Toomorrow (1970) (part 1 of 10)

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The Cast of Characters:
Olivia Newton-John as OliviaOlivia (Olivia Newton-John). Pretty Britaustralianish singer. Acts as mother hen to the band, smoothing over all their problems, and even resorting to petty theft in the greater interests of love. Oh, and she’s a girl, but don’t hold that against her, okay?
Benny Thomas as BennyBenny (Benny Thomas). Handsome American singer/guitarist. Will sleep with anything in a short skirt, up to and including aliens dolled up to look like go-go dancers. Dreams of one day having three women rub suntan lotion on him.
Vic Cooper as VicVic (Vic Cooper). Pent-up British keyboard player. His homemade synthesizer’s wild beat may contain the key to universal happiness. Unfortunately, his girlfriend only likes classical music. Bummer!
Karl Chambers as KarlKarl (Karl Chambers). Groovy American drummer. Hey man, this is one groovy cat. Can you dig it?
Tracey Crisp as Suzanne GillmoreSuzanne Gillmore (Tracey Crisp). Music professor and Benny’s latest fling. The only character in the movie with even half a brain. She still gets demerits, though, for the whole Benny thing.
Roy Dotrice as John WilliamsJohn Williams (Roy Dotrice). Alien observer on Earth. His race has suddenly discovered they have to start listening to bad ‘70s pop music or they’ll all die. His reaction is the same as Jack Benny’s: “I’m thinking!”
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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.

Caption contributed by Mark

Toomorrow, circa five minutes before this movie was made: Olivia Newton-John (she’s the one on top), Benny Thomas, Chris Slade, and Vic Cooper.

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.

Caption contributed by Mark

Toomorrow and the Svengalis. Don Kirshner, Benny Thomas, Olivia Newton-John, Karl Chambers, RCA Records president Norman Racusin, Vic Cooper, and Kirshner’s producing partner Harry Saltzman.

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:

Een ras buitenaardse wezens ontdekt de muziek van Olivia (Newton-John) en haar popband Toomorrow. De aliens hebben genoeg van hun eigen computergegenereerde muziek en deze aardse band is de perfecte oplossing hiervoor. Zodoende besluiten de aliens de bandleden van Toomorrow te ontvoeren om ze een paar nummers op te laten nemen.

I would provide an English version, but honestly it won’t make any more sense.

Okay, fine:

A race aliens discovered the music of by means of (Newton-John) and its headstock link Toomorrow. Aliens of their its own enough computer-generated have music and this earthly link are the perfect solution for this. Thereby the aliens decide kidnap the link members of Toomorrow to launch numbers them a couple to take.

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?

Mark "Scooter" Wilson

Mark is a history guy, a graphics guy, a guy for whom wryly cynical assessments of popular culture are the scallion cream cheese on the toasted everything bagel of life. He spends his time teaching modern history at Brooklyn College, pondering the ancient Romans at the CUNY Graduate Center, and conjuring maps and illustrations for ungrateful bankers at various Manhattan monoliths. Readers are welcome to guess at reasons why he's nicknamed Scooter, with the proviso that all such submissions are guaranteed to be rather more interesting than the truth. Mark lives in the Midwood section of Brooklyn with a happy-go-lucky, flop-eared dog named Chiyo who is probably, at this very moment, waiting patiently for her walkies.

Multi-Part Article: Toomorrow (1970)

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  • Kram69

    i vaguely remember this,thought some of the sets looked cool with cool aliens. when i got home i told my older sister that the movie was good and that she would be into the music,i was 9 years old at the time. wish i could see it again just for the laughs