Synopsis: Directed by Richard Lester, who also directed the band’s debut feature film A Hard Day’s Night, Help! made its theatrical debut in 1965. The story follows The Beatles as they become passive recipients of an outside plot that revolves around Ringo’s possession of a sacrificial ring, which he cannot remove from his finger. As a result, he and his bandmates John, Paul and George are chased from London to the Austrian Alps and the Bahamas by religious cult members, a mad scientist and the London police. In addition to starring the Beatles, Help! has a witty script, a great cast of British character actors and features 7 classic Beatles tracks.
eyelights: the surrealistic, absurdist humour.
eyesores: the poor construction of the narrative. the corny humour. its lack of freshness. the middle-of-the-road songs.
“Look John, I’ve had some great times with this finger.”
‘Help!’ is The Beatles’ second motion picture. Released in 1965, hot on the heels of ‘A Hard Day’s Night‘ and accompanied by a hit soundtrack, it was another box office smash for the group. It follows them on various adventures as they try to escape an eastern cult who are trying to retrieve a ceremonial bejeweled ring that Ringo has on his finger – and which he can’t remove.
How he got it and why he can’t get it off will remain unclear for the whole picture.
I never understood ‘Help!’. Granted, the picture is so nonsensical that this isn’t a grand statement. What I mean that its appeal is lost on me. I remember working with a guy in the audio visual department of the local library who raved about it. Seriously, I can’t remember any other conversation with this guy because I was just so stunned by his defense of this nonsensical picture.
It simply doesn’t make any sense. It’s not just devoid of logic, it’s way too random, and it’s poorly constructed, being just a series of gags tied together with a loose plot. Some might say the same for ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, but there was a natural freshness to that one that is missing here. ‘Help!’ is more contrived; it’s more of a musical fantasy than a proper story.
The script is especially weak. For example, a female cultist helps Ringo escape, but she’s still with the cult later, no questions asked. And even after discovering that Ringo only has three hours to live, which is a lie, instead of banding together to get the ring off his finger, which everyone wants, The Beatles run away and are chased by everyone. It make no sense at all.
But it’s “exciting”, I suppose.
The fact that it was conceived under The Beatles’ instructions to take them to places they had never visited before, but with little other input from them (as returning director Richard Lester apparently controlled the picture) likely didn’t help. The film jumps about between locations and points in time erratically – so much so that titles are needed to situate us.
It was also marred by pot-addled performances from the Beatles, who themselves admitted to being so giggly that they were incapable of focusing on the film by early afternoon. Further to that, the writers for this film wrote them with interchangeable personalities, eschewing the established character types that had made them so endearing in the first place.
In ‘Help!’, they’re all quirky and a bit silly; they try too hard.
A perfect example of this is when The Beatles arrive at their flats each through their own door, even though they live in the same open space – in which George’s floor is grass (which he has mowed by a farmer standing by with chattering teeth), John pulls a book out of a rotating bookshelf and drops into a sinkhole in the floor to read and Paul plays a weird organ.
And Ringo? Ringo goes to get a sandwich from a dispenser, and is soon bitten by one of the cultists trying to get the ring off his finger. Then a robotic arm tries to pull his finger off in the middle of the night, throwing him to the floor. We are told and shown five more attempts in the next weeks – all of which fail. And which don’t even arouse suspicion in The Beatles. Just confusion.
Must be the drugs.
If anything, the picture is great because it shows the beginnings of music videos, with each Beatles number being shot in such a way that they could be presented on television. They usually don’t tie into the picture in any way whatsoever; they’re just wedged in there as musical interludes, using the set or location of the moment to film an interesting musical performance.
Why they haven’t been edited and released on a collection of video clips is beyond me; seems to me that’s one area The Beatles haven’t been milked. My thought is that perhaps it’s because the songs aren’t that inspiring: I know that some people like this era of The Beatles, but, when “Help!” is the greatest song in your arsenal, there’s really not much to be said about the rest of it.
For all my griping, I enjoyed the absurdist aspects of the picture, for instance that they broke it into three part, with a brief intermission (i.e. The Beatles just hanging about in the woods), Part 2, which had the cult’s sacrifice being bathed by her disappointed mom, and Part 3 (“Later that evening”), which was actually back to the exact time and place before the end of Part 1.
In fact, I liked ‘Help!’ a lot more than I had the first two or three times I’d seen it before. It’s no great cinematic masterpiece, and it utterly pales in comparison to its predecessor, but there’s nonetheless a charm and playfulness to it that sometimes inspires. It’s just a darned shame that much of it feels like a cobbled, contrived mess that’s more editing than storytelling.
“Help!” is more than just a song or a title, it’s what this picture needed.
Date of viewing: April 18, 2015