Help! is a peculiar film, it was released in 1965 and was the second film to star the Beatles. Help! was made at a point in time where the Beatles had exploded into the mainstream and the band were also evolving into serious artists looking to create mature and tangible work. A Hard Days Night was released a year earlier and was a hit financially so the drive to make another film was through the roof.
Richard Lester was on board to direct once again and he was given a larger budget to work with, this opened up the opportunity for the film to be shot in a wide variety of locations including the Bahamas, Austrian Alps and London. Help! made a comfortable profit for United Artists but on release the film was seen as a step down in quality compared to the Beatles previous film.
I loved A Hard Days Night but I have mixed feelings about Help! the film is a complete mess structurally and it doesn’t make any logical sense. The film literally transitions from a scene in London to a scene in the Austrian Alps without any set up or establishment, the plot seems to be held together by glue and the pacing suffers as a result.
I should probably tell you about the story because it is absolutely ludicrous, the film begins with an Eastern cult preparing to sacrifice a woman to an ancient goddess named Kaili, but before the ceremony can be completed they encounter a big problem. A sacrificial ring needed to complete the ritual has mysteriously vanished and has ended up in the possession of Ringo Starr through a fan letter sent by the sacrificial lamb.
“I got it from this Eastern bird I mean lady in a fan letter, I get all sorts, the ring is rubbish tho” Ringo explains.
The victims sister Ahme (Eleanor Bron) plays a major part in this film, she’s kind of a femme fatale character who is with the cult at first before deciding to jump ship and join the Beatles instead.
At first they assume she is a fan who is just eyeing up Paul McCartney but she proves to be really useful and ends up helping the band through a lot of sticky situations. Her main goal is to save her sister and she is successful in the end.
“Without the ring there will be no sacrifice, without the sacrifice no congregation, without the congregation no more me” says Clang.
Clang (Leo Mckern) is the leader of the religious cult and he is the definition of a mustache twirling villain, Mckern chews up every bit of scenery and he is clearly having a lot of fun with his role. Clang is basically a cartoon character who has been awkwardly squeezed into a Beatles film, I do love his character though even if he is a bit out-of-place.
Back to the story, The cult arrive in London and waste no time with their attempts to steal back the ring.
They try to take it while Ringo is sleeping, while he is travelling in a lift, using a toilet and they also try to cut off his finger through a letterbox, but every time they fail miserably. The traps are over the top and bizarre but the film never acknowledges its own stupidity which makes it even funnier.
The Beatles decide to have lunch at an Indian restaurant in the heart of London named Rajahara and of course they are being followed by the cult. The Beatles run into the cult face to face and this sequence is a highlight in the film, I’ve always enjoyed slapstick humour and this part of the film is rife with it, we also learn a major plot point in this scene which changes the course of Ringo’s potential fate.
Instead of just trying to remove the ring, the cult are now actually trying to murder Ringo and the rest of the film basically consists of him trying not to die. In order to murder Ringo the cult have to first cover him in red paint, before finally finishing the job, this of course proves to be easier said than done.
“They have to paint me red before they chop me. It’s a different religion from ours, I think”
As I mentioned above we go to wide range of locations from the heights of the Austrian Alps, to the wilderness of the Salisbury Plains and the Beatles actually end up in Buckingham Palace for a while to (not literally). The third act is set in the beautiful sunshine of the Bahamas but to me this is weakest part of the film.
After discovering that his life is in danger, Ringo is desperate to remove the ring and he seeks the help of a mad scientist (Victor Spinetti) and his assistant (Roy Kinnear) to remove it, this fails of course but the scientist becomes convinced that if can get hold of the ring he will become powerful enough to rule the world, yes really.
So the Beatles are being chased by an evil religious cult and a crazy mad scientist who seeks world domination, the poor sods can’t catch a break.
“It’s basically a chase film because I keep getting chased by these lunatics” said Ringo Starr in an interview at the time.
Let’s discuss what I love about Help!
I absolutely adore the opening credits in this film, we see the Beatles performing the song Help! and the screen is washed in a beautiful dark blue filter.
The credits are very unique and well executed and combined with a classic Beatles song they are a joy to watch. I always look forward to the start of the film because I am always greeted with those incredible opening credits, I’m weird I know.
I also enjoyed watching the Beatles for the most part, they ooze charisma and I find their little exchanges of banter endearing, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr are all close friends and this is evident on film, the four of them crack a lot of jokes and most of them work well.
I also liked watching them in A Hard Day’s Night and I think they do a decent job in Help! but in many scenes they look genuinely uninterested and are clearly playing their roles sarcastically which can become tiresome.
“In all truthfulness we spent a lot of that film slightly stoned, we were kinda pretty disinterested you know, we were doing it again and so it wasn’t quite as exciting as the first time, nothing is” said McCartney reflecting on the film.
Ok, lets talk about another positive – the music, I love this soundtrack!
The Beatles perform Help, You’re Going to Lose That Girl, You’ve Got to Hide Love Away, I Need You, The Night Before and Ticket To Ride. All these songs are absolute joy to listen to and I think the music is a sole reason to watch this film.
My personal favourites include I Need You written and performed by George Harrison, Help written by John Lennon and It’s Only Love written once again by Lennon which I forget to mention above.
This soundtrack is filled with great music and I feel that every song is up to the quality expected of the Beatles. I think the Help! album is one of the Beatles most underrated LPs and the music is probably the main reason why I rewatch this film.
Help! also has a great sense of humour and is filled with memorable lines that I find amusing.
“Take this hastily scribbled note, hastily”
Ringo: What was it that attracted you to me?
John: Well you’re very polite, aren’t you?
“There’s somebody been in this soup”
“She cannot be sacrifaced without the ring”
“Has nobody looked in the wash basin?”
John: What’s this?
Ringo: A season ticket what do you think it is?
John: Oh. I like a lot of seasoning in me soup.
Help! is a film that really really want to love but it’s flaws are too big to overlook, the film is fun to watch on times and I always find myself laughing at its absurdities. The Beatles are also my favourite rock band and to watch them in colour for the very first time is a wonderful experience.
I would recommend watching Help! because the film’s postives do outweigh the negatives but be warned the film is certainly not perfect.
I want to end this blog with a quote by Richard Lester.
“The film came at a very, if you like relaxed time in their lives. Where there was a lot of laughter and merriment and things didn’t seem to matter too much, certainly they had a good time and I hope that was allowed to come out in the film”
I think it did come out. (for the most part)
I would to credit IMDB and Wikipedia with the quotes and information provided in this blog, I would also like to credit the Beatles YouTube channel for the video as well. All the relevant links are below.
I also used some quotes from the Ron Howard film – The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years which I would also highly recommend.