Friday, February 17, 2012

Stubs - Help!


HELP! (1965) Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Directed by Richard Lester. Written by Charles Wood. Story by Marc Behm. Produced by Walter Shenson Songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and George Harrison. Music by George Martin and Ken Thorne. Run Time: 92 minutes. Color. UK. Music, Comedy, Action, Adventure.

1965 was, as Paul McCartney referred to it on that year’s Christmas fan club record, “a really big year” for the Beatles. But it was also a year that saw the group in repeat mode. They were still the biggest thing on the planet, but 1965 was in many ways a lot like 1964 had been. The year started with “Another Beatles Christmas Show” ending its run on at the Hammersmith Odeon Theater. And another number one single on the charts, “I Feel Fine”. During the year, they would put out more hit singles, do three more tours (the UK, the US and Europe), two more British studio albums and like the year before, they would make a movie, HELP!

After the success of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT it was a natural that the Beatles would make another movie. And re-teaming them with the same director, Richard Lester and the same producer, Walter Shenson, made sense, too. After all the six of them had already teamed together to make a classic film. But HELP! is not A HARD DAY’S NIGHT II. While the previous film had captured the spirit and exuberance of Beatlemania, HELP! seems to find the Beatles consumed by it. Instead of a mock-documentary about a day in the life of the Beatles, the story is more of a jet-setting James Bond-theme spoof. Instead of black and white hand held camerawork, the film is color with high production values for a rock and roll film of the time.

HELP! revolves around Ringo and a large red multifaceted ring that a fan has sent him. The ring in question is actually the sacrificial ring of a cult that is worn by the human sacrifice to the goddess Kali. Determined to get the ring back and to make the sacrifice, the great Swami Clang (Leo McKern) and the high priestess, Ahme (Eleanor Bron) travel with the woman to London.

Ringo and the sacrificial ring that is at the center of the film.
After several failed attempts to steal the ring off of Ringo’s finger, including disrupting the recording session for the song “You’re Going to Lose That Girl”, they confront Ringo in an Indian restaurant, where the Beatles have gone to learn the mysteries of the East. Ringo learns that if he doesn’t return the ring, he will be next in line to be sacrificed. But to his dismay, Ringo finds that the ring is stuck on his finger good and tight.

The Beatles in the studio recording "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" in Help!
The Beatles go to a jeweler to get the ring removed, but the metal it is made of proves to be too much for his tools. 

The Jeweler can't help them get the ring off Ringo's finger.
Next they turn to a mad scientist, Foot (Victor Spinetti) and his assistant Algernon (Roy Kinnear) for help. But when his surplus British-made equipment has no effect on the ring, Foot is more determined than ever to get the ring, since as he sees it, anyone with that ring could rule the world. But before Foot can get the ring, Ahme shows up and rescues the boys.

Ahme (Eleanor Bron) arrives to save the Beatles from Foot (Victor Spinetti).

Back at their flat, Ahme tells them that the woman who was to be sacrificed was her sister and that her sister is now no longer in danger; Ringo is. She proposes to inject Ringo with a potion made of the essence of orchids that should shrink his finger and allow the ring to fall off. But before she can inject him, there is an intermission.

It is short with the Beatles seen in a field, jumping up and down for a few seconds.

The Intermission to Help!
Part two is equally short, showing Ahme’s sister being given a bath to wash the sacrificial red paint off her.

The film finally gets back on track with part three. We’re back to the scene that ended part one. Ringo is lying nervously on Paul’s bed waiting for the interjection. But just as Ahme is about to inject him, the gang arrives and startled, Ahme puts the needle in Paul’s leg instead. We are then presented with miniature Paul’s adventures on the floor. Ringo is doused with the sacrificial red paint, which ruins his suit and makes him cry. But before a swordsman can sacrifice him, Foot arrives and firing a shot, scares the man away. While the gang retreats, Foot makes his attempt, only to be thwarted by John and the now full-sized Paul. Foot tries to shoot John, but his British-made wembley revolver misfires. Foot subsequently leaves.

