By Stephanie Star Smith
February 20, 2002
Their second film finds the Beatles a year into worldwide Beatlemania, still having a blast but feeling a bit knackered. An outlandish plot takes the four lads from Liverpool to the Austrian Alps, the Salisbury Plain, Buckingham Palace and the Bahamas, in an all-out effort to keep poor Ringo from being sacrificed to the goddess Kaili.
The first film the Beatles made was a thinly-fictionalized account of a day in the life of the Fab Four, and was shot in black-and-white. This second film is a flat-out fantasy which is more a caper comedy - as well as an excuse for United Artists to put out a soundtrack album - than anything else, and certainly owes an even greater debt to the Marx Brothers than did A Hard Day's Night. Purportedly, the Beatles kept telling Richard Lester, "We've never been to ______________," and the director would promptly