Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a jukebox musical from 1978, which attempted to update Beatles songs with covers by more recent musical stars. Unfortunately, they didn’t cast very many actual actors. Or actually write much of a script, for that matter. And they cast Peter Frampton and the Bee-Gees as the lead characters. It isn’t good.
Donald Pleasence may have claimed that Pumaman was the worst film he ever did, but I have to assume that Sgt. Pepper’s was a close second. The movie is more of a visual companion to the star-studded soundtrack than it is any kind of narrative film. That said, most of the covers are more-or-less acceptable, and some are even pretty good. Given that was the primary purpose of the movie, I suppose it was a success on some level. However, as a film, it is absolute nonsense. Rock operas tell a story through the lyrics and music over the course of an album, and can be adapted to film pretty well. Both famous rock operas by The Who were adapted into cult favorite films, for example (Quadrophenia and Tommy). However, those stories weren’t just “best of” collections of songs by The Who: they were deliberately crafted to tell a story. Assembling unrelated songs in order to tell a story can be done for sure, but there has to be thought put into the arrangement (y’know, like a mix tape). In Sgt. Pepper’s case, it seemed like they just wanted to feature hits rather than tell a story. The result is a feature-length, confused music video for an album of Beatles covers. It isn’t easy or interesting to watch in general.
It is difficult to criticize anything else about the movie, because there is hardly any dialogue or acting to speak of. What writing there is (the plot) is just as incoherent as you can imagine. There is a quest to retrieve lost instruments, a hot air balloon action scene, and one of the most amazing/horrible unexpected endings I have ever seen to a movie. After Strawberry Fields (Peter Frampton’s love interest) is killed, a funeral scene takes place over the songs “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry that Weight”, the later as they carry the casket away. After the funeral, Peter Frampton’s character attempts to kill himself by jumping off of a building. However, just as he leaps, a weather vane in the image of Sgt. Pepper comes alive, freezes time, resurrects his dead girlfriend, resolves all of the dropped plot lines, and ends the film all while singing a passionate rendition of “Get Back”. It is an experience that everyone should sit through.
Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the hilarious incompetence of the ending, I would have thoroughly hated this movie. However, it is hard to argue with a baffling spectacle like that. Otherwise, the movie is just boring. The story isn’t paced well or fleshed out, and there isn’t much tying the scenes together into a narrative. Sgt Pepper’s is so barely a film, I almost feel like it shouldn’t qualify for the IMDb Bottom 100. I can’t help but wonder if that contributed to the fact that it is no longer on the list, getting overtaken by perhaps more competently made films. In any case, it wasn’t a particularly painful experience to sit through despite being boring, and some of the covers were worth sitting through the movie. However, I can only recommend watching this movie for the ending. I have never seen such a nonsensical, improvised resolution to a plot. Then again, I suppose the plot itself was pretty nonsensical and improvised to start with.