The following is my second of two entries in The 2nd Annual British Invaders Blogathon, hosted by the blog A Shroud of Thoughts. Click on the above banner, and read some great critiques of a wide range of British and Britain-related movies!
The Beatles’ Help! has just as wispy a plot as its predecessor, A Hard Day’s Night, and probably much less reason for its existence. But if you’re willing to give yourself over to it, it’s very good-natured and funny.
Perhaps it helps to see it a half-century after its creation. The spirit of Monty Python and other British comedy has become so firmly embedded in our subconscious that Help!’s endless string of non-sequitor gags somehow comes together and makes sense. When the movie was first released, it was probably enough for most people simply to see The Beatles clowning and singing on-screen in full color.
The movie’s shaggy-dog plot is that Ringo finds himself wearing a ring that makes him the target of a religious sacrifice for an Eastern cult. Through even more plot machinations, the ring becomes a morbid point of fascination for a mad scientist (Victor Spinetti, the neurotic TV director from A Hard Day’s Night). Thus, the movie pretty much turns into one long chase, halted every so often so that The Beatles can sing one of their beloved hit songs.
Critics and moviegoers who have sought a coherent plot and characters to root for have long come away shaking their heads at this movie. But in these days of raunchy, flatulent film comedy, a quaint, eager-to-please number such as Help! looks better all the time.
Besides The Beatles and the rest of the cast being quite game for the movie’s silliness, you have to love the blackout-sketch-type jokes, as when the initial sacrificial virgin returns home to get a bath from her mother, who chides her daughter for coming home with grimy sacrificial paint all over herself.
Screenwriter Marc Behm — and, certainly, director/silent-comedy enthusiast Richard Lester — manage to pull off a cheerily farcical tone throughout, even as Ringo is continually under threat (often from his own bandmates) of getting a finger lopped off. (The film’s sense of humor extends to Ken Thorne’s orchestral soundtrack, which slyly riffs on a number of previous Beatles tunes.)
Beatles lore tells us that this movie was filmed near the end of the Fabs’ “escapist” period, shortly before they ditched their moon/spoon-type lyrics and started reaching for something deeper in pop artistry. As such, Help! is a nostalgic, often hilarious valedictory to The Beatles’ “growing up” years.
(If you enjoyed this blog, please click here to read my first British Invaders Blogathon entry about The Beatles’ movie debut, A Hard Day’s Night.)