Help! (1965)

D: Richard Lester
S: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr

Richard Lester and The Beatles' follow up to A Hard Day's Night is a nonsense comedy revolving around Ringo's possession of a sacrificial ring sought by a cult of Kali worshippers led by Leo McKern. This slim premise is really just a springboard for a series of surreal sight gags and comic chases overlaid with mumbled dialogue, bad puns, and heavy doses of musical entertainment from the fab four. Their fans will not care that nothing particularly interesting happens, nor that though they are engaging enough under Lester's direction, none of them evinces much actual acting ability. Nothing of the sort is required so long as the film moves quickly through its bits of business and gets to the next song. These are rendered in the form of performance set pieces shot in different exotic locations including snow-capped mountains and sun-drenched beaches, none of which the characters have any reason to be in beyond the necessity to keep changing the scenery.

If viewed in the right frame of mind it is relatively harmless and passes the time easily enough. The comedy is light and the tone is far from sombre. The songs make it more bearable, though sometimes the stretches in between are too long for their own good. There is plenty of cartoon-like action to compensate, which might appeal to younger viewers on a Saturday afternoon but can become irritating. To be fair, Lester seems well aware of the corniness and plays upon generic conventions while holding onto the narrative thread with which the film begins, if only to provide some sort of centre. Various sub-plots are added as required, and it all proceeds at pace to a punch-up climax which playfully resolves all issues. It certainly does not take itself seriously, nor does it expect its audience to. Taken in the lighthearted spirit with which it has been made, it is probably passable entertainment.

Lester's technical grasp of the medium is difficult to fault. He handles the visual punchlines deftly and is surprisingly successful in holding together what might have been an unseemly mess. It is arguable that such ability might be better applied than in the service of pop performers, but at least it does make an interesting change from the more conventional narrative entertainments produced in the name of Elvis, Pat Boone, and Frank Sinatra. It does lack the freshness of its predecessor though, and unfortunately goes to prove that the documentary elements of A Hard Day's Night were probably just as fantastical as the rest of it. This comes as little surprise at a time when personae are more important than personalities, but if the progression from first picture to second has had this result, it does not bode well for the third.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.