There may be only one way left to bring peace to all mankind: have the Beatles agree to sing together again. It's worth a try, but the chances of its happening are lessened by tonight's telecast of the ABC movie "Birth of the Beatles," a morbid and insulting little romp at 8 on Channel 7.
Dick Clark, who exploited memories of "Elvis" into a TV movie last season, also produced this film, which a prologue claims is "based on factual accounts." Whose factual account? Pete Best's factual accounts. Pete was a Beatle, too, until the boys excommunmicated him before their U.S. tour, replacing him eith Ringo Starr on drums.
In fact the movie is Pete's Revenge, since none of the real Beatles cooperated in the production (instead, they threatened it with legal action). Thus they are portrayed more or less as a pack of loutish ingrates. It is never suggested that they ever got a kick out of making music together, only that they were consumed with the notion of success and getting "to the very top."
According to the L.A. Ethic, worship of success is such a virtue that it negates all character flaws, so writers John Kurland and Jacob Eastman may not have realized how unattractive and selfish they were making the Beatles appear. John Lemmon is particular comes off as a swinish bully, and he is played in a foppish, simpering manner by the pasty-faced Stephen Mackenna, who looks to be about 40.
Dolly Parton could have played the Beatles better all by herself than the four joyless nobodies cast in the roles here, and it doesn't help that the script's method of depicting beguiling rambunctiousness is to have them repeatedly pour food all over one another.
When it comes time to sack Best, the only reason given is that offered by Lennon: "Pete's not a Beatle; he's too conventional." There had to be more to it than that.
Most of the dramatic conflicts saunter in out of left field; the only touching element is provided by Brian Jameson as Brian Epstein, the Beatles' first manager. He is depicted as a guilt-ridden homosexual who bets his all on the hunch that these "cheeky" lads will take the world by storm. A speech the Lennon character gives him about all forms of "loving" being equal is, however, strictly from sapsville.
Beatle songs are dubbed in by a group called "Rain" -- not what you'd call an incrediable simulation, but adequate. Besides, all interesting Beatles music came after the period depicted in the film, which concludes with their appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Clark has even done some electronic grave-robbing and spliced a tape of Sullivan himself into the film.
Director Richard Marquand does what he can, and there are a few cute little meaningless touches -- like having the boys rest, early in the film, on a gravestone inscribed "Rigby," and go to an audition on a street marked "Penny Lane." And Alan Hume's cinematography of Liverpool exteriors is crisp and handsome.
The kindest assessment to be made of the film, though is that it is a pointless, memory-sullying exercise that will be forgotten even more quickly than Pete Best was. I believe in yesterday . . .
Say, isn't that Hef, playing backgammon by the pool? And isn't that Hef, putting on an Indian headdress? And shiver our timbers if that isn't Hef, trying to disco dance in his red silk pajamas. He may not have banished the word "shame" from the world's vocabulary, but he obviously has expunged it from his own. Poor old clown.
The objectionable thing about ABC's "Playboy Roller-Disco Pajama Party," at 10 tonight on Channel 7, has nothing to do with "t" or "a." No no no. The many generous views of young ladies (always referred to as "girls") swimming, skating and dancing about in bikinis and lingerie amount simply to a tease-and-tickle update on Ziegfeld.
They also prove that the Beach Boys were anything but in error about "California Girls."
But popping up everywhere is this pathetic case, Hugh M. Hefner, executive producer of the special and panderer to millions -- a man who will apparently stop at nothing to support the illusion that he is a living legend. "Hugh Hefner invites you to . . ." are the first words heard on the program, and the last picture finds Hef peeking out from one ear of his corportation's black-tie bunny logo.
Hef appears in virtually every scene and interrupts even the hour's fleshy girlie reveries; the man is a walking cold shower. "Welcome to Hef's place," says host Richard Dawson. "When Hef throws a party . . ." "Hef will throw a party for anything . . ." "There's a side to Hef a lot of people don't know . . ." Be prepared, and Hef always is . . ." El Jefe himself didn't demand this much homage.
Camera pans to Hef at tennis match. Hef leads line of roller skaters. Hef watches the Village People. Hef turns up, in black silk pajamas, at photo session. Perhaps Hef is trying to offer hope to the men of America -- that no matter how seedy, unsavory and old you may be, you can always get yourself a beautiful chickadee -- provided you have 40 million dollars and hire sycophants by the busload.
Hef now turns up, every month, in the pages of Playboy. It's as if we were to learn that Alfred E. Neuman is the publisher of Mad and the whole thing has been an ego trip, except that Alfred has a sense of self-mockery Hefner woefully lacks.
A few other pseudo-celebrities get their kissers on camera, when Hef isn't there himself, puffing away on that ridiculous pipe. We're talking big stars like Robert Culp, Marjoe Gortner and Regis Philbin. There are also two shots of a young woman who greatly resembles Patty Hearst. Hey like wow.
The Village People, who could brighten any party, almost to the blinding point as a matter of fact, redeem the hour near its end with their latest riotuous masterpiece, "Ready for the '80s," but it's hard to see them because there are so many other folks trying to force their way into the picture. Obviously we are going to leave the Me Decade only to enter the Look-at-Me-Decade.
Just so we don't have to look at Hef.