Local Saturday Night Horror Shows

The elder statesmen of the Boomer generation have memories of watching some pretty scary flicks in theaters in the 50’s. That decade is considered by many to be the penultimate era of the horror movie. A website (now gone) site listed 72 movies of the genre that were produced between 1950 and 1959.

So what happened to all of those flicks, many of which were shot on a shoestring budget? And, for that matter, what about all of those Lon Chaney (Jr. and Sr., Warren! R.I.P.), Bela Lugosi, and Boris Karloff classics from the 30’s and beyond? Would they be doomed to disappearance, as has been the case of thousands of films whose very material existence disintegrated?

Not a chance. Local TV stations saved the horror movie.

In the 60’s (like today), days lasted 24 hours. However, the network that a local station was affiliated with would provide a limited amount of programming. That meant that a station would have to fill in the dead air time with SOMETHING. After all, if you ever broadcast static when viewers were in the mood to watch TV, you might permanently lose an audience.

Weeknights of the 60’s and early 70’s had Johnny Carson, Joey Bishop, and Dick Cavett to fill the 10:30 (11:30 to you east and west coasters) to signoff slots. But on Saturday nights, before NBC’s groundbreaking SNL, they were on their own.

Well, time for a reality check. Who watches TV on Saturday nights late? Dudes who don’t have dates, and kids. After all, our WWII generation parents would turn in by 10:00. So what would appeal to that demographic (and meet strict FCC regulations, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more)?

Ergo, the profligation of Saturday night horror movie-fests on our local stations.

Dimension 16 began shortly after UHF station KUHI out of Joplin, Mo. began broadcasting. UHF stations of the 50’s got a royal screwing, thanks to FCC regs of the 50’s, but by the next decade, they had a shot at real profits. New TV’s were being built with the ability to receive the channels above thirteen. Joplin affiliate KUHI began broadcasting in September, 1967. The brand new station (unviewable by thousands with 50’s era TV’s) was looking for programming to fill vast hours, and launched Dimension 16 as a 10:30 Saturday night offering.

The show would feature a moderator who would introduce the black and white horror movie and pop back in at commercial breaks to throw a few yuks at the audience before the next batch of local business’s ads would air while viewers went to the can or grabbed another beer.

The premise was repeated at TV stations all over the nation, and forgettable B movies like The Leech Woman, Tarantula, and Dead Man’s Eyes were played over and over to eager audiences. Of course, genuine classics like Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Werewolf also got lots of airplay.

Ft. Smith, Arkansas later had Boo! Theater, featuring Dr. Zechariah X. Boo and his sidekick, Melvin the Dummy Mummy.

The Saturday night horror flick show has passed, as have so many other things we grew up with and assumed would always exist, Fortunately, the movies we watched have been preserved. Sadly, many Hollywood classics have physically vanished because their master films have disintegrated. But thanks to the demand for horror movies by local stations in the 60’s, The Leech Woman survives!


The power of television is immense. When you see a collie, more particularly a rough collie with brown hair, the name “Lassie” immediately enters into your mind.

Lassie, the literary dog, originated with British author Eric Knight in a short story published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938. The story was a hit, and it led to a novel written two years later by Knight called Lassie Come Home. The book was likewise greatly successful, and in 1943, the movie Lassie Come Home was released, starring Roddy McDowell. Elizabeth Taylor was also in the film. Once again, it was a smash. People couldn’t get enough of Lassie.

A radio series followed in 1947 that ran until 1950. Soon after, it was time to put Lassie on television.

In 1954, Lassie the television series premiered. It starred a male dog named Pal. Pal was also the star of the original Lassie movie of twelve years earlier. As every Lassie fan already knows, the female Lassie has always been played by larger male dogs, mainly because that way they don’t have to go through so many child stars. More on that later.

Poster for Lassie Come Home, 1943

Anyhow, Pal played Lassie in the first two episodes of the series. Then he stepped aside for one of his descendants. And every Lassie afterwards on television was a descendant of Pal. by the way, Pal lived to the ripe old dog age of eighteen.

So the dog situation was handled. But those pesky child stars kept growing up.

So for the first four seasons, we had Jeff Miller. At the beginning of the fourth season, Timmy made his appearance as a runaway from a family of crippled and aged members. The Millers (Lassie’s owners) suggest to a social worker that Timmy spend the summer on the farm for its healthy influence. And since it was the 50’s, the social worker thought that was a great idea.

