends up beating them all with the bus). There is a strange scene where the group walks through what appears to be a British Army recruitment office and are greeted by the army drill sergeant (Victor Spinetti) (Paul appears briefly as "Major McCartney", on whose desk rests a sign reading "I WAS you"). The sergeant, shouting incomprehensibly, appears to instruct the assembled onlookers on how to attack a stuffed cow.

The entire tour group also crawls into a tiny tent in a field, inside which is a projection theatre. A scene in a restaurant shows a waiter repeatedly shoveling cooked pasta onto the table in front of Aunt Jessie, whilst arriving guests step out from a lift and walk across the dining tables. The film continues with the men of the tour group watching a strip show (Jan Carson of the Raymond Revuebar). The film ends with the Beatles dressed in white tuxedos, highlighting a glamourous old-style dance crowd scene, accompanied by "Your Mother Should Know".

The film is punctuated by musical interludes, which include the Beatles performing "I Am the Walrus" wearing animal masks, George Harrison singing "Blue Jay Way" while waiting on Blue Jay Way Road and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band performing Vivian Stanshall and Neil Innes's "Death Cab For Cutie" sung by Stanshall.

The British public's reaction to the film was scathing. The film initially aired in the United Kingdom as a made-for-television film on BBC1. George Martin, the band's producer, explained: “When it came out originally on British television, it was a colour film shown in black and white, because they didn’t have colour on BBC1 in those days. It looked awful and was a disaster."[11] The film was shown in colour on BBC2 a few days later, but there were only about 200,000 colour TV receivers in the UK at the time.[12]

Hunter Davies, the band's biographer, said: "It was the first time in memory that an artist felt obliged to make a public apology for his work."[13] Paul McCartney later spoke to the press, saying: "We don't say it was a good film. It was our first attempt. If we goofed, then we goofed. It was a challenge and it didn't come off. We'll know better next time."[14] McCartney also said, "I mean, you couldn’t call the Queen’s speech a gas, either, could you?".[15] However, with the passage of time, McCartney changed his view of the production, saying: "Looking back on it, I thought it was all right. I think we were quite pleased with it." He also noted in The Beatles Anthology DVD that the film features the band's only video performance of "I Am the Walrus".

In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe notes the similarity between this film and the exploits of Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters.

In 1978 the film was parodied by The Rutles in their Tragical History Tour, "a self-indulgent TV movie about four Oxford history professors on a tour around Rutland tea-shops."

The poor critical reaction to the telecast soured American television networks from acquiring rights to the film, while its one-hour running length made it commercially unviable for theatrical release.[16]

In his Diaries 1969 - 1979: The Python Years, Michael Palin reveals that the Monty Python team considered showing the film as a curtain-raiser to their 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They received permission from all four Beatles to view the film, and did so at Apple on 10 January 1975. Although the Pythons were interested, the idea did not go ahead.[17]

The film had its first U.S. presentation in 1968 at the Fillmore East in New York City, Sunday, August 11, shown at 8:00 and 10:00 PM, as part of a fundraiser for the Liberation News Service. However, it was not seen in commercial theatres in the US until 1974, when New Line Cinema acquired the rights for limited theatrical and non-theatrical distribution.[2] It first played on American television in the 1987 as part of a syndicated release.

After the success of the Sgt. Peppers LP, the Beatles decided to hire a psychedelic bus, take a trip into the English countryside, and film the results, no matter how bizarre or boring. With a motley cast of characters, the group basically tramps about the landscape with occasional music cues to give the film a bit of flow. Though Magical Mystery Tour is an interesting document of the Beatles psychedelic period, its cinematic function is negligible.

Release Date: July 6, 1976 by New Line Cinema

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