A young student band scores a prestige gig at a pop music festival. It looks like their big break, but alien race the Alphoids also dig their fresh new sound, believing its tonal harmonics have the power to save their ailing civilisation…
Would be hep science fiction-comedy-musical from producers Don Kirshner and Harry Saltzman. Kirshner had been the main musical force behind the early success of ‘The Monkees’ but, when the band tried to exercise more creative control over their music (actually playing on their own records, for instance), the producer found himself looking for another job. But, not to worry, having turned the trick once, he could do so again, right? No problem. Except there was. Heaps of them.
Four students at the London College of Arts have formed a band. There’s Benny Thomas (Guitar and Vocals), Vic Cooper (Keyboards and Vocals), Karl Chambers (Drums) and a 22-year old fresh-faced, English-born Aussie singer called Olivia Newton-John (yes, folks, we all have to start somewhere). Cooper has invented a ‘tonaliser’, an electronic box of tricks which sounds like a synthesiser. Their impromptu jam sessions have pissed off the squares at the college (there’s a go-nowhere subplot about student activism) but have tickled the musical bones of blue-skinned hairless humanoids, the Alphoids.
What follows is supposed to be an ‘anything goes’ madcap adventure in the vein of something like ‘Help!’ (1965), but it just comes over as hopelessly contrived. Apparently, Kirshner wanted something more ‘grown up’ and rock-influenced than ‘The Monkees’ and there’s a far more conventional vibe here, with even a half-hearted nod to the sexual revolution provided by blonde bombshell Margaret Nolan, who went on to be a regular in the ‘Carry On’ series.
Unfortunately, the story has no depth, and the ‘wacky’ comedy hits a high point when the band change clothes in their car on the way to the gig. This sequence features some dreadful back projection and a vehicle painted with little flowers. More tellingly, Cooper’s ‘Tonaliser’ can’t disguise the fact that the band’s songs are sweet, sugary pop of the blandest kind. Some of the visuals on the alien spacecraft are appropriately psychedelic, but the SFX are very much of their time and don’t hold up very well today. There’s also a curious, throwaway subplot about Thomas fooling around with his sexy music teacher Tracey Crisp. They were both in their mid-20’s at the time of filming (although he looks older), so it’s not super creepy, but there is a scene where she refuses to help him break into the school building because she doesn’t want to lose her job. Whereas having it off with one of her students is obviously perfectly ok!
Surprisingly, the director here was Val Guest, a respected, veteran British filmmaker, who made the first two ‘Quatermass’ film adaptations for Hammer Studios, as well as ‘The Abominable Snowman’ (1957), ‘The Day The Earth Caught Fire’ (1961) and ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth’ (1970). He has many other credits in the world of more mainstream cinema as well, but his presence here would put the icing of the cake of what turned out to be a very troubled production indeed.
The first problem was with producers Kirshner and Saltzman (famous for his work on the ‘James Bond’ franchise). Apparently, to say they did not get on is an understatement. Saltzman hired Guest to rewrite original scribe David Benedictus’ script without telling the author and neglected to tell Guest that he not done so. Kirshner left the project at some point and production dragged on for an unbelievable two years (while the finished film looks like it was knocked out in a few weeks). All the principals was on contract for the duration, and when it came time for everyone to get paid… surprise!… there wasn’t any money.
After the film’s premiere, Guest filed an injunction demanding his salary, and the picture was pulled from the one London cinema where it was playing. Although it’s hard to imagine the film would have been a hit anyway, the legal machinations finished it off for good and original plans for another two features were shelved. The injunction remained in effect until Kirshner’s death in 2011.
So are there any positives to be taken from the final product? Well, the alien’s appearance and makeup is quite striking and veteran British TV star Roy Marsden is probably quite grateful that he’s unrecognisable underneath it. Not so actor Roy Dotrice who plays the Alphoid observer on Earth, but the moment he takes off his human mask and hangs it up is surprisingly creepy. With the exception of Newton-John, none of her bandmates went onto stardom, although Cooper toured the world as part of Tom Jones’ band in the 1970s, Thomas appeared on an episode of ‘The Dukes of Hazard’ and Chambers drummed for Gladys Knight and the Pips. Apparently, Newton-John found the experience of making this film so unpleasant that she needed serious persuasion to take the role of Sandy in ‘Grease’ (1978), which became a global phenomenon.
Overall, this is bland, anodyne entertainment that serves as a useful relic of its era and another example (as if one were needed) of why middle-aged men should never try to ‘get down with the kids.’ Oh, and the poster art is truly hideous.