When Timmy became a teenager in 1964, the whole child actor scenario was abandoned in favor of adult companions. Characters from the series hung around as the Millers hit the road, so viewers wouldn’t get too confused.

Of course, the public didn’t have any problems keeping up, because the true star of the series was Lassie her-himself. The humans were simply add-ons to a dog’s TV show.

Of course, Lassie’s ratings weren’t hurt by the fact that two of its earlier actresses were played by Cloris Leachman and June Lockhart in all their 1950’s beauty.

Lassie the show hung around on the CBS schedule until 1971. It survived an additional two years in syndication. It was a great 17-year run for a show that every Baby Boomer can remember vividly.

Oh, one last thing. Lassie never saved Timmy from falling into a well. Though the heroic pooch did come to the rescue of at least two hapless humanoids who encountered that fate, Timmy was fortunate enough to avoid that particular crisis.

Jean Shepherd

Boomers in the northeast US had lots of cool things growing up that those of us in the heartland didn’t have access to. For example, they got to visit Palisades Park, while the rest of us had to settle for dreaming about it. And they also got to listen to Jean Shepherd on WOR out of New York. While the station’s airwaves carried hundreds of miles, they didn’t reach northeast Oklahoma.

That’s a shame. I missed out on one of the greatest storytellers in history.

Jean was born in 1921 and heard the calling of the radio business. He obtained an amateur radio license when he was sixteen, and served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in WWII. After the war, he landed his first radio gig for WSAI in Cincinnati.

He worked for various stations and even did a little television until 1956, when he went to work for WOR with a late night show. It would remain his home (with a little time off for bad behavior) until 1977.

Shep, as he was called, filled dead air time for a few months with his rambling commercial-free narratives. He quickly attracted a significant audience. WOR informed him that they would be replacing him with commercial content. He offered to run an ad. He did so, for Sweetheart soap. Unfortunately, the company was not a sponsor.

Miffed, WOR fired him on the spot. Then came the deluge of angry mail and phone calls from his fans. Sweetheart soap even offered to sponsor him, and he was rehired. The irreverent Shep would frequently make fun of the ads of his sponsors in the background while they ran, but they didn’t seem to mind.

Shep’s stories featured many remembrances of people who may or may not have actually existed, although he always claimed they did. Regardless, the stories were amazing to listen to. Shep would ramble on for 45 minutes or so with no script. But there was no hesitation as if he was trying to think of something to say.

Shep was a great leg-puller. He took issue with the fact that best-seller lists were formulated by requests for books at bookstores, rather than actual sales.

So Shep created a book-that-never-was-but-was. It began by his urging his listeners to go into bookstores and requesting I, Libertine, by acclaimed (and also made up) British author Frederick R. Ewing. Sure enough, the book dealers began requesting copies of the non-book from Publisher’s Weekly. The New York Times Book Review included it on their newly published works list. One college student wrote a thesis in the form of a review of the book — and got a B+.

I Libertine, a saucy tale

Shepherd himself wrote “Friends would call to tell me that they’d met people at cocktail parties who claimed to have read it. One of the professors at Rutgers casually mentioned the book at a Sunday literary meeting and somebody present said he’d just finished it. When pressed, he was evasive about the plot.” And best of all, Boston’s Legion of Decency banned the allegedly bawdy non-work.

There was only one thing to do, publish the book! So publisher Ian Ballantine, novelist Theodore Sturgeon and Shepherd met for lunch, and Ballantine hired Sturgeon to write the novel based on Shepherd’s outline.

It gets weirder. Sturgeon fell asleep on the Ballentine’s couch, and Ian’s wife Betty wrote the final chapter! I, Libertine was published simultaneously in paperback and hardcopy. Shep himself posed for the back-cover photo of Ewing.

Shep was a prolific writer. He actually penned many short stories that were collected into books. One was In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. It featured a story about a kid who REALLY, REALLY wanted a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. It was turned into a 1983 movie that was a smash hit. A Christmas Story holds a very respectable 8.0 rating at IMDB.com, which means that over 36,000 voters thought it was pretty stinkin’ good.

James Bond

James Bond staring down that gun barrel

It all began in 1936. That year, a book was published called Birds of the West Indies. Novelist Ian Fleming, living in Jamaica, was a birder himself, and he was impressed with the volume. He was also impressed with the name of the book’s author: James Bond.

Fleming wrote a novel called Casino Royale in 1953, and gave the book’s hero the name of the author of the birding book. In an interview with Reader’s Digest, he explained:

“I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, and ‘James Bond’ was much better than something more interesting, like ‘Peregrine Carruthers.’ Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure — an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department.”

