Star Trek: The Original Series – season one (1966-67)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of the original Star Trek TV series. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season one…

Best episode:
Balance of Terror. The debut of the militaristic Romulans in Star Trek is a terrific episode that plays like a submarine movie. The Starship Enterprise stalks a Romulan ship in the Neutral Zone between the two empires’ territories and the story is tense and exciting. There are also subplots and an interesting villain and telling character moments. Superb.

Honorable mentions:
The Naked Time. A fun, early episode that sees the regular crew go a bit loopy after being affected by a virus. It’s well paced and has good stuff for both Sulu (George Takei), who gets some gleeful scenes where he fences topless, and Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who struggles with his human/Vulcanian psychology.
* The Enemy Within. The central concept has become a sci-fi cliché – due to a transporter accident, an evil doppelgänger of Captain Kirk is let loose on the Enterprise – but it’s very well done here. William Shatner hams it up as the evil Kirk and there’s a ticking-clock element to the plot thanks to some crewmen stranded on a desolate planet below.
* Mudd’s Women. It’s not exactly ‘woke’, being a story about a charlatan selling women to miners, but Roger C Carmel is very entertaining as the lead guest character: the flamboyant and verbose Harcourt Fenton Mudd.
* Miri. The first really great episode. (Balance of Terror wasn’t broadcast until after this one.) A set of enigmas is set up – a planet that looks identical to Earth, a society that seems to be stuck in the 1930s, no adults anywhere to be seen – then a plot with a countdown is kicked into gear. There’s good drama along the way and it’s well directed too. The subtext of the story is that, after puberty, people do ‘bad things’.
* The Menagerie (Parts I & II). An ingenious way to save some production budget by reusing footage from Star Trek’s then-unbroadcast pilot episode, The Cage, as a flashback story. The wraparound scenes have mystery and intrigue because Spock is acting so out of character.
* The Conscience of the King. An effective – if thoroughly prediactable – drama about an actor who may be a mass murderer in hiding. There are plenty of Shakespearean parallels and quotations, such as the title.
* Shore Leave. The regular characters spend some time on a planet but start to hallucinate and undergo personality changes. Fun and surreal, if lightweight.
* The Galileo Seven. A superb showcase for both Mr Spock – the show’s most fascinating character – and the actor who played him. The story sees Spock, Dr McCoy (DeForest Kelly), Scotty (James Doohan) and others stranded on a planet with no way of contacting the Enterprise. There’s a monster nearby, deaths within the group, and dissention in the ranks…
* Tomorrow is Yesterday. A fun time-travel story (Star Trek’s first ever) sees the Enterprise end up above 1960s America and encountering an Air Force test pilot. The script has a good sense of humour.
* Space Seed. An entertaining episode about a megomaniac from the 1990s coming out of suspended animation. (The second Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan, is a direct sequel.)
* A Taste of Armageddon. A society is killing its own people as part of a deal with its enemy, rather than the two states launching actual attacks. A decent story about the futility of war.
* This Side of Paradise. A good episode for Spock, who’s pacified by a weird spore and then has a romance. (It’s kind of a druggie/hippie metaphor, I guess.) The only way Kirk can shake him out of his ennui is by provoking an emotional response.
* Errand of Mercy. Kirk and Spock are stranded on a planet under Klingon occupation. Engaging stuff. (This is the Klingons’ first appearance in Star Trek.)
* The City on the Edge of Forever. It’s contrived, and needs a lot of sci-fi set-up, but this is a brilliant time-travel tragedy with a good guest performance from Joan Collins. When a disturbed Dr McCoy is flung back into 20th-century America, Kirk and Spock must give chase. There’s lots of future-men-out-of-water stuff as the two men adapt to a more basic lifestyle, then the tragic ending really packs a punch.

Worst episode:
The Squire of Gothos. It’s become such a cliché in science fiction: a capricious, arrogant, sociopathic god-like figure toys with people because he’s bored. And as well as being boring and irritating, this example gets its history wrong and has a dreadful deus ex machina ending.

