Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Movie Review: The Beatles in Help! (1965)

Poster for Help!, 1965. Can you tell it's in color? For whatever reason, the Beatles are in a different order than they are pictured on the "Help!" album cover.

The Beatles in Austria for the filming of Help!

The Beatles on the Salisbury Plain, where they performed "I Need You" and "The Night Before."

"Ticket to Ride" single that shows the original title for Help! was Eight Arms to Hold You, which would have been a terrible title for a movie.
I recently watched the Beatles’ 1965 film Help! again, for about the 6th time, probably. Help! was the Beatles’ second movie, after 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night. Both Help! and A Hard Day’s Night were directed by Richard Lester, and feature the Beatles’ zany sense of humor. Personally, I like A Hard Day’s Night more, and I think it’s a stronger movie. But that being said, Help! is a surrealist pop masterpiece. 

Help! is a really silly movie, but it wears that silliness on its sleeve. Help! knows that it’s being tongue in cheek, and that helps the movie immensely. I think part of the reason that A Hard Day’s Night and Help! have lasted is that their sense of humor is one that modern-day audiences can readily recognize. The humor in these films is based on sarcasm and satire, which have become the default modes for humor. Help! anticipates many different trends in comedy, from the joke-a-minute surrealism of Airplane!, to the pure goofiness of Monty Python’s Flying Circus

The plot of Help! concerns a ring that Ringo was sent by a fan that is actually quite important to a certain Eastern religious cult that sacrifices whoever is wearing the ring. Of course, Ringo can’t get the ring off his finger. (Did he try running warm water over his finger?) This leads to many attempts to steal the ring, and/or kill Ringo. The action moves from England, to the Alps, back to England, to the Bahamas, because the Beatles wanted to visit the Alps and the Bahamas. Help! is a zany spoof of James Bond movies. Help! throws everything and the kitchen sink at you, and it tries so hard to amuse the viewer that at some point it just becomes a little exhausting. 

The supporting cast is excellent, with veteran character actor Leo McKern playing Clang, the chief villain. Eleanor Bron plays Ahme, a member of Clang’s cult who is surprisingly helpful to the Beatles. Spoiler alert: She has a major crush on Paul. (Um, who didn’t have a crush on Paul McCartney in 1965?) Also appearing is Victor Spinetti as a high-strung, paranoid mad scientist, echoing his turn as a high-strung, paranoid TV director in A Hard Day’s Night. (“I see it all now, it’s a plot.”) Spinetti’s bumbling sidekick is played by the very funny Roy Kinnear. Beatles fans should look for Jeremy Lloyd, who plays the tall guy dancing with Ringo at the nightclub in A Hard Day’s Night, who has a cameo as a restaurant patron in Help!

The Beatles were smoking a lot of pot during the filming of Help! which meant that they were often beset by the giggles, and filming their dialogue proved to be a challenge. Maybe that’s why so many of their lines overlap each other in the finished film. As always, Ringo is the center of the movie, as he’s the center of every Beatles movie. Ironically enough, Ringo never sings in a live-action Beatles movie, as he doesn’t have any songs in A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Magical Mystery Tour, or Let It Be. (Of course he sings the title song to the cartoon Yellow Submarine.) While A Hard Day’s Night made some attempt to differentiate the personalities of the Beatles, there’s none of that in Help! None of the group really get any “solo” scenes the way they did in A Hard Day’s Night

The songs in Help! are fantastic, of course, and they are presented in an interesting way. There’s not much of an attempt to work them into the storyline, but visually they look great. One look at all the tanks protecting the Beatles on the Salisbury Plain during “I Need You” and “The Night Before” makes it clear that this is a bigger budget operation than A Hard Day’s Night was. “Ticket to Ride” fulfills the same purpose as “Can’t Buy Me Love” did in A Hard Day’s Night, as an upbeat song that sees the Beatles goofing off, happy and carefree. For that reason, “Ticket to Ride” is probably my favorite part of the film.  

Help! is obviously essential viewing for any Beatlemaniac, and the chances are high that you’ll find it fab and gear.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Frankie Howerd had a part in it, but his scene was left of the cutting room floor. Titter ye not, I'm sure you can find episodes of his series "Up Pompeii" somewhere. :-)