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Reference Library: Joe Orton and the Lost Beatles Movie

From: "Allan Kozinn" (
Subject: "Up Against It" Beatles So-called 3rd Movie
Date: 19 Feb 1997 21:28:39 GMT

Mr. John James Whelan wrote:

Admitedly I don't know the whole history surrounding the early stages of UP AGAINST IT, but I do know that Joe Orton, the absurdist English playwright, wrote the script, or perhaps at least a draft of it. It's odd this account from Mojo Magazine doesn't even mention Orton.

Orton came into the picture a little later. The complete story is detailed in the Roy Car book that John referred to (Chapter 15: Joe Orton's 'Up Against It') and also, in Orton's own words, in "The Orton Diaries," edited by John Lahr, his biographer. A not very accurate (i.e., somewhat fictionalized) account of the transaction is also included in the film "Prick Up Your Ears," based on Lahr's biography of Orton.

Basically, since there *was* no "third movie," there were quite a few third movies, or ideas for third movies. They considered doing "Lord of the Rings," and also "The Three Musketeers," but dropped those ideas as well. The script that is described in the Mojo piece (and the Roy Carr book) is an earlier effort than Orton's "Up Against It," but it was sent to Orton by Walter Shenson in January 1967 to give him an idea of what they were considering.

Orton was a hot young property in the London theater world at the time, and particularly now that the Beatles were in an experimental art phase, of sorts, Epstein thought he might be the perfect author for the third film. Another reason, actually, is that McCartney was a fan of Orton's work, and had invested a thousand pounds in one of Orton's plays, "Loot." Orton's diary entry for January 12, 1967 notes that Walter Shenson called his agent and said that he had a script, which he characterized as "dull," and wondered if Orton would have a look. Orton agreed, and read it by the 15th, when he wrote in his diary:

"Like the idea. Basically it is that there aren't four young men. Just four aspects of one man. Sounds dreary, but as I thought about it I realised what wonderful opportunities it would give."

He then details some of his ideas of what he would do with the story. After a meeting with Shenson on Jan. 16 (he later met with Epstein and McCartney), he set out to write a new script, which became "Up Against It." Actually, as Carr points out, "Up Against It" used some fairly old ideas: part of it was from a novel Orton wrote in 1953 with Kenneth Halliwell (his lover, who murdered Orton and committed suicide on Aug. 9, 1967) called "The Silver Bucket," and part came from Orton's 1961 novel, "The Vision of Gombold Proval," which was published posthumously as "Head to Toe." He delivered a first draft on February 25, apparently knowing full well it would be rejected. He expected the reason to be that "the boys, in my script, have been cauth in-flagrante, become involved in dubious pllitical activity, dressed as women, committed murder, been put in prison and committed adultery." (Diary, Feb. 11, 1967).

McCartney's assessment, quoted in Carr, was different: "The reason why we didn't do Up Against It wasn't because it was too far out or anything. We didn't do it because it was gay. We weren't gay and really that was all there was to it. It was quite simple, really. Brian was gay...and so he and the gay crowd could appreciate it. Now, it wasn't that we were anti-gay -- just that we, The Beatles, weren't gay."

Once it was no longer a potential Beatles film, Richard Lester was brought in to transform it into a film featuring Ian McKellan and Mick Jagger, but that version of the project was shelved after Orton's murder on August 9.

--Allan Kozinn

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