Torn Curtain (1966, Alfred Hitchcock)

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An occasional series where I review a randomly selected movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When an American scientist seemingly defects to East Germany, his fiancée follows – leading to them both being trapped behind the Iron Curtain…

Touted at the time of its release as Alfred Hitchcock’s 50th movie (which it was if you discount short films, Elstree Calling and the German-language version of Murder!), Torn Curtain begins with an impressionistic title sequence reminiscent of the James Bond series. Swirling, fiery images play opposite snatched glimpses of characters and incidents while lush music with a ‘full’, orchestral sound tempts us into a world of espionage. 

There had been four Bond pictures by 1965, when Hitchcock began production, but rather than the current vogue for spy films, the inspiration for Torn Curtain actually came from real life. Hitch had been fascinated by the defection to the Soviet Union of the British diplomat Donald Maclean in 1951, and specifically by what that meant for Maclean’s wife and family. Melinda Maclean followed her husband to Moscow about a year later, and Hitchcock wondered how her husband’s choice had affected her emotionally…

The film’s equivalent of Donald Maclean is Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman), an American physicist attending a conference in Norway with his British colleague and fiancée, Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrew). They seem to be deeply in love – our first sighting of them is when they’re cuddled up in bed rather than attending a meal – but Michael soon begins to act oddly. He’s sent obscure radiogram messages, then lies to Sarah that he has to fly to Stockholm. When she learns that his flight is actually heading for East Berlin – in other words, inside communist East Germany – she buys a ticket too and sits a few rows behind him…

It’s typical spy-movie stuff: paranoia and hidden agendas and acrostics and codenames. And it was far from the first time Hitchcock had worked in the genre; he’d dabbled with this kind of material on and off for 30 years. In fact, for the roles of Michael and Sarah, he’d initially wanted to reunite the stars of his phenomenally successful spy film North by Northwest: Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. However, studio bosses insisted on actors who were more ‘current’. Julie Andrews was certainly that: she’d just had a massive hit with The Sound of Music and won an Oscar for 1964’s Mary Poppins. Co-star Paul Newman was hot from movies such as Hud and The Hustler.

Sadly, it often feels like their characters in Torn Curtain have never met before. It’s difficult to recall an on-screen couple in any Hitchcock film who have less chemistry. Hitch presumably wanted Andrews to be one of his classic blondes – an enigmatic female character with sex appeal and a cool exterior, but who is going through emotional turmoil on the inside. The actress, though, plays Sarah too straight, too blandly, to generate much interest. Newman, meanwhile, was a student of the Actors Studio and gives a down-to-earth, tightly wound performance that fails to connect with the heightened tone of the script. (Behind the scenes, Newman infuriated Hitchcock with questions and concerns. The director was more used to actors like James Stewart and Ingrid Bergman – people who showed up, knew their stuff, and did what they were told. When asked about his motivation in a certain scene, a frustrated Hitch is said to have told Newman: ‘Your salary.’)

Landing in East Berlin, Michael is warmly welcomed by the authorities and treated like a celebrity by journalists at a press conference that feels like it was inspired by the Beatles’ famously impressive first public appearance in America. It then dawns on Sarah what’s happening. Michael, seemingly disillusioned with his work at the US defence department being stymied, is defecting to the communists. He’s brusque with his fiancée, refusing to say whether he wants her to stay behind the iron curtain with him or go home.

Thankfully, we viewers don’t have to wait too long for the inevitable plot twist, which anyone who’s ever seen a spy film before will have seen coming from before the title sequence was over. After 40 minutes Michael gives his handlers the slip and heads out into the countryside to meet with a farmer. We’re let into his secret when he and the farmer – who’s actually an undercover agent – discuss how he’s only pretending to defect in order to get some vital information about a revolutionary new anti-rocket system. 

But of course there’s a problem. When he arrived in Berlin, Michael was given a bodyguard, who in reality is there to keep an eye on him. The gum-chewing, American-slang-loving heavy who Michael finds hard to evade is called Hermann Gromek and is excellently played by a sinister Wolfgang Kieling. When Gromek shows up at the farm, Michael initially tries to bluff his way out of the problem – but then must kill Gromek in a blackly comedic scene that’s the highlight of the whole film. With no incidental music to take the edge off the violence, Michael and the farmer’s wife try to subdue their enemy by strangulation, a stabbing, a shovel attack and eventually by forcing his head into a gas oven. (A German gassed in an oven? Hitch was aware of the implication, but later said it wasn’t a political comment.) The scene is a deliberate deconstruction of the spy-film cliché of an easy kill – Gromek is clinging onto life for a long time – and is totally gripping.

