When you buy a ticket to a Magical Mystery Tour, you never know precisely where you will end up, as is the case with Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) who has purchased one for him and his Aunt Jessie (Jessie Robbins). She is so reluctant to be hurried that there is a danger that they will be late, and she keeps stopping to catch her breath in spite of Richard imploring her to hurry up, but they do eventually reach the bus and climb aboard. The courier is Jolly Jimmy Johnson (Derek Royle) and he makes some grand promises that this will be the trip of a lifetime...
...so how unfortunate that when this hour-long musical extravaganza was shown on British television one Boxing Day in 1967, it sent a nation to sleep or rousing themselves from the turkey leftovers to swiftly change the channel. There are still those who recall what a letdown this special was perceived to be, and if anything it proved that not everything The Beatles touched turned to gold. This still has the reputation of a hopeless overindulgence, but there is a small band of true believers who think it was unfairly treated and is actually a charming gem of psychedelic eccentricity.
Not many, perhaps, but a few. If Magical Mystery Tour illustrates something about this kind of endeavour, it is that surrealism is not as easy as it looks, and although you can almost see the sweat breaking out on the foreheads of the performers trying to make stardust out of some half-realised ideas, too often you can see why so many back in 1967 were bored. Each of the Beatles had a hand in directing and writing various parts, but a lot was left to improvisation and it shows all too painfully in what John Lennon accurately described as a home movie.
Still, home movies starring this most famous band in the world don't come along every day, and there is a high amount of historical interest with seeing the Fab Four arseing about and making fools (on the hill) of themselves. Working on the notion that getting a bunch of creative people together and pointing a camera at them will give rise to something worth watching eventually, every so often your patience will be rewarded, and the presence of a far more idiosyncratic poet and songwriter than the Beatles could ever hope to be in the person of Ivor Cutler gives his cultists a reason to catch this, even if he doesn't do any of his material.
The same goes for The Bonzo Dog Band, who appear at the end to perform Death Cab for Cutie accompanied by a wholly unnecessary stripper, although Vivian Stanshall is on top form. But it is the Beatles most will want to see, whether they are dressed up as wizards and acting camp, or offering their own prototypical music videos. These are among the most interesting bits, with the I Am the Walrus segment closest to achieving the right level of weirdness and fun, although Lennon's spaghetti eating sequence (he doesn't eat it, simply shovels it onto a plate in a restaurant) is just weird. For entertainment value it's about the level of 33 and 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee rather than the Elvis Presley '68 Comeback Special, altogether trying too hard to be kooky when what most in the audience wanted to do was hear the songs.