The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash ★★★

A Soft-Hearted Parody

How cutting can a parody be if it features one of the people it's ostensibly parodying? Oh, that isn't to say that I believe all parody has to be cutting; honestly, I can see what Chuck Jones meant when he said that the best thing to parody is things you love--failing that, the self-parodyingly bad. On the other hand, I think there's such thing as being too close to your subject. The next year, George Harrison would finance Life of Brian because he wanted to see it. So yeah. It's not even just that he's in this. It's that he was an extremely important part of Eric Idle's life at this time. I'm not sure this harmed the movie, exactly, but you ought to be aware that it's possible. Another problem in my opinion is that you ought to have something to say, and I'm not entirely sure it did other than "wow, the Beatles were popular, weren't they?" And I think we knew that before we saw the parody, especially given that it was made in 1978, when anyone old enough to watch it was old enough to remember Beatlemania.

The Pre-Fab Four are Dirk (Idle), Nasty (Neil Innes), Stig (Ricky Fataar), and Barry (John Halsey). They were from Rutland, the smallest county in England. They formed a band. They went to Hamburg. They were discovered by "Leggy" Mountbatten (Terence Bayler), who didn't much care for music but did like young men in tight trousers. He promoted them, and they became a hit in the UK. They were turned down in the US by record producer Brian Thigh (Dan Aykroyd), but eventually became huge hits in the US as well. They made a few films, two wildly successful and two less so. They were pursued by lots of girls and did indeed eventually all get married. They started an organization that was intended to finance new artists but basically hemorrhaged cash. They stopped touring and fought a lot. They controversially drank lots of tea. They split up and never performed together again.

So yeah, like the Beatles quite a bit. While Mick Jagger gets interviewed, Bianca plays one of the wives, and Ron Wood plays a Hells Angel--and George Harrison plays an interviewer--the word "Beatle" is never spoken. In this universe, there were never Beatles. The Rutles fit every point in their careers, including the ridiculous and embarrassing ones. (Ringo, it is said, is not so fond of those bits.) You pretty well have to do that in this sort of thing. If the real version exists, there's no place for the parody version; they fit the same part of the story. One rather then wonders what real-world George Harrison was doing in this universe and if Life of Brian ever got made. Which I suppose is one of the other problems with having George Harrison so intimately involved in the whole thing, because I'm not entirely sure I'd have considered it anyway.

There's also clear indication of how much time Eric Idle was spending with Lorne Michaels and company; various characters are played by such notables as Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and Michaels himself. Not to mention future Senator and then extremely young-looking man Al Franken and his long-time writing partner Tom Davis. There's also fellow former Python Michael Palin, but the various Pythons have been joining one another's projects pretty much since Monty Python broke up. Paul Simon is in it, too, and that gets both the music thing and the Lorne Michaels thing, given how often Paul Simon was on Saturday Night Live. In fact, parts of this seem to be done for the express purpose of seeing how many celebrities they can get in on it, both interviewed about what they think of the Rutles and as actual figures in the Rutles universe.

This is a trifle, really. It's made-for-TV, too, which probably explains why it's only about an hour long. I don't list myself as having seen this before, because I don't remember ever having seen the whole thing together, just bits and pieces. But still, it's a movie worth seeing once if you really care about either the Beatles or Eric Idle, I guess, though I don't think it's worth rewatching. The soundtrack may well be worth it more. It's written by Neil Innes, possibly best known as Sir Robin's minstrel. He wrote a bunch of songs in the vague style of various eras of the Beatles, one so close that John Lennon is said to have warned him to be careful of a copyright infringement suit. He didn't do the kind of exhaustive work I'm sure Weird Al generally does, where he studies every note until he can get it exactly right. Neil Innes just knew the Beatles' music well enough already, and the songs are the best evidence of that.