Elsewhere, regrettably, some of the filmmaking has not dated well. Alfred Hitchcock seemed to have a high tolerance for artificial devices such as rear-projection screens for scenes in moving cars and matte shots to extend sets and locations. All well and good for a movie made in the mid 1960s. Less excusable, however, is his decision to build an entire – and entirely fake-looking – park on a soundstage for a key scene that comes after 69 minutes. Knowing Gromek’s death will be discovered sooner rather than later, Michael takes Sarah aside and admits that he’s on a secret mission. In a neat trick that Hitchcock used in other films too – Topaz, for example, and North by Northwest – we don’t actually hear the dialogue because it’s information we viewers already know. But the plot swings here: now, Sarah is in the know.

Michael had buried Gromek’s body, but is rumbled when the taxi driver who delivered him to the farm reports seeing Gromek there too. (The taxi driver is played by American actor Eugene Weingard, who went by the stage name Peter Lorre Jr. He actually had no connection to the Hungarian-born star who had appeared in two Hitchcock films in the 1930s – aside from a slight resemblance. The more famous Lorre attempted to stop Weingard using the name, but after the former’s death in March 1964 the latter was free to pretend they were related.)

So the pressure is mounting. Seeking out a famed rocket scientist, Michael tricks him into revealing the secret equations he needs to take back to the States. With the sneaky plot now played out, Michael and Susan then flee down their escape route, which involves a bus service run by the resistance, some help from an eccentric Polish aristocrat (Lila Kedrova’s Countess Kuchinska) and a showpiece finale at the ballet that brings to mind the Albert Hall sequences in Hitchcock’s two films called The Man Who Knew Too Much. 

There’s plenty to admire and enjoy in Torn Curtain, whether it’s the Hitchcockian touch of demonstrating how cold a room is by showing someone breaking up the ice that’s forming in his glass of water, or the cat-and-mouse sequence in a museum that has echoing footsteps creating tension and menace. The blocking – the relative positioning of the actors in a scene – also tells the story just as much as dialogue, such as the distance between Michael and Sarah when she thinks he’s a traitor compared to later when she’s learnt the truth.

However, it’s far from a wholly successful film. It mostly feels too safe, for example. This is the story of a man taking the enormous risk of going undercover in a communist state but it lacks the cynical edge and – Gromek’s death scene aside – the sense of danger seen in other 60s spy films like The Ipcress File (1965) or even the Bond series. Hitchcock also seems to get bored with his lead characters: Sarah in particular goes missing for long stretches, while in the second half of the story both she and Michael feel like passengers rather than drivers of the plot. 

Seven men in the hotel lobby out of 10

Note: In a 1999 interview, Steven Spielberg revealed that as a teenager he’d sneaked onto the set of Torn Curtain to watch the filming. He lasted 45 minutes before someone realised he shouldn’t be there.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966, Terence Fisher)

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Setting: Kalsbad in what is now Germany, 10 years after the events of the 1958 Hammer movie Dracula.

Faithful to the novel? In effect, it’s a sequel to the events of the book. Four travellers from England are warned to avoid a certain castle, but arrogantly ignore the advice. Dracula himself – once resurrected – has no dialogue. Actor Christopher Lee claimed it was because the character’s scripted lines were so dreadful he refused to say them, but writer Jimmy Sangster said he deliberately didn’t give the Count any dialogue. Late on in the story, there’s a Renfield-like character called Ludwig, who eats flies and is under Dracula’s thrall.

Best performance: Francis Matthews is okay as Charles Kent, the heroic lead. He’s forthright and earnest, but fun too.

Best bit: The impressive special effects as Dracula is resurrected through a series of smart dissolves. We see him go from nothing to full-bodied in seemingly one shot.

Review: After clips from the first film in the series act as a kind of ‘Previously on…’, we get a story high on atmosphere but low on drama. Howling wind is liberally dubbed onto scenes and the tension is eked out as much as possible – but there’s precious little plot.

