Cucumber Castle | the other Bee Gees Movie
You know that movie starring the Bee Gees? No, not Sergeant Pepper’s, I mean the other Bee Gees movie. No, not Saturday Night Fever. The one where Barry Gibb played Prince Frederick, King of Cucumber, in 1970’s made-for-TV Cucumber Castle. The movie is named after the album of the same name, the Bee Gees’ fifth in-studio.
Note also that this movie technically is by two and a half BeeGees, as Robin Gibb had split off to work solo projects (they would reunite later). Barry and Maurice Gibb, meanwhile, were under a bit of pressure from producer Robert Stigwood to keep up appearances and assure the public that the Bee Gees were not breaking up. Their solution, after their ambitious concept album Odessa, was to camp it up with another concept album plus an accompanying movie.
Spoiler alert: Cucumber Castle was not the career-saver they’d hoped, and the Bee Gees looked in dire straights until they bounced back with #1 charting hits in the US.
Let’s look at this cultural curiosity though. If you follow my work, you know I love movies by bands as side projects from Down and Dirty Duck to Under the Cherry Moon. Cucumber Castle is at least as entertaining, if a little rough. Good prints of it are tough to find, so the Internet Archive copy is as good as any.
Cucumber Castle – Tis a Silly Place!
The first thing you will likely note upon watching Cucumber Castle is that you could mistake it for either a Monty Python or Mel Brooks production, even though both Monty Python and the Holy Grail and History of the World, Part I would not be produced for years hence. It’s that brand of spoof comedy, historic spoof which, let’s face it, the UK does so well. Honestly the style even has a whiff of Cheech and Chong’s The Corsican Brothers, another production which this movie predates.
Even knowing this going in, it’s impossible to watch brothers’ Gibb in medieval garb out in the woods while a fog machine chugs away, and not anticipate Graham Chapman to “ride” out of the fog accompanied by coconut-half live sound support.
So say what you will, but Cucumber Castle earns points for being that ground-breaker that you’d swear was derived from later works. And those points are going to need to sustain it across the finish line, because it runs out of gas really fast after that.
You could not ask for a lighter farce. Brothers Barry and Maurice play princes Frederick and Marmaduke, heirs to the throne of king… apparently king “no name,” played by Frankie Howerd (who gets one joke and the most laughs of the whole production, so savor him). The king starts the movie on his deathbed dividing his kingdom between the two princes, Fred to rule over the Kingdom of Cucumbers and Marm, oddly the odd one out title-wise, draws the Kingdom of Jelly. The brothers bicker and a number of sketches intersperse a number of Bee Gee songs, and nothing much else happens.
Interesting cast sightings!
Firstly, there’s Vincent Price bringing a surprise cameo as the wicked Count Voxville, apparently a vampire whose fangs have grown to walrus-tusk proportions. His character is pretty much wasted as somebody provoking the brothers to duel. Reportedly Price was filming another movie in the area and the director just grabbed him. Other cast notables include singer Lulu (remember her from my Eurovision winners list notables?), Spike Milligan, the members of supergroup Blind Faith (Clapton, Winwood, and Grech), Roger Daltry, and even Mick Jagger running around.
All of the above provide various co-starring singer duties, backing vocals, supporting cast, or just random celebrities stumbling through the set. Kiss logic goodbye, as this is very loosely a story and more like the Bee Gees fooling around with a camera for an hour Beatles-style.
I know that the Beatles and Bee Gees were supposed to be great friends. But it’s hard to imagine the Bee Gees not wanting to at least comment on the Beatles, who preceded them by leagues in fame while the Bee Gees struggled to get noticed early on. When Barry and Maurice don animal costumes for a “peasant hunting” sketch, I’d like to think of it as an homage to Magical Mystery Tour.
The whole film kind of meanders around like this without too much plot, but with lots of music. If anything, it’s a good reminder that the Bee Gees made many other kinds of music besides the glam disco that became their trademark. Drummer Colin Petersen was fired from the band during production and his scenes were cut.
This whole mess premiered in the UK on Boxing Day, and has never been seen since. As I say, prints are tough to come by. That’s because the only release was in the US on the Video Tape Network label, but even then it was pulled due to licensing issues. A commercial VHS take of Cucumber Castle fetches 3 figures at auction, being one of the rarest videos ever.
What a legacy. And it sure beats their Sergeant Pepper contribution.