Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (film)

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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sgt peppers lonely hearts club band poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Michael Schultz
Produced by Robert Stigwood
Written by Henry Edwards
Music by
Cinematography Owen Roizman
Edited by Christopher Holmes
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • July 21, 1978 (1978-07-21)
Running time
111 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $13 million[2] to $18 million[3]
Box office $20.4 million

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a 1978 American jukebox musical film directed by Michael Schultz and written by Henry Edwards. The film tells the loosely constructed story of a band as they wrangle with the music industry and battle evil forces bent on stealing their instruments and corrupting their home town of Heartland. The film is presented in a form similar to that of a rock opera with the Beatles' songs providing "dialogue" to carry the story, with only George Burns having spoken lines that act to clarify the plot and provide further narration.

Its soundtrack, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, features new versions of songs originally written and performed by The Beatles. The film draws primarily from two of their albums, 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and 1969's Abbey Road. The film covers all of the songs from the Sgt. Pepper album with the exceptions of "Within You, Without You" and "Lovely Rita", and also includes nearly all of Abbey Road.

The production is somewhat adapted from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, a 1974 off-Broadway production[4] directed by Tom O'Horgan.[5]


The film was produced by Robert Stigwood, founder of RSO Records, who had earlier produced Saturday Night Fever. RSO Records also released the soundtrack to the film Grease in 1978, which had Barry Gibb producing and Peter Frampton playing lead guitar on the title track. In 1976, the Bee Gees had recorded three Beatles cover songs "Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight", "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" and "Sun King" for the musical documentary All This and World War II.

Beatles producer George Martin served as musical director, conductor, arranger and producer of the film's soundtrack album.


Feature performers[edit]

  • The Bee Gees, Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb, whose music had been integral to Saturday Night Fever (released by this film's international distributor, Paramount Pictures), play Mark, David and Bob Henderson, members of the re-formed Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
  • Peter Frampton, whose album Frampton Comes Alive! was the biggest-selling live album ever at the time, plays Billy Shears, leader of the re-formed band and grandson of the original Sgt. Pepper character.
  • Steve Martin's A Wild and Crazy Guy was released the same year as the film, reaching number two on the music-dominated Billboard 200 album charts.[6] His performance as Dr. Maxwell Edison, singing "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", foreshadows his zany dentist role in Little Shop of Horrors.

The cast also features:

Special guests[edit]

Additionally, the film becomes a time capsule of late 1970s pop culture with the last scene in which the cast is joined by "Our Guests at Heartland" to sing the reprise of the title track while standing in a formation imitating the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album cover. The scene was filmed at MGM Studios on December 16, 1977; indeed, according to co-star Carel Struycken (Mustard's henchman, "Brute"), Sgt. Pepper was the last film to be made at MGM under that studio's then existing management.

The "guests" were:


The film began as a 1974 live Broadway show[7] called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, which was produced by The Robert Stigwood Organization.[8] Stigwood had purchased the rights to use 29 Beatles songs for the play and was determined to do something with them, so he brought the songs to Henry Edwards to write a script.[9] Edwards had never written a script for a film, but had impressed Stigwood with musical analysis he'd written for The New York Times.[9] "I spread the songs out on my apartment floor and went to work," said Edwards.[9] "Mr Stigwood wanted a concept. I told him I'd like to do a big MGM-like musical. We'd synthesize forms and end up with an MGM musical but with the music of today."

With a script in place, the cast was assembled. In the spring of 1977, Frampton, The Bee Gees, and Martin met to begin work on the soundtrack.[10] Filming started in October 1977 on the backlot of MGM Studios in Culver City, where the set of Heartland, USA was built. Interiors were filmed at Universal City Studios.

Critical reaction[edit]

Upon release, the film received scathingly negative reviews, with critics taking issue with its thin plot and incomprehensibility. The film has however been praised for its musical renditions of classic Beatles songs, and has since gained a cult following. As of September 1, 2014, review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes reports that 15% of 20 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 2.9 out of 10.[11]

According to movie historian Leonard Maltin, the picture "...ranges from tolerable to embarrassing and just doesn't work. As for the Bee Gees' acting talents, if you can't say something nice..."

Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that the film's "musical numbers are strung together so mindlessly that the movie has the feel of an interminable variety show"; while it may have been "conceived in a spirit of merriment, ... watching it feels like playing shuffleboard at the absolute insistence of a bossy shipboard social director. When whimsy gets to be this overbearing, it simply isn't whimsy any more." She complimented Martin on his "completely unhinged rendition of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," but pointed out that his scene is a "reminder that the film is otherwise humorless."[12]

Newsweek‍ '​s David Ansen called Sgt. Pepper "a film with a dangerous resemblance to wallpaper."[13]

Rolling Stone writer Paul Nelson shredded virtually every aspect of the production, from stars Frampton (of whom he wrote had "Absolutely no future in Hollywood") to director Schultz ("Would seem to need direction merely to find the set, let alone the camera") to the soundtrack album ("The album proves conclusively that you can't go home again in 1978. Or, if you do, you'd better be aware of who's taken over the neighborhood.").[14]

Perry Seibert of Allmovie called the film "quite possibly the silliest movie ever conceived," with a "handful of high camp moments" featuring Martin, Burns; Earth, Wind & Fire; Aerosmith, and Billy Preston who "somehow transcend the jaw-dropping inanity that poisons the rest of the cast."[15]

The Intelligencer‍ '​s Lou Gaul called the film "A sort of modern Fantasia for today's teens."[16] The Valley Independent's Ron Paglia called it "Good, campy fun," citing Steve Martin's performance as "a high point," and the celebrity filled finale as "something special" before concluding "there's much to enjoy."[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (U)". British Board of Film Classification. August 24, 1978. Retrieved August 16, 2015. 
  2. ^ 'Sgt. Pepper': Marching to Schultz's Beat: 'Sgt. Pepper' and Schultz Come Together Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 23 July 1978: v23.
  3. ^ Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) – Box office
  4. ^ "The Theater: Contagious Vulgarity". Time. December 2, 1974. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  5. ^ According to IMDb, one of the credits for the film is "Stage production conceived and adapted by Tom O'Horgan."
  6. ^ – Biography: Steve Martin
  7. ^ Stigwood, Robert (1978). The Official Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Scrapbook. Pocket Books. p. 6. ISBN 0-671-79038-2. 
  8. ^ "RCA & Col Will Share Show Album". Billboard. November 9, 1974. 
  9. ^ a b c "Beatles Tunes Star in New Film". The Capital. January 24, 1978. 
  10. ^ Stigwood, Robert (1978). The Official Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Scrapbook. Pocket Books. p. 9. ISBN 0-671-79038-2. 
  11. ^, "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)". Accessed September 1, 2014.
  12. ^ Janet Maslin's review of the film from The New York Times
  13. ^ a b Paglia, Ron (August 30, 1978). "'Pepper' fun even without Beatles". The Valley Independent. 
  14. ^ Nelson, Paul (October 5, 1978). "'Sgt. Pepper' gets busted". Rolling Stone. 
  15. ^ allmovie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band – Review
  16. ^ Gaul, Lou. "Sgt. Pepper's a 'Fantasia' for teens". The Intelligencer. 

External links[edit]