Six coach and horses out of 10

Don’t Lose Your Head (1966)

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Two Englishmen rescue aristocrats from execution in revolutionary France, but Citizen Camembert is determined to find them…

What’s it spoofing? Emma Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel novels (1905-1940), which were actually still in copyright and needed a skating-on-thin-ice legal letter from producer Peter Rodgers denying that they were a source material. This film doesn’t have the term ‘Carry On’ in its title because the series had switched to a new distributor (The Rank Organisation) and the old one (Anglo-Amalgamated) said they owned the brand. Since the disagreement’s been settled, the film has sometimes been promoted on TV and home video as the clunky Carry On – Don’t Lose Your Head. For some reason, IMDB lists it as Carry On Pimpernel.

Funniest moment: Joan Sims puts such a dismissive, derogatory quality on the two-word phrase in a certain line – “My brother, the count, wishes to meet him…” – that the pun is hilariously obvious. Tickled by the joke, the actress actually begins to smirk before the shot cuts away. See it here.

The Big 10:

* Kenneth Williams (12) plays Citizen Camembert (aka the Big Cheese).

* Peter Butterworth (3) is Camembert’s sidekick, Citizen Bidet.

* Sid James (7) is back after a film off to play Sir Rodney Ffing (pronounced effing). He’s a master of disguise who, when pretending to be an English fop, has a marked lisp. When he’s out saving aristos, he’s known as the Black Fingernail. Sid James has some ludicrous dragging up to do at one point.

* Jim Dale (7) plays the Black Fingernail’s associate, Lord Darcy Pue. It’s a pretty boring, thankless role.

* Charles Hawtrey (12) is Duc De Pommfrit (these names!), the featured Frenchman that Sir Rodney and Lord Darcy rescue and smuggle back to England.

* Joan Sims (8) is really brilliant as Desiree Dubarry, Camembert’s bored-with-life sister. She plays her working class and a bit dim, and the character is hilarious when putting on airs and graces. There are a lot of jokes about her impressive cleavage.

Notable others:

* Peter Gilmore has another small Carry On role, here playing Robespierre.

* Dany Robin – who was later in Hitchcock’s Topaz – plays Jacqueline, a Frenchwoman who Sir Rodney falls for.

* Jacqueline Pearce appears briefly as a lady at Sir Rodney’s ball who hangs on De Pommfrit’s every word.

Top totty: Dany Robin.

Kenneth Williams says: “Peter [Eade, agent] drove me to Windsor in 40 minutes (motorway) and we saw Don’t Lose Your Head at the local ABC. It wasn’t bad, but I realise there is no need to do all this character make-up. It just doesn’t work for comedy. The thing is to look as pleasant as possible. I really should stop making all these faces too! They’re quite absurd and unfunny. The fight sequences went on too long & Sid James really does look terribly battered and old. V. unattractive when he’s making love to the girls in it – all rather disgusting.” – Thursday 27 April 1967 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, pp302-303)

“Went in to see Louie [his mother] in the evening and found there was nothing but rubbish on the television. Old films! – including Don’t Lose Your Head with me and Jim Dale and Sid James. I was as bad as ever, all posh voice and sneers and convincing no one.” – Sunday 16 December 1973 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p463)

Review: Another genre spoof – it’s now half a dozen films since we had one about ‘real’ people. Sadly, this isn’t quite as successful as the last few, seeming a bit tired, but there’s still some fun. A repeated gag during romantic scenes, where Sid James, Dany Robin and Joan Sims give private asides to the camera, works really well. The sword-fighting climax seems to never end, however.

Seven baskets out of 10

Carry On Screaming! (1966)

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When his girlfriend is kidnapped, Albert Potter goes to the police – and their investigation leads to a spooky house, where a brother and sister are conducting strange experiments…

What’s it spoofing? The horror genre, specifically the successful movies then being made by Hammer Films. Also in the pastiche mix are 19th-century literary classics such as Frankenstein (1818), Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), the Sherlock Holmes stories (1887-1927) and Dracula (1897), as well as US TV shows The Munsters and The Addams Family (both 1964-1966). The plot owes something to House of Wax, a 1953 American horror film starring Vincent Price.