Bond and his Aston-Martin

Gotta agree with him there. Imagine hearing over and over again throughout 20+ films “Carruthers. Peregrine Carruthers.”

The Bond novels were a hit. I was particularly and personally impressed that my own mother was a fan. She really wasn’t so much into the subsequent film series, but she read many a Fleming Bond novel.

The film series was born when Fleming signed an agreement with Britain-based EON Productions for the film rights to all Bond novels (except Casino Royale, though that novel’s rights were also gained later). In 1962, the first film came out: Dr. No.

The star of the film was a Scottish actor by the name of Sean Connery. He had distinguished himself with roles in Darby O’Gill and the Little People and The Longest Day. His handling of the Bond character could either make or break the franchise plans that EON had in mind.

They needn’t have worried. Connery chose to become Ian Fleming himself, a sophisticated, educated, womanizing, hard-drinking-and-smoking ex-naval commander.

His portrayal was just the ticket. Dr. No grossed over $59,000,000. That was a nice return on a one million dollar investment. James Bond, the cinematic series, was successfully launched. This was big. How long could the racehorse run? Ten years? TWENTY?

All of the Bonds

Forty-four years later, I am still reeling from the audio and visual onslaught that nearly overwhelmed my senses that was Quantum of Solace. The movie was, in a one-word review, excellent. Did they REALLY trash an Aston-Martin worth a quarter of a million dollars?

The Bond franchise has proven to be the most successful and longest running in Hollywood history. All of the films, even the ones that you might never want to see again, were fabulously profitable. Ian Fleming wrote twelve novels and three short stories, all of which have been covered as films. He dropped dead as a hard-drinking, smoking womanizer should, suddenly of a heart attack, at age 56 in 1964. The lack of literary backup for the film scripts hasn’t hurt things one bit.

To Boomers, 007 will always be Sean Connery. Roger Moore had to endure much criticism from diehard Bond fans when it became obvious that he wouldn’t be a one-film wonder like George Lazenby. That seems trite now, when we are used to new a new actor every few years. But Connery’s appeal as THE Bond was demonstrated with 1983’s Never Say Never Again, which portrayed 007 as a balding, out-of-shape fellow who is reluctantly dragged out of retirement and back into action. The movie, of course, made a mint.

So every time a new Bond film is produced and carefully edited to maintain that PG-13 rating (something that I appreciate) and proceeds to make triple-figure-millions, remember, Boomers, that it all started when we were kids.

Home Movies

Our Boomer childhoods were quite well recorded when compared with those of our moms and dads. Growing up in the Depression, when you could either eat or take pictures, but not both, ensured that few photographs of our parents as cute kids would exist. And movies were simply unheard of.

But in the boom years after WWII, our parents could afford nice gadgets like they would never have dreamed of owning in their youth. And they were also very proud of their kids. So many of us were immortalized on 8mm film in our childhoods.

My father didn’t have a movie camera. But I had an uncle who had one, and I’m reasonably sure that he shot movies of me. It would be a thrill to see them, but I probably never will.

My wife’s parents had a movie camera as well, and also have movies of her running around as a toddler. She was a real cutie, BTW. 😉

They also have footage of the 1964 Winter Olympics. Cool stuff.

8mm film can trace its origin to 1932. Eastman Kodak released a movie system that used a 25 foot 16mm film roll. The film was exposed, then turned over and exposed again. When processed, it was split lengthwise to produce a 50 foot 8mm movie.

By 1965, the venerable 8mm format received a major overhaul with the development of Kodak’s Super 8 system. The sprocket holes were shrunk, providing 50% more frame size. Plus, Super 8 cameras had a built-in filter that allowed you to use one type of film for both indoor and outdoor movies. Previously, you had to buy daylight- or tungsten-balanced film to get the right colors.

Another innovation of most Super 8 cameras was a light meter. Amateur moviemakers now had a much better chance to create a perfectly-exposed film.

Oh, and Super 8 was now one continuous 8 mm roll of film. No more turning a cartridge over and shooting the other half of your movie.

The mid 60’s to the early 70’s was home movies’ heyday. Super 8 sold like hotcakes, and Boomer kids all over the country were being filmed in massive numbers.

That meant that many of us also grew up with the rest of the home movie equation: a noisy projector and a screen to present the fruition of our fathers’ cinematic efforts.

