The New Beverly is devoting six double features on the August calendar to one of our favorite filmmakers, Richard Lester. While he will likely remain best known for revolutionizing the movie musical and making The Beatles celluloid heroes with A HARD DAYS’ NIGHT, Lester’s body of work is a fascinating collection of divergent styles of storytelling, demonstrating impressive versatility. So we’ve put together an ad hoc guide to the different types of tones you’ll discover in each of our Lester programs.
Lester the Swashbuckler
Our tribute begins August 5th & 6th with his 1973 adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas saga of the royal guardians of King Louis XIV, spread among two films – THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS. Lester brought in a witty screenplay from writer George Macdonald Fraser and impeccably choreographed fight scenes to this already many-filmed story to cement it as one of the best-loved versions of the legend. Producers Alexander and Ilya Salkand also made history through their less-than-forthcoming idea to split the then-intended roadshow epic into two movies without paying the cast for two movies: after settling with the actors, a new contract term called The Salkind Clause, came into parlance, affecting future multiple-movie shoots, including Tarantino’s KILL BILL.
Lester the Cockeyed Comic Book Chronicler
After Richard Donner made the world believe a man could fly, Lester reminded us that he still may succumb to clumsiness on earth. August 12th & 13th brings two stories of Superman with healthy doses of Clark Kent to bring the kind of levity that made these films so well-liked in contrast to the divisive take on the character Zack Snyder has taken in his recent adaptations. Lester had initially served as an uncredited line producer on Donner’s original before the Salkinds parted with him and Lester was charged with finishing SUPERMAN II. After audiences reacted well to the comedic uptick Lester added on II, Lester delved even deeper in SUPERMAN III into the wild possibilities of Christopher Reeve as a hero with an ego trip and Richard Pryor as a villain with a sweet streak.
Lester the Anti-‘Anti-War’-Warrior
The August 14th & 15th combo of ROYAL FLASH and HOW I WON THE WAR mixes Lester’s comedy gifts with serious criticisms of the very nature of weaponized combat, versus the traditional thought of good men with guns must beat bad men with guns. ROYAL FLASH, reuniting Lester with MUSKETEERS screenwriter George Macdonald Fraser, looks like another light swordplay adventure, but does not shy away from pointing out Malcolm MacDowell’s protagonist is a coward and opportunist, and the royals he hobnobs with launch blood feuds for petty grievances. Meanwhile, HOW I WON THE WAR rebukes the standard British notion that demonizes war but deifies the soldier by offering Michael Crawford as a glory-hungry commissioned officer blind to his incompetence as well as spoiled and racist, and John Lennon among the soldiers who know all too well his leadership could get them all killed.
Lester the Action Realist
Not only are the films on August 21st & 22nd cracking adventures with dashing lead actors, they’re also based on real events in history! JUGGERNAUT was inspired by an incident when Royal Marines parachuted onto the QE2 at sea to investigate what was revealed as a false bomb threat. Lester makes the threat genuine, the seas rougher, and sends in Richard Harris as the Naval expert charged with defusing the hidden bombs aboard ship while Anthony Hopkins on land tries to identify the mysterious terrorist. Then, Sean Connery goes to CUBA, as a British mercenary sent in 1958 to train the local army to repel the oncoming forces of Fidel Castro, only to get caught up in the tribulations of his married old flame, and see that the revolution is going to not just be inevitable, but unforgiving.
Lester the Fractured Romantic
Lester’s early technique of out-of-order storytelling and occasional surrealism are in full effect on August 26th & 27th. THE KNACK…AND HOW TO GET IT uses the style for laughs as Michael Crawford’s awkward nebbish finds his womanizing roommates too much pressure on him in perhaps an early dramatization of the modern notion of “can’t even,” and it may thwart his chances at the equally odd and perfect-for-him Rita Tushingham. The implications get much darker and melancholic in PETULIA, when the deceptively freewheeling Julie Christie cheats on her husband with divorced bemused doctor George C. Scott, only for the doctor to discover that his inattention to the serious realities of his new paramour’s living situation will have painful consequences.
Lester the Legend Debunker
Fittingly, our Lester tribute ends on August 28th & 29th with his revisionist tales of folk bandits and soul mates that cast them in less hagiographic lights. In ROBIN & MARIAN, Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and all the Merry Men are two decades older, battered by complex politics that have made even good King Richard a heelish warmonger, and his old nemesis the Sheriff of Nottingham senses the time is now to write the last chapter of Robin’s exploits. Conversely, in BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS, we see the western bandits as callow youths, inventing the myths they would be known for later, leaving behind friends and family to become outlaws, not yet aware of the fate that we know they met.
Richard Lester may have retired from making features in the ‘90s, but he’s never stopped making an impact with movie lovers. Please join us at the New Beverly for this big-screen retrospective of a visual storytelling pioneer!