Funniest moment: Sergeant Bung’s investigation has brought him and Constable Slobotham to a road with a large, mysterious house on it. Bung: “We can’t afford to leave any stone unturned. What’s the name of this road, Slobotham?” Slobotham: “Avery Avenue.” Bung: “Then we must explore Avery Avenue.”

The Big 10:

* Jim Dale (6) plays Albert Potter, the man whose girlfriend goes missing in the opening scene.

* Peter Butterworth (2) has a dimwit sidekick role for the second film running – Constable Slobotham.

* Joan Sims (7), meanwhile, gets another harridan. She plays Emily, Sgt Bung’s largely bedridden wife who shouts and moans a lot. She also fails to notice when her husband has turned into a monster because she’s too busy having a go at him.

* Bernard Bresslaw (2) plays the large, laconic butler, Sockett. He’s basically a rip-off of Lurch from The Addams Family.

* Kenneth Williams (11) is one of the stars of the show as Dr Orlando Watt, the scientist who’s been experimenting on local women. The character’s been dead for 15 years, but had perfected a regenerative process to resurrect himself. In a throwaway gag about his name, he claims to be Dr Who’s nephew.

* Charles Hawtrey (11) has a small role as Dan Dann, a public-convenience attendant who has vital information for the investigation. It’s more of an acting performance than Hawtrey usually gives us. Originally, another actor (Carry On Cowboy’s Sydney Bromley) was cast in the part, but a press report suggested that the film would suffer financially without Hawtrey, so the producer had a rethink.

Notable others:

* Angela Douglas is back from Carry On Cowboy, though is only in the film briefly at both ends. She plays Doris Mann, the girl who goes missing, so is again teamed up with Jim Dale.

* Harry H Corbett is the film’s lead, in a part written for Sid James: Sergeant Sidney Bung. Conflicting reports have James either busy doing panto or being punished for asking for more money, so Corbett – fresh from four series of Stepton & Son – was drafted in. He’s incredibly funny, and plays the role in a much more earnestly naïve way than surely James would have done. Bung has a Sherlock Holmes pipe and cape, but none of the observational skills.

* Fenella Fielding is sultry, slinky and sexy as Dr Watt’s sister, the vampire-pale Valeria. The part was originally Watt’s daughter, but Kenneth Williams balked at another old-man part after Carry On Cowboy so the concept was changed to siblings.

* Jon Pertwee gets a third hilariously eccentric cameo in the series, playing a Scottish scientist who Bung goes to see for information.

* Frank Thornton, later of Are You Being Served? and Last of the Summer Wine, appears as a millinery shop manager.

Top totty: Fenella Fielding.

Kenneth Williams says: “Pinewood about 9.45. Clothes are vaguely Victoria, frock coat, cravat, etc. and make-up dead pale to look ‘from the dead’, as it were. Everyone on the set was nice to me. Alan Hume, lighting, took me aside and said ‘No joking, Kenny, it really is good to have you back on the set’ – I could hardly reply, I was so touched and pleased. Technicians & stage hands – loads of people came up to me and said lovely things. It was the most beautiful day of the year. It’s a wonderful thing to be liked.” – Friday 14 January 1966 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p271)

Review: Another good one, and another inch-perfect spoof of a movie genre. As an exercise in pastiche it excels – the colour cinematography, for example, is so Hammer – while there’s a good amount of gags and a strong cast of both Carry On regulars and guests. There’s also a fun sing-along title song (‘Sung by Anon,’ read the credits: it was actually a session musician called Ray Pilgrim).

Nine mannequins out of 10

Batman: The Movie (1966, Leslie H Martinson)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Four of Gotham City’s most notorious criminal masterminds team up to take over the world – only caped crusader Batman and trusty sidekick Robin stand in their way…

Good guys: Adam West and Burt Ward star as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin respectively. When this movie was made, the pair had already been in the roles for months – the film was produced as a tool to promote Batman the TV series overseas. The first time we see the superhero alter egos is after just three minutes when Bruce and Dick slide down the Batpoles to the Batcave and Bruce flicks the ‘Instant costume change lever’ on the way down. We then get a James Bond-style opening action scene, which shows off the Dynamic Duo, their outlandish vehicles and ingenious gadgets. It’s 33 minutes into the movie before they return to their everyday personas. Both characters are illogically intelligent, astonishingly naive, hilariously sincere and incorruptibly noble.