One of the first things we learned was how HOT that projector bulb would get! We would generally only touch the metal enclosure only ONCE.

And of course, having company over meant getting everything out and forcing them to watch our movies, which we assumed was as much fun for them as it was for us.

Of course, the invention and eventual affordable price of the videotape recorder caused Super 8’s popularity to decline. This is particularly ironic considering that a Kodachrome movie of the 60’s that has been kept in moderate conditions is likely in pristine condition. However, twenty-year-old videotapes are frequently unwatchable due to tape deterioration. If you have videotapes you want preserved, you’d better get them digitized quickly.

8mm and Super 8 moviemaking has made a nice comeback, with vintage cameras in good condition available for reasonable prices on eBay and would-be cinematographers using the still widely obtainable film to make movies that have a lot of charm that digital recording lacks.

However, we kids of the Boomer generation can remember when home movies were cutting-edge technology, and how vacations were frequently accompanied by the familiar whir of a camera recording our fun times.

Elvis Presley, Actor

Poster for Love Me Tender

Colonel Tom Parker had quite a goldmine on his hands. He managed Elvis Presley, the most valuable commodity in the entertainment industry of the mid 1950’s. Of course, even the most manipulative manager couldn’t make his client do anything he didn’t want to, at least not without getting him to sign contracts granting the power to do so. There was money in music, to be sure. But there was more money in movies.

It turned out that Elvis did want to act. And his talents included the ability to do so quite convincingly. And the first films that Parker convinced him to make looked like the best of all possible worlds was being reached. The films were good, the acting was challenging, and the songs that were performed were good stuff.

However, the job satisfaction of his client and the commitment to artistic quality were not very high on Parker’s agenda. So after a promising start, Elvis’s acting career went downhill, quality-wise. Unfortunately for him, it would continue belching smoke until 1969.

Poster for Tickle Me, 1965

The first four movies that Elvis made, beginning in 1956, were Love Me Tender, Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, and King Creole. They were critical and financial successes. Elvis’s musical career didn’t suffer a bit, as the films garnered several hits, including the title tracks, as well as Teddy Bear, Mean Woman Blues, Hard Headed Woman, Trouble, and New Orleans. Elvis himself was happy with his roles, even if not starring.

A comment by producer Hal Wallis, who handled two of the films, would have ominous overtones about where this was all heading: “An Elvis Presley picture is the only sure thing in Hollwood.”

Parker and Wallis hit it off. He was given the job of producing many of the next 27 films that would be churned out on a frequent basis during the 60’s, only a couple of which would be recognized as approaching the quality of these first four. Many of the others called upon to produce the other films were journeymen who were delighted to get the work, or perhaps former greats who were past their prime and looking to make some bucks like the old days. Either way, artistic quality in serious danger of being tossed aside, and usually was.

Parker would delight in the easy revenue from the quickie films, and managed to get Elvis on board with it, even though the King for the most part despised what he was doing.

Elvis’s next film, 1960’s G.I. Blues, typified what was happening. Elvis found himself surrounded by cute babies, cute puppets, and a razor-thin plot. But a return to glory took place with Flaming Star, released that same year. Based on a novel by western storyteller Clint Huffaker, the film tackled racial prejudice head-on in the tale of half-breed Pacer Burton, played by the King.

Elvis and Mary Tyler Moore in Change of Habit

The next bright spot was 1964’s Viva Las Vegas. Co starring Anne-Margaret, it’s a tale about a kid with big ideas by the name of Lucky Jackson who blows into town with the idea of winning the Las Vegas Grand Prix. The cinematography was better than average, and the music worked, too. All in all, a success, as far as critics and Elvis himself were concerned.

What followed was more bad but profitable stuff. In 1969, Elvis made his final film as an actor. Change of Habit paired him with Mary Tyler Moore, ready to move on from her portrayal of Laura Petrie. Despite a shallow plot typical to the Elvis films of the 60’s, there was good chemistry between the King and MTM. Elvis even got to play the type of part he craved, a straight role as an inner-city doctor.

However, with the movie’s release, the era of Elvis the Actor officially ended. He had previously garnered an excellent reaction to his 1968 live comeback special, Elvis, and saw the light. Ironically, he had to buck Parker (something he very seldom did) to get the TV show made his way. Elvis would spend the rest of his post-film career performing live, particularly in Vegas, and releasing albums based on their own merit, rather than as hastily-recorded movie soundtracks.

Unfortunately, the era of Elvis, the Prescription Drug Abuser, was about to begin, which would greatly damage his creativity.

