Toomorrow (1970) (part 1 of 10)
Medieval philosophers debated the existence of the chimera, a lion with a goat’s head growing out its back. Jason embarked on a far-flung adventure to recover the fleece of a flying ram with golden wool. (Did you ever wonder how warm golden wool would be? Because I’m thinking “not very.”) King Arthur himself sought to track down the legendary Holy Grail, only to be taunted by French persons and, in the end, arrested by the constabulary.
But here and now I am prepared to reveal to you a creature more unlikely, more fantastic than all of these. I give you Toomorrow: an Olivia Newton-John movie that is actually even dumber than Xanadu.
I’ll give you a moment to ponder the unlikeliness of such a miracle. It would be as if in some distant future, yee-haw ‘70s truckerdom was known only from the horror that was B.J. and the Bear, until a group of ill-starred archeologists on a dig in New Jersey had the misfortune to uncover sealed canisters that contained something even worse.
Toomorrow is deeply unknown. Rotten Tomatoes has never heard of it. Wikipedia essentially says, “Yep, it exists.” A Google search for Toomorrow causes Google to sniff, “You don’t know what you’re doing, I’m giving you results for tomorrow.” If you search for Toomorrow on Amazon, the first hit is the self-titled debut album from the psychedelic rock band Tomorrow (about which Wikipedia helpfully advises, “Not to be confused with Toomorrow, a band fronted by Olivia Newton-John”). The second hit is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar and Style, 2nd Edition.
Apparently there’s a reason for the film’s obscurity, apart from the fact that anyone who sits through it dies of cerebral hemorrhage and so does not live to tell the tale. The story goes like this: Waifish, soft-spoken teenage singer Olivia Newton-John was stuck in England after winning a trip there on an Australian talent show. At some point she caught the eye of Don Kirshner, the record producer who in the preceding five years had already manufactured the Monkees and the Archies and was looking to create another new, pliable prefab phenomenon. He assembled a group made up of young, inexperienced twentysomethings who seemed like they’d look hip and trendy on stage: Newton-John, English keyboardist Vic Cooper, American singer Ben Thomas, and Welsh drummer Chris Slade.
Slade—who had been touring with Tom Jones, and I leave it as an exercise for the reader whether joining a band fronted by Olivia Newton-John constituted a step up from that—quickly realized the project was bollocks and quit, later ending up beating skins for Tom Paxton, Manfred Mann, AC/DC, and Asia. Well, sure, that’s the natural progression for drummers.
Slade was replaced by American drummer Karl Chambers just in time to make this movie. According to this fansite article (a fansite for Olivia, not the movie), the four members of the band got paid enough to be happy, but Kirshner cut corners everywhere else. In particular, Newton-John’s then-boyfriend, guitarist Bruce Welch, blamed Kirshner for undermining the movie by hiring unknown songwriters who then produced forgettable songs. Because honestly, if you’re putting together a movie musical that’s supposed to be a vehicle for your pop band, the area you really want to skimp on is the music.
The movie’s score composer, Hugo Montenegro, was not a total unknown at the time: in fact he’d already accomplished what he’s still most famous for, the theme from I Dream of Jeannie. But Welch meant the songwriters, Mark Barkan and Ritchie Adams, who had already been laboring in the Kirshner stable writing album filler for the Archies and the like. They did manage to pen one (1) memorable song in their career: the infamous “Tra-La-La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)” for the Banana Splits. There have been months of my life where that song was lodged in my head, so thank you very much, Mark Barkan and Ritchie Adams.
To write and direct this gem, Kirshner brought in Hammer horror specialist Val Guest, who is now a Repeat Offender thanks to his part in creating that most Frankienstein’s-monsteresque of films, Casino Royale (1967). The same year he made Toomorrow, Guest made When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970), in which bouncy-bosomed British starlets fled from prehistoric stop-motion lizards. Guest, I think, made so many movies and survived so long in the industry because he delivered exactly what his producers asked for. You say you want a movie that doesn’t have to make sense, because what really matters is the songs? Except the songs are going to suck too? Whatever you say, Mr. Kirshner!
You know how Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is this really insane, nonsensical, and totally brainless movie musical featuring great Beatles songs performed badly? Remove the words “great” and “Beatles” from the previous sentence, and you’re getting close to a description of this movie.
So Kirshner made this movie, realized it was awful, and put the kibosh on it, banishing it forever to the echoing void of films never to be seen on movie screens, television, or home video under any circumstances short of the arrival of space aliens who can only be destroyed by exposure to movies that the producers of Skidoo would have thought ludicrously vapid. Even in this day and age, when everything is on DVD, Toomorrow can be found only in the form of a really terrible Japanese bootleg, which Albert tracked down and thoughtfully sent to me. In retaliation, next Christmas I’m sending him the videotape of Jordon Davis’s bar mitzvah.
Here’s the description of the movie in Dutch, from the site MovieMeter.nl:
I would provide an English version, but honestly it won’t make any more sense.
See? I told you. What’s truly awesome about this is discovering that olivia is Dutch for “by means of.” That’s brilliant. How did Obama fix the economy? Olivia the stimulus package! How did the Wizards win the game last night? Olivia the three-pointer! Why does Toomorrow suck? Olivia Newton-John! Okay, okay, that was a cheap shot. But I know you were thinking it. And it’s here I think I’ll point out that Olivia Newton-John, thanks to the aforementioned Xanadu, which looks like it belongs on the AFI Top 100 Films List compared to Toomorrow, is now another Repeat Offender from this movie.
Actually, Olivia is far from carrying the blame for what went wrong here. She’s pleasant and winsome, and registers as a character as much as the script allows. She’s clearly trying hard to make it all work, and so are the others. The acting in this movie in general is not the problem. Ultimately, when you set out to make a movie about aliens who need the music of a pop band no one’s ever heard of to save their civilization, whose fault is it when that’s exactly what you get?