Bad guys: Four of the most popular villains from the TV show have joined forces to form the United Underworld criminal organisation. ‘Today Gotham City, tomorrow the world,’ reads their logo. Seemingly in charge is the Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, who took over the role when the TV show’s Julie Newmar was busy on another project). Posing as Russian journalist Kitka – aka Comrade Kitanya Irenya Tatanya Karensha Alisoff from the Moscow Bugle – she seduces Bruce Wayne, who falls for her big time. As did the actor: in an interview featured on the DVD, Adam West tells us: “Favourite villain? I would have to say Catwoman. And you guys know what I mean.” Right there with you, pal… The Joker (Cesar Romero) gets lots of laughing to do and his face, including his moustache, is covered in white make-up. The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) runs things when the gang are aboard their submarine. “On land you command, on the sea it’s me,” he quips. He bought the sub from the US Navy by using a fake name: P.N. Gwynne. And finally, the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) fires a Polaris missile into the air, which writes two riddles totaling 22 words in the sky with its trail smoke.

Other guys: Batman has a few allies: stoic Commissioner Gordon, Irish police chief O’Hara and loyal butler Alfred, the last of which is the only person in on Bruce’s secret. We see the US President at one point, but his face is hidden from us; he has a dog by his side. Commodore Schmidlapp is taken hostage by United Underworld, but doesn’t seem to notice: he thinks he’s still aboard his yacht because goons are faking the view out of his landlocked cell’s window.

Best bits:

* The title sequence – our two leads and the four bad guys picked out by colour-tinted spotlights.

* Robin accidentally lowers Batman into the sea – when he pulls him out, Batman has a shark clamped round his leg. “Hand me down the shark-repellent Batspray!” he says.

* Batman, Robin, Gordon and O’Hara watch a video report of which ‘super criminals’ are currently at large in Gotham and give pithy summaries as each face appears on screen.

* “How did it go, Catwoman?” “Purr-fectly…”

* We cut to dopey navy bigwig Admiral Fangschliester and he’s playing tiddlywinks with his *very* cute female subordinate.

* Due to the convention of no one recognising superheroes or master criminals when they’re not in costume, the bad guys hold Bruce Wayne hostage in the hope that Batman will come to rescue him… and Bruce pleads with Catwoman to let him talk to Kitka, who he thinks they’re also holding.

* The Riddler asks for the ‘five guinea pigs’ – five lackeys walk in, each wearing ‘GP#1’, ‘GP#2’, etc, on their sweaters.

* The old walking-up-the-side-of-a-building/camera-at-90-degrees trick.

* Batman running around a dock trying desperately to dispose of a bomb with its fuse lit. He encounters a pub full of people, nuns, a woman with a pram, a kissing couple, a marching band and a flock of ducks before he finds somewhere safe to throw it. (The fuse burns for two minutes and 26 seconds!)

* The Riddler shoots down the Batcopter… which spins out of control… and lands on a huge pile of foam rubber… placed near a sign reading ‘Foam Rubber Wholesalers Convention’.

* The climactic fight on top of the surfaced submarine, which is the only time in the movie we get the famous single-word captions accompanying punches and leaps – Pow! Whap! Thwack! Biff! Bap! Bap! Zwapp! Splosh! Klonk! Urkk! Swoosh! Swa-a-p! Eee-yow! Ouch! Kapow! Ker-sploosh! Spla-a-t! Plop! Urkkk! Blurp!

Review: Just like the parent TV show, this is a cartoon come to life. It’s incredibly silly and deliciously surreal. It’s also pure pop art, with bold colours, Dutched camera angles and deliberately arch props (Batman’s ladder has ‘Bat ladder’ written on it). The joy comes from how seemingly earnest the whole thing is. There’s some terrifically awful dialogue – “The sum of the angles of that rectangle is too monstrous to contemplate!” – but it’s delivered with tongues places charmingly in cheeks. It’s all good fun, even if the film is essentially one gag stretched out over 100 minutes. The fact that none of the actors nor the director ever break the illusion and wink to the audience makes it even funnier. You’ve really got to admire everyone’s total commitment.

