Thursday, June 28, 2012

Toomorrow (1970)

          There’s a reason wholesome Aussie thrush Olivia Newton-John seemed so comfortable on camera in her first major American movie, the blockbuster musical Grease (1978). Unbeknownst to stateside audiences, she’d been acting in English movies and TV shows for several years, following her debut performance in the obscure Australian picture Funny Things Happen Down Under (1965). The most noteworthy of Newton-John’s pre-Grease credits is Toomorrow, a bizarre hodgepodge of music and sci-fi that has a small but cultish fan base.
         Playing the movie’s female lead, Newton-John displays every aspect of her G-rated appeal, singing and go-go dancing through her performance as a girl-next-door coed who performs in a band called Toomorrow while wearing a succession of miniskirts and short-shorts. Blonde, ebullient, and smiling, she’s a vision of virginal sexiness, whether she’s delivering unfunny one-liners, playing vacuous music, or simply hanging out with the aliens who abduct Toomorrow. Yeah, aliens.
          Written and directed by Val Guest, a UK fantasy-cinema veteran whose credits include The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), Tomorrow begins in outer space. Against a backdrop of trippy incidental music, a glowing spacecraft hurtles toward Earth and fetches the human-looking John Williams (Roy Dotrice) from his English estate by way of a glowing transporter beam. Once aboard the starship, John strips off his human shell to reveal that he’s a blue-skinned, slit-eyed alien, and that he’s the “Earth observer” tasked with identifying interesting developments by the human race. According to him, there haven’t been any—but then he’s told by fellow aliens that a new rock group, Toomorrow, has invented musical vibrations deemed crucial to the survival of the alien race.
          John resumes his human guise and woos the band by pretending to be a musical impresario. The band members, who are students at the London College of Arts, also get embroiled in a murky subplot involving campus protests. Guest vamps through several dull scenes of Toomorrow making lighthearted mischief (a wan riff on the Beatles’ signature tomfoolery), before the plot gets going. In a typical scene, drummer Benny (Benny Thomas) asks a lunchroom full of students if they mind listening to a rehearsal by calling out, “Hey, any of you cats mind a groove?” Naturally, they don’t, so the tacky lip-synching commences, since every number Toomorrow performs is a perfect studio production.
          The best tunes have some kick, although the band’s musical bag is a totally squaresville vibe that recalls vanilla pop groups like the Association, and the music is ultimately the least interesting element of the movie. More arresting are the sci-fi bits, like the scene in which the band members get tossed around a spaceship in slow motion while regressing back and forth to their childhood selves. And then there’s the sex. Guest indulges his randy side with lots of peekaboo glimpses at buxom supporting players. For instance, outrageously curvy British starlet Margaret Nolan appears as Johnson, an alien masquerading as an earth girl in order to seduce band member Vic (Vic Cooper), the band’s resident tomcat.
          How all this is supposed to add up is a mystery. The musical numbers get overshadowed by narrative nonsense, the sci-fi content is too geeky for casual viewers, and the smut feels out of character with the rest of the movie. Therefore, the amazing thing about Toomorrow is that it exists—did the producers even read Guest’s script? It’s no wonder Newton-John distanced herself from this strange flick, and it’s no wonder Toomorrow has yet to receive proper worldwide distribution. According to Wikipedia, the movie played for just one week in London during 1970, and then sat on a shelf (excepting bootleg copies) until receiving a UK-only DVD release in 2011.

Toomorrow: FREAKY

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