What Life of Brian did for Jesus Christ, All You Need Is Cash does for the more popular Beatles.
By the late '70s there had been other fictitious retellings of the Beatles' story, such as Mark Shipper's novel Paperback Writer, which had the group reuniting third on the bill below Peter Frampton and the Sex Pistols. There had even been films that stretched the truth about the group for the sake of melodrama -- the worst offender being Dick Clark's Birth of the Beatles, where John Lennon goes through his primal Plastic Ono Band funk 10 years too early. But only All You Need Is Cash -- a fake "rockumentary" of the Pre-Fab Four from 1978 that's every bit as hilarious as 1984's This Is Spinal Tap -- had the good fortune to have the active involvement of Monty Python and Saturday Night Live alumni, Beatles colleagues and an actual Fab fourth.
George Harrison appears briefly as a news reporter and donated many personal artifacts to the cause. In the "I Am the Walrus" send-up "Piggy in the Middle," Harrison doppelgänger Stig O'Hara sports the psychedelic Stratocaster and outfit the guitarist used in Magical Mystery Tour. And several outdoor sequences ("I Must Be in Love") actually look as if they were shot on the grounds of Harrison's estate.
Originally aired on network TV while phony Beatlemania was packing them in on Broadway, The Rutles punctured the reverent bubble surrounding the Beatles so effectively that Harrison continued to quote lines from it right up to the Anthology interviews.
The "Quiet Beatle" always had a better sense of humor about the group than Paul McCartney -- who was reportedly less than thrilled with Eric Idle's thinly veiled portrayal of him as the bubbleheaded Dirk McQuigley. At the same time, Harrison and Mick Jagger's active participation in the film surely fueled Lennon's paranoia -- so too must've its depiction of Yoko Ono as a Gestapo-like dominatrix.
Unlike This Is Spinal Tap, the Rutles' story is mostly told by a narrator, in this case an easily excitable BBC reporter played by Idle. His hilariously hyperbolic verbosity in describing insignificant details and his overuse of the word "actual" (such as "I'm speaking to the actual Paul Simon") ensures that All You Need Is Cash doesn't rely too heavily on your knowledge of Beatle lore to be funny. It certainly helps, though, knowing who Dick James and Allen Klein were to fully appreciate characters like Dick Jaws and Ron Decline.
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Among the DVD bonuses is raw footage of Jagger and Simon being interviewed by Idle about their memories of the Rutles. Both men must've been briefed sufficiently by the comedian -- they never stumble once in blurting out the names of the Beatles by mistake. There is a strange fascination in watching them reminisce about first meeting the lads under the guise of fiction; Simon comes off as deadpan in his respect for the Rutles, while Jagger looks and sounds very much like a man who could use a few more acting lessons.
One scene which isn't included on the DVD, and which has never been explained, is Dan Aykroyd's turn as the record executive who turned down the Rutles. When The Rutles was first broadcast, an anguished Aykroyd leaves the room at the end of the bit and you can hear him shoot himself. In every subsequent showing, the shooting was out. One guess is this had something to do with Lennon being gunned down two years later, or the fact that Idle wasn't allowed to use the word "asshole" on network TV, leaving him without a punch line. Either way, it goes unexplained here.
As far as expanded DVDs go, All You Need Is Cash is worth owning if only for access to both the flick and the Neil Innes music contained inside. The songs still hold up as both pop and as parody, something that could not be said for Archaeology, the album the remaining Rutles made in 1996 without any participation from Idle. Clearly, Jagger's horror at the suggestion of a Rutles reunion at the end of this film was justified. But as legends go, the Rutles seemed to have lasted "longer than a lunchtime."