The influence of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison of The Beatles suffused itself into the very identity of popular culture in the late 20th century, changing the way music was produced, films were made and even how society functioned. Having made several movies themselves, including Let it Be, A Hard Day’s Night and Yellow Submarine, the band were pioneering creatives who never ceased to push the boundaries of the contemporary entertainment industry.
Whilst the likes of Let it Be and Magical Mystery Tour have largely been reserved for the shadows of cinematic obscurity, both A Hard Day’s Night and Yellow Submarine have since gone on to define two distinct periods of filmmaking in the 1960s. Whilst A Hard Day’s Night experimental techniques helped to welcome a new era of revolution in the British film industry, Yellow Submarine remains well known as one of the greatest psychedelic animations ever made. With absurd, trippy visuals and a fantastical central story, even George Harrison commented: “That film works for every generation”.
Clearly a lover of his own work on the iconic animation Yellow Submarine, directed by George Dunning, when it came to George Harrison’s personal favourite film he opted for a comedy classic in Mel Brook’s The Producers. Easily able to quote the film on demand, it is thought that Harrison was such a superfan of the film that it even inspired him to become a producer himself, going on to fund the likes of Life of Brian, Time Bandits, Shanghai Surprise, Withnail & I and many more.
Not just inspiring Harrison to take up a part-time career in the movies business, the musician also began to scatter references to the film throughout his songs, most notably in ‘Horse to the Water’ from the album Small World, Big Band. The reference in question comes when Harrison sings, “A friend of mine in so much misery, some people sail through life, but he has struck a reef,” a call back to Zero Mostel’s line in The Producers, “Other men sail through life. Bialystock has struck a reef!”.
A lover of the film well into his later life, George Harrison installed a cinema in his grand home of Friar Park where he would show nightly screenings of The Producers for himself, his friends and family. As the musician stated in the book The Beatles: Off The Record 2, it was the influence of Mel Brook’s film that led him to help out his friend Eric Idle and the rest of the Monty Python troupe to complete Life of Brian.
“I asked Denis [O’Brien] if there was any way I could help out the Python team myself,” he states in the book, adding: “I thought he had forgotten about it, but a day or two later, he came back to me and said, ‘I’ve found a way to make it. We’ll be the producers’”.
Exclaiming his delight about the idea, Harrison noted, “I had watched that Mel Brooks film The Producers hundreds of times, Peter Sellers introduced it to me, it was a hilarious idea”.
Directly influencing the life of George Harrison, there was no other film quite as revolutionary in his life than that of The Producers by Mel Brooks and starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel.