Perhaps the most intriguing of today’s Blu-ray releases is Magical Mystery Tour, the Beatles’ 1967 television film that was famously roasted by critics, which cemented its reputation as some sort of epic folly by the lads from Liverpool. But here’s what’s interesting about watching Magical Mystery Tour now, with that common wisdom in mind: contrary to popular opinion, it’s kind of great. This sort of thing happens all the time: imperfect, odd, or merely unconventional films are released and get labeled as some sort of flop, and the reputation sticks. But some films haven’t earned their bad rep, and after the jump, we’ll take a look at Magical Mystery Tour and nine other movies that are better than you’ve heard.
Magical Mystery Tour
Mystery Tour came at a moment when the Beatles really needed a home run: they were following one of their biggest successes, the earth-shifting release of Sgt. Pepper the previous summer, but needed to show a strong sense of forward momentum after the unexpected death of manager Brian Epstein that August. Their idea was to make their own film for television, which they would star in, write (inasmuch as a script was “written”), and direct. The homemade effort premiered on the BBC the day after Christmas, and the critics tore it to pieces. That reaction made it something of a rarity in the United States, where it wasn’t widely seen until syndicated television airings in the 1980s and an eventual home video release. When you watch it today, there’s no question that it meanders quite a bit, and when it comes to comedy, the boys (more specifically Paul, who’s rumored to have done most of the directing) are no Richard Lester. But it’s got a loose intimacy and freewheeling energy, and as with most musicals, most of the maligned narrative stuff is just filler between the musical numbers, which are marvelous: the evocative “Fool on the Hill,” the trippy “Blue Jay Way,” the surreal “I Am the Walrus.” (They’re especially great when experienced via the Blu-ray’s robust DTS HD-Master Audio mix.) And there’s something wonderfully gonzo about John’s grinning, over-the-top performance — he’s either fully committed to this silliness, or he’s parodying it as broadly as he can. Bonus: Look for all the eventual “Paul is Dead” clues (black carnation!).