What kind of musical heights could Presley have reached in the 60’s had he been concentrating on music, instead of spending his time filming three- and four-a-year stinkers like Fun In Acapulco, Tickle Me, and Charro!? Sadly, the world will never know. But at least Colonel Parker died a wealthy man.

Drive-In Theaters

1950’s drive-in theater

Circa 1966, nearly every town in America with a population of 5,000 or more had at least one drive-in theater. In bigger cities, it wasn’t unusual to see two or more screens backed up to each other so more films could be shown at once.

Drive-ins were one of the earliest manifestations of the effect that Baby Boomers had on the nation’s economy. After the War, returning soldiers were buying cars and having kids. They were looking for affordable entertainment for their youngsters, and they also loved driving. Drive-ins were a natural result. Thousands were built in the 50’s, and a smaller number followed in the 60’s.

I remember going to Miami, Oklahoma’s drive-in with my parents and absolutely loving it. As hard as I’ve tried, I can’t remember any individual movies we watched, but I know that it was an absolute highlight of my summers, to be watching a movie with both parents and getting to stay up past midnight! Of course, teenagers loved the drive-in for, ah, different reasons ;-).

Probably, the death knell for the drive-in was sounded by enhanced theater sound. That little speaker, while having lots of character, just couldn’t compete with Dolby Digital SurroundSound.

Interestingly, drive-ins that survived the last three decades seem to be well-established and in good shape to stick around. Most offer sound via FM stereo, allowing Boomers to take advantage of those Bose stereo systems in their vehicles. Also, the drive-in experience is catching on with younger generations.

A survivor in my neck of the woods is the 112 Drive-In in Fayetteville, Arkansas. You have to line up at least an hour before sunset on summer Saturday nights to get in. They show double features every weekend, and have the aforementioned FM sound broadcast. And they have the best hamburgers on the planet in their snack bar.

Here’s hoping they resist the overwhelming pressure to sell their valuable land to a car dealership, who would love to use their perfect location. America needs drive-ins.

Brando Sends an Indian Maiden to the Oscars

Sacheen Littlefeather

In 1972, a gritty mobster movie was all the rage. The Godfather, despite its running time of over three hours, was a huge hit all over the nation.

The next year, when the Academy Awards show was televised, there was a lot of buzz in the air about the movie. As it turned out, Cabaret was the big scene-stealer at the Oscars, winning most of the statuettes when running head-to-head against The Godfather. So the team behind the film, as well as ardent fans who were tuned in, were thrilled when the Best Actor award was announced and Marlon Brando’s name was heard.

What happened next caused the audience in attendance, as well as the one tuned in on TV, to gasp.

Instead of Mr. Brando, a young lady wearing a leather outfit decorated in Native American beadwork walked out, carrying a piece of paper. The crowd sat in stunned silence.

The woman stood at the podium and said these words:

Marlon Brando … has asked me to tell you, in a very long speech which I cannot share with you presently—because of time—but I will be glad to share with the press afterward, that he… very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reason for this being… the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry… and on television in movie re-runs, and also the recent happenings at Wounded Knee. I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that… in the future…our hearts and our understanding will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando.

The crowd let out a mixture of applause and as boos. The woman, named Sacheen Little Feather, turned and walked off stage.

John Wayne was backstage, and had to be restrained from storming onto the stage and forcefully removing her.

Little Feather had a longer speech that Brando wanted read, but she was told by Oscar staff backstage that if she did, she would be arrested. She was intimidated by the ridiculous threat, so instead, she spoke the above words.

Brando wasn’t at the ceremony. He was up in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, supporting the American Indian movement as they occupied the small town as a statement of what they had been going through.

Look for a reminiscence about the AIM and what they were up to in a future column.

Brando’s (and Little Feather’s) actions received much criticism, but now, all these years later, opinion seems to have shifted to support. There’s no doubt about it, Amerinds have received some of the most heinous treatment in history. One governmental break that they have caught since then is the ability to run casinos in many areas of the nation.

It must feel good taking money from the ancestors of many who caused their own ancestors so much agony.

Bonnie and Clyde

This was one of those movies of the 60’s that gave us the ratings system.

If I recall correctly, this movie came out with a “M” rating. That meant recommended for mature audiences. That didn’t stop a seven-year-old from getting into the Coleman Theater in Miami, Oklahoma with his older brother.

The movie featured some of the most violent scenes ever seen on the screen to that point. The slow motion machine gun scene at the end still gives me the shivers.

