THE BOOTLEG FILES: RINGO

BOOTLEG FILES 504: “Ringo” (1978 TV special with Ringo Starr).

LAST SEEN: The production is on YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Music clearance issues might be the problem.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Who knows?

When “A Hard Day’s Night” was released in 1964, many critics singled out Ringo Starr as the Beatle who could conceivably crossover into solo movie stardom. It seems that Ringo believed his unusually good reviews – unlike his fellow performers, Ringo would make frequent ventures into movie acting. Yet Ringo somehow never truly made his mark as an actor. He was too often lost in the tumult of a zany all-star cast (most notably in “Candy,” “The Magic Christian,” “Lisztomania” and “Sextette”) or he was just a welcome presence that lacked the skill to be a true scene-stealer (most notably in “200 Motels” and “That’ll Be the Day”).

In 1978, Ringo enjoyed a rare opportunity to be the center of the camera’s attention with a made-for-television special. The resulting production, simply titled “Ringo,” strangely resonated with the problems of his earlier film work: Ringo was a pleasant personality that ultimately failed to take center stage while his co-stars upstaged him.

“Ringo” opens with a surprise uncredited guest appearance by George Harrison, who holds a press conference to “clear up rumors about Ringo.” Harrison shares the news that Ringo is currently on the run from the police, and he promises to explain how this situation occurred. It seems that the whole mess is the result of Ringo crossing paths with a lookalike known as Ognir Rrats (spell that backwards and you’ll see the level of humor here).

The production then goes into an extended flashback, which finds Ringo in Hollywood. He is seated in the back of a limousine with four gorgeous women. A fifth woman runs alongside the vehicle – when the car stops, she flicks a cigarette lighter and inserts her arm through an open window, lighting Ringo’s cigarette. The tune “I Am the Greatest” plays on the soundtrack while this happens.

Meanwhile, the less-than-stellar Ognir Rrats (also played by Ringo, wearing slicked down hair and heavy eyeglasses) is barely making a living by selling maps to celebrity homes. A pair of nuns stops him and asks if he can point the way to the homes of Jill St. John, Susan Saint James, Joey Bishop and Peter, Paul & Mary. Ognir daydreams about become a celebrity and sings “Act Naturally.” Alas, that dream seems unlikely, and his day is made worse when a school bus drives over his bicycle.

Ognir arrives home and is greeted by his abusive father, played by Art Carney with a degree of realism that steamrolls the fun out of what should have been a comic scene. Ognir’s father frisks him for cash, and Ognir’s attempts to hide his earnings in his mouth are in vain.

Meanwhile, Ringo is at his recording studio and is angry over the excessive workload dropped on him by his manager (played by John Ritter, duded up as a late-70s sleaze). Ringo is eager to find time away from the pressures of stardom, and when he steps outside of the studio he spies the lookalike Ognir. “You’re an average man with an average intelligence,” says Ringo to Ognir. “Well, an almost average intelligence.” The pair agrees to switch clothing and identities for a few hours.

Ognir is apprehensive about pretending to be the famous performer, but Ringo reminds him, “We’re all sailors in the same ship.” This leads to a cheesy dance number where Ringo and Ognir watch a squadron of dancers in a shaky ballet linked to “Yellow Submarine.”

Once outside, Ringo enjoys the freedom of walking down a street. A group of bullies that regularly picked on Ognir don’t realize that Ringo is now pretending to be Ognir – but their wrath is abated when Ringo flashes a wad of cash in exchange for their vintage hot rod. While driving around, Ringo/Ognir hooks up with Ognir’s girlfriend, played by Carrie Fisher. They engage in a duet of “You’re Sixteen,” which is presented in a silly animated music video format. And in case you are wondering, Carrie Fisher’s singing is equal to the vocalizing she would offer later that year in “The Star Wars Holiday Special.”

Ognir’s awful father believes that his son has stolen the car, and he locks Ringo in Ognir’s. When Ringo protests that he really is Ringo Starr, the father sneers, “Stop talking like Julie Andrews!”

Ringo turns on the room’s TV and finds Ognir on Mike Douglas’ talk show to promote an upcoming concert. Ognir is terrified of being on camera and can barely speak. Douglas physically drags Ognir to a drum set-up, but Ognir demolishes the instruments while trying to duplicate Ringo’s performance style.

Ringo tries to sneak out of Ognir’s room via a window, but he is met on the street by Angie Dickinson in her “Police Woman” persona. When she grabs Ringo and handcuffs him behind his back, he deadpans, “I’m not into this thing as a rule, you know, but I suppose I could be.”

George Harrison returns, telling his press conference that he received a collect call from Ringo – the ex-Beatle is in police custody. “It looks like Ringo will be late for his concert,” George says. “Five to 10 years late.”

Ringo escapes police custody and hooks up with Ognir’s girlfriend, who just happens to be walking by. They pick up women’s clothing from a trash can and dress Ringo in drag – oblivious that his fairly heavy beard might call attention to his true gender. Meanwhile, Ringo’s manager is confused over his star’s behavior on the Mike Douglas show and is afraid this will disrupt the concert planned for the evening. The manager calls in the eminent psychologist Dr. Nancy (played by Vincent Price in a full-throttle camp mode). When asked about his first name, Price’s Dr. Nancy angrily responds in an icy grand-dame voice, “That is my first name!”

Dr. Nancy diagnoses Ognir as a “case of forgotten identity” and hypnotizes him. In a trance, Ognir goes through a psychedelic vortex and passes by massive cutouts of Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and other old-time rockers while singing “A Little Help from My Friends.”

George Harrison returns again, and the reporters are skeptical of his story. “What do you want from me?” George demands. “I’m a musician, not Mark Twain.” (The latter reference goes to the production’s obvious inspiration from “The Prince and the Pauper.”)

Of course, Ringo in drag arrives at the concert and the whole mess with Ognir is straightened up. With little time to pause, Ringo grabs his drumsticks and starts playing “Heart on My Sleeve” and “Hard Times.”

“Ringo” is not a bad TV special, but there’s nothing much here that raises it above the level of distracting silliness. The guest star line-up plays their parts at a high decibel frequency, which is in stark contrast to Ringo’s laid-back presence – which often seems like indifference in the midst of the hammy emoting that surrounds him.  And while it fun to hear Ringo’ hits again, it is a shame that “It Don’t Come Easy” wasn’t included – especially with its lyrics about how you “gotta pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues.”

“Ringo” was broadcast on NBC on April 26, 1978, with corporate sponsorship by Craig Car Stereo and Datsun. It made relatively impact with critics or audiences, and it was mostly forgotten – except by Ringo’s fans, which have passed around bootleg copies of the special for the past 35 years. To date, there has never been a commercial home entertainment release – one might assume music clearance rights to the Beatles’ tunes and Ringo’s hits are holding up any potential release.

Nonetheless, “Ringo” can be enjoyed by YouTube viewers in a decent bootleg print. And even if the production is less than inspiring, it still offers YouTube addicts a better grade of pop music cheese than a pair of Norwegians jumping around in fox costumes!

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!




Posted on November 1, 2013 in Bootleg Files, Features by
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