Rutles: All You Need Is Cash [1978]

Originally hatched in 1978 as a short film parody for Saturday Night Live, this expanded, 70-minute mockumentary on a trend-setting quartet of British mop-tops bloomed into one of Eric Idle's better projects outside Monty Python. Taking the career (and hagiography) of the Beatles and inverting them quite nicely, Idle conjures up four doppelgangers who offer the familiar mannerisms but practically none of the intelligence of their models. If that sounds like the same gag that powered This Is Spinal Tap (which emerged six years later), it is, with the crucial difference that Idle's lampoon is precise where Tap was consciously generic. In telling the saga of the Rutles, Idle (who doubles as earnest narrator and McCartney-esque Rutle Dirk McQuigley) works from a rich and immediately familiar trove of pop lore, and he has a ball revisiting and reinventing milestones from the Fab Four's fabled history. The attention to period detail helps elevate the gags further, but Idle's real secret weapon is Neil Innes, standing in as Ron Nasty, the Rutles' answer to John Lennon: it's Innes who serves as the musical architect for the wonderful Beatles parodies that give All You Need Is Cash a delicious kick, and Innes, a one-time principal in the legendary Bonzo Dog Band, is gifted enough to capture the band's lyricism and energy as well as their shifting sense of style. With the blessing and on-camera participation of George Harrison, and wry cameos from Mick Jagger and Paul Simon, All You Need Is Cash is a perfect companion to the Beatles' own glorious screen comedies and a great antidote to sanctimonious pop documentaries. --Sam Sutherland

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