But it was also a pretty darned good movie, as can be evidenced by its imdb.com rating of 8.0.

And we loved repeating its lines and re-enacting its scenes in the school playground at recess. “Dirt in the fuel line. Just blew it away . . .”

If you were a kid in the 60’s who got in to see Bonnie and Clyde, I’ll bet you still remember it vividly.

The Beatles’ Movies

A Hard Day’s Night poster

Let’s face it, the lives of Boomer kids of the 60’s were ruled by four lads from Liverpool that none of us ever hoped to meet in person. Whether it was singing their songs on the way to school, carrying their faces plastered all over our lunchboxes, or buying their 45’s, we personally generated lots of publicity and profits for them and their various business partners.

Those business partners included the English and Hollywood movie industries. There were three successful films which we all have memories of excitedly watching during the Decade of Change.

The first Beatles film to come out was A Hard Day’s Night, released at the very height of Beatlemania in 1964. It was a British film which was presented as a “mockumentary,” a style later copied brilliantly by the Monty Python gang in their depiction of The Rutles. The movie portrayed humorously a couple of days in the life of the Liverpudlians, complete with attempts to escape adoring fans.

The movie is notable for its other actors. Paul’s grandfather is played by Wilfrid Brambell, who was the star of a hit British TV show called Steptoe and Son. It would later inspire the American series Sanford and Son. It also had a brief appearance by an unknown actress named Patty Boyd, who would be Mrs. George Harrison within eighteen months.

Oh, another extra was filmed, a young British lad by the name of Phil Collins.

One of the reasons the film was such a hit is because the boys never took themselves too seriously. That would pretty much be their trademark throughout their existence as a group.

Help! poster

The smash success of their first film made a second one mandatory. This would be Help!, released the next year in 1965. We got to see the Beatles in color as they romped it up.

The plot, such as it was, involved Ringo having a ring stuck on his finger which was used in human sacrifice rites by a Thuggee cult. The remainder of the movie involves the Thugs chasing down Ringo as he desperately tries to get that blasted ring off of his finger before he is offered up to their gods.

The movie involves pubs, the Bahamas, a mean tiger, exploding curling rocks, and a few other oddities. And it was a smash hit.

John Lennon would later say that the boys were doing some of their first experimentation with drugs, smoking lots of marijuana between takes. For better or worse, it added to the frivolity and the lack of self-importance which made the movie fun.

The next film would be a big, stinking bomb. Magical Mystery Tour was a 1967 made-for-TV mess that Paul was ramrodding, to the rest of the boys’ reluctance. Paul’s being the boss here was a factor in the group’s eventual breakdown, as the cohesiveness that was felt when all four agreed on something was replaced by one of them attempting to do the thinking of the rest.

Paul was attempting to capture the spirit of Ken Kesey’s LSD-addled Merry Pranksters as they made their way across the US in 1964 in a psychedelically-painted schoolbus. The movie’s message was heavily bowdlerised for the staid BBC, and thus ended up making little sense. Perhaps a few tabs would have helped. Despite the movie’s failure, the album it inspired was still a hit.

Yellow Submarine poster

In 1968, Yellow Submarine showed us the Beatles in cartoon form. These weren’t the same moptops we saw in the ABC Saturday morning show. No, these were older, wiser, hairier, spacier Beatles who traveled throughout a very weird world resembling, yes, an LSD trip.

The Blue Meanies were threatening life as we know it by turning Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band into statues and draining the world of color. It’s up to the Fab Four to save the day, and they make their way to the underwater home of the frozen band in order to free them and restore color, beauty, and happiness to the cosmos.

Like the earlier animated series, the voices of the Beatles were actually provided by other actors. But the dialog was razor-sharp, and made clever references to the group’s latest music. It proved to be a hit, perhaps, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, best understood with the help of medication. 😉

The group made one last film,1969’s Let It Be, which documented a breakup. It was meant to show the creative forces behind the scenes involved in making an album, instead, it captured everyone in the worst light possible. It was simply bad timing. However, the rooftop concert scene at the end is worth watching.

Thus ended the era of the real-live Beatles at the box office. Later attempts to capture the group’s music and stories have been pretty lame. At presstime Nowhere Boy is enjoying critical popularity with its limited release, perhaps it might buck the trend.

However, we who were lucky enough to experience the 60’s can recall a magical time when we were seeing the Beatles on the silver screen while the group was off somewhere else recording even more timeless, truly great music.