Seven days when you just can’t get rid of a bomb out of 10.

Next time: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!

Revolver (1966)

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Title: Another pun. Does it refer to a vinyl record? A gun? A cultural revolution? It’s also a near-palindrome, I’ve just realised.

Cover: A black-and-white collage of line drawings and photographs. It was designed by Klaus Voormann, who was an old pal of the Beatles from their Hamburg days. I can’t say I’ve ever liked it.

Best song: Picking this was tough. It could have been any of about half a dozen tracks. I’ll go with John’s She Said She Said. It’s a psychedelic rock song – ‘acidy,’ Lennon called it – which plays with its time signatures and is sensationally marshalled by some of Ringo’s best ever drumming. The lyrics were based on some bullshit Peter Fonda had spouted during an LSD trip witnessed by the Beatles. (Oddly, Paul doesn’t appear on the recording. No one’s quite sure why. McCartney later guessed he’d probably stropped off after a tiff.)

Honourable mentions:

* For the first time, George Harrison gets to open an LP. Taxman has severe chops of the guitar, a great bassline, a vicious guitar solo, and very wide stereo (I love how it sounds on headphones: you’re surrounded by the Beatles). Only its lyric – multi-millionaire moans about paying tax – fails to impress, but at least there are funny references to Harold Wilson and Edward Heath (added by Lennon).

* Paul’s forlorn yet stoic Eleanor Rigby is really quite brilliant. John later said he wrote the wonderful lyrics, but people around the group at the time back up Paul’s claim that the song was all his.

* I’m Only Sleeping, which John did write, is a tremendous studio recreation of how it feels to be only half-awake. It includes a guitar solo innovatively played backwards when recorded so it would sound strange and dislocating when put back in the right order. The tiptoe bassline is delightful, and the way John and Paul harmonise is – as always – world-class.

* Here, There and Everywhere was written by Paul after being blown away by The Beach Boys album Pet Sounds, and was a favourite of John’s. It has feather-light music and lush vocals.

* Yellow Submarine is a charismatic comedy sing-along, full of radio-drama sound effects and tricks. You can sense the fun they had in the studio as this was put together – especially John bellowing out his backing vocals like he’s in The Goon Show.

* The piano intro to Paul’s radiant Good Day Sunshine sounds like a friendly dog bounding over to say hello. The song barrels along with charm and always cheers me up.

* John’s heady And Your Bird Can Sing is a jingle-jangle gem, and one of the few Beatles songs I can vividly remembering hearing for the first time: I don’t know how old I was, but I was totally fascinated by the (modern-sounding) distortion effect on the guitar. There’s also a great outtake of John and Paul giggling away as they try to record the vocals:

* For No One is Paul at his most stylish and crafted. During one of my listens of Revolver for this review, I had a happy accident. I had only my left earphone in when For No One began – because of 1966-style stereo, that channel starts with just McCartney’s vocal, which is then joined by a sombre bass guitar, a softly shaken tambourine and a rich, proud French horn. It’s absolutely *beautiful*.

* Finally, Tomorrow Never Knows has invented – what is it now? – at least 26 different genres of music. It was written by John, but Paul, George, Ringo and George Martin added a huge amount to the end product. It’s all on one chord and features a relentless broken drum pattern, surreal tape loops, a Hammond organ, a sitar, a tamboura, lyrics cribbed from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and a jaunty piano. Intoxicating stuff.

Worst song: George’s Love You To bores me to tears. It’s the first of his Indian songs, and is as dreary as the Beatles have been so far.

Notable outside contributions: Anil Bhagwat and others guested on Love You To. Alan Civil played the charming French horn part on For No One. A string octet appears on Eleanor Rigby, a five-piece horn section on Got To Get You Into My Life. The backing vocalists on Yellow Submarine include famous pals Brian Jones, Donovan and Marianne Faithful, Beatles aide-de-camp Neil Aspinall and George’s wife, Pattie Boyd.

Review: Well, it’s clearly fucking marvellous, isn’t it?

Ten words of a sermon that no one will hear out of 10.