The Beatles flee to Austria, where they naturally ski and sing. But the gang and Foot are in hot pursuit. Foot and Algernon try to kill the Beatles with a booby trap during a game of curling. But George spots it and saves the group. The Swami makes an attempt out on the slopes, but Ahme detours him down a path that leads to the take-off ramp of a ski jumping contest, which the Swami wins.

Singing along to "Ticket To Ride" in the Austrian Alps.
Returning to England, the Beatles seek protection from Scotland Yard and their chief Inspector (Patrick Cargill). But their secured recording session at Salisbury Plain, within view of Stonehenge, is disrupted when the gang makes another attempt. The next place Scotland Yard stashes the Beatles is Buckingham Palace. But they are not free from Foot, who makes another foiled attempt to steal the ring using a motion ray.

The Beatles recording on the Salisbury Plain under the protection of the British Army. 
After that, the Beatles go to a pub where Swami is working. Ringo gets trapped when George accidentally opens a trap door the Swami has prepared. In the room there is only a ladder with broken rungs and a tiger. The Beatles get the Inspector who tells them to sing Beethoven’s Ode To Joy to sooth the tiger.

The Beatles in the pub. Ringo is about to accidentally open a trap door.
Next, the Beatles fly to the Bahamas, with Scotland Yard and the Swami and Foot in tow. After Ringo is nearly captured, the other Beatles pose as him to help lure out the cult members, who are then arrested by the Bahamas police. But Foot does manage to capture Ringo and takes him out to his boat so he can cut off the finger to get to the ring.
Ahme appears and exchanges a vial of the Orchid shrink potion for Ringo and the ring. 

The Beatles biking in The Bahamas.
When Ahme and Ringo leave the ship, they are captured by the cult, tied down on the beach and Ringo is prepared for sacrifice. Even though he is told that trying to warn the other Beatles will mean his instant death, Ringo still manages to break free and attempts to warn his band mates. As Ringo waves his hand, the ring falls off and he puts it on Clang’s finger. Ahme declares that Clang will be the next to be sacrificed but he gets the ring off and gives it to Foot and Algernon, but they leave it in the sand while the police round up the cult.

The Beatles seem to be a little lost in this film and it’s not due just to the marijuana they were supposedly smoking throughout the filming. They are still playing themselves, but these are much more fictionalized versions than they played in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. On their own, they are witty and funny men, but the parts they play in this film are more superficial almost cardboard versions of themselves. Part of the brilliance of their first film is that it comes close to capturing the real Beatles or at least what fans perceive as real. But HELP! does not make that attempt.

While HELP! is a lot of fun to watch, it is a somewhat disappointing follow up to A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. There are some really classic Beatle moments, like the idea they share one flat with four front doors, and there are some great songs on the soundtrack, including the title song, “Ticket to Ride” and maybe one of the overlooked classics from this time, “You’re Going to Lose That Girl”. But for all this, there are scenes like George’s flute playing servant who cuts the carpeting with chattering teeth and locations chosen specifically for tax reasons, like the Bahamas, where a lot of the film takes place, that make this film appear to be more of an obligation than a celebration.

In 1965, the Beatles could almost be said to be going through the motions. After you’ve conquered the world what else is there to do, but to keep on keeping on. Within the year they would change all that. They would stop touring in 1966 and retreat into the studio. 

Musically, Help! is more of them treading water. There are some very good songs on the studio/soundtrack album, including McCartney’s classic “Yesterday” and the song “I’ve Just Seen a Face” points to the future Rubber Soul album. But Help! is also the last studio album to feature covers, “Act Naturally” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzie”. From now on, everything would be an original composition.

The Beatles have to be given credit for getting off the merry-go-round before things got stale musically and culturally. The movie HELP! is sort of a reminder of what things could have dissolved into if the Beatles had continued to play along. They would have been good, but maybe not great.

HELP! starts with a lot of promise, but does not live up to their first film. It is to their credit that the Beatles did not make another movie like this. While the film is not without its own charms, it does not capture the magic of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT.

For other Beatles films, see our Beatles Film Review Hub:

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