Ringo Starr, John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney get the munchies during the filming of Help! in the alps.
Help! is the Beatles follow-up to their successful movie debut, A Hard Day's Night. Richard Lester is once again the director and the movie again combines some zany, surreal humor with a terrific, chart topping soundtrack filled with recognizable, hit songs. Although it looks good and sounds even better, overall the movie is a disappointment when compared to their previous feature.
Following the success of Hard Day's Night, the filmmakers were given a larger budget with which to make Help! It's shot in color and features several exotic locations, including the Alps and the Bahamas. Legend has it that those two locations were chosen because the Beatles wanted a skiing holiday and to go somewhere sunny.
The extra money definitely shows in the production values. Lester was able to shoot some truly inventive and iconic scenes, especially during the music numbers, which are basically what we would think of as music videos nowadays. The Beatles in the Alps, skiing and sledding is probably the film's most famous scene.
There is a plot, but it's just silly nonsense. Ringo acquires a ring that belongs to a Thuggee cult who believe that whoever wears it must be sacrificed. They spend the entire movie chasing the Fab Four trying to kill Ringo. This being 1965 and at the height of not only Beatlemania, but also Bondmania, several scenes are filmed as spoofs of a 007 movie. An instrumental version of "A Hard Day's Night" is used several times, played very much in the style of the James Bond theme.
Even the Beatles were disappointed in the film. John Lennon said in an interview that they felt like extras in their own movie and that, "The movie was out of our control. With A Hard Day's Night, we had a lot of input, and it was semi-realistic. But with Help!, Dick Lester didn't tell us what it was all about."
However, all of the Beatles admit that they filmed Help! in a haze of marijuana. John said in a 1980 interview, "We were smoking marijuana for breakfast during that period." In the Beatles Anthology documentary, Ringo admits, "A hell of a lot of pot was being smoked while we were making the film." while George has said that they were smoking marijuana on the plane ride all the way to the Bahamas. And Paul has said, "We showed up a bit stoned, smiled a lot and hoped we'd get through it." Perhaps then, it's not surprising that too often in the story the focus seems to be on Leo McKern and Eleanor Bron, who, presumably weren't stoned.
Only in the music scenes do the Beatles seem fully present and the film is filled with several of their classic songs. Along with the title track there's "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and "Ticket to Ride" among others. And as I said, Lester films these scenes well. Even now, almost 50 years later they still retain their freshness.
There are some funny scenes. The Beatles living quarters and arrangements, with all of four of them living in interconnected houses in an ordinary suburban neighborhood is the Beatles best comic moment. Too many of McKern's scenes trying to kill Ringo though just end up feeling a little too much like the Coyote trying to kill the Road Runner.
While still fairly entertaining, Help! is more likely to be enjoyed by and of interest to true Beatles fans. It's definitely a step down from the much more universally appealing A Hard Day's Night. The Beatles seem to have agreed. The third film they were under contract to make was never forthcoming.
George, Paul, Ringo and John in the Bahamas for a scene in Help!
Help! has gotten a bad rap over the years. It may be less artistically satisfying but it's no less entertaining than A Hard Day's Night. Yes the plot is ridiculous and more slapstick heavy, but it is beautifully shot in color and features the Fab Four at the absolute height of their popularity and talent.
The songs in this movie will echo through the centuries like the compositions of Beethoven or Mozart. My favorites are "You're Going to Lose That Girl", "I Need You" and "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You". This latter song being played while the four blokes ride bikes around the English countryside.
Like Scott I enjoyed the Beatles living arrangement. Their four interconnected apartments are very cool and provide some silly moments of fun. I especially enjoyed John Lennon's sunken bed that you must take steps down to in the middle of the floor. Beatles fans also got a glimpse of a nearly naked Paul McCartney after he gets injected with a serum that makes him shrink literally right out of his clothes. This section of the movie is subtitled, "The Exciting Adventure of Paul on The Floor".
Like in their previous movie, each of the Beatles gets a moment to shine and show off their distinct personalities. Ringo once again steals the movie while proving that he was not only the funniest Beatle, he was also the grooviest. His clueless facial expressions cracked me up and his drumming style remains unique.
Help! was reportedly inspired by the Marx Brothers' classic Duck Soup, with a dash of a 007 spoof tossed in for good measure. Add to that the flavorful assortment of hit songs and the result is a tasty movie broth that goes down smooth even if it doesn't have a season ticket floating in it (you'll get this reference if you watch the movie).
For the love of God you guys! This movie is horrible on every possible level. If not for the presence of the Beatles and their songs, that have absolutely nothing to do with all the nonsense barely pretending to be a plot, this would have long been considered one of the worst films ever made. Hell, I still consider it one of the worst films ever made.
The only parts worth any merit what-so-ever are when the Beatles perform. My favorite moment being when they do the catchy "Ticket to Ride", in the Alps. Any time they are not singing, this film becomes a pathetic joke without any worthwhile punch line.
Both my brothers went on about how drugs and other influences went into the making of this movie. While I will add that Help! was clearly a huge factor in the creation of the the television show The Monkees (1966-1968), in which a four man rock band lived together and had silly psychedelic adventures in between singing pop songs.
I agree with Patrick that the Beatles songs will live on. They are the only parts of this ridiculously bad film worth remembering. Why did they not just make a concert movie? Help! definitely needed plenty of it. Too bad it's call for assistance went unheeded.
Photos © Copyright United Artists (1965)