Help!

A Hard Day’s Nightwas tremendously successful, and while much of that success can be laid at the feet of its stars, The Beatles, director Richard Lester (The Three Musketeers) certainly deserves credit for making a classic out of what might have been a cash-in or vanity project for the band.  The Beatles and Lester followed A Hard Day’s Night up with Help!, which moves out of “a day in the life” and into a more fantastic (though quite silly) adventure.

The film opens during a cult ceremony in India.  High priest Clang (Leo McKern, The Omen) is about to dispatch the sacrificial victim when he realizes that an important part of the ceremony-the victim’s ring-is missing.  Who should turn up wearing the ring but Ringo (Ringo Starr, Caveman), who found it in his fan mail.  Clang and his cult travel to England to get the ring back.  Unfortunately for Ringo, whomever wears the ring is the next victim of the cult-and Ringo can’t seem to get it off!  The Beatles, with the help of a double agent in the cult, Ahme (Eleanor Bron, Revelation of the Daleks) must attempt to keep Ringo alive until they discover a way to remove the ring.  Matters are complicated when a scientist (Victor Spinetti, The Revenge of the Pink Panther) and his bumbling assistant (Roy Kinnear, Scrooge) join the chase for the ring.

Help! is a bit music video, a bit travelogue (we get scenes in the Bahamas and the Alps, as well as in several English locales), and a lot of slapstick, along with humor that might be called Pythonesque if Help! didn’t precede Python.  The film is quite influential, from music videos (at least in the days when MTV still played them), right through bald-faced corporate attempts to rip-off the band’s antics in the film (the Monkees).  While this keeps the film from feeling as fresh as it might otherwise, the film still works, although it is a bit more “cute” than funny in many places.  The Beatles themselves are not exactly great actors, but they get the job done.  Lester keeps things moving at the perfect pace, the scenery is beautiful, and the supporting cast is excellent.  Probably best viewed when young (as I distinctly remember the bits I saw as a kid being extremely funny then) and in love with the band but even a casual fan of the group or a non-fan (provided said non-fan can stand to watch and hear them) should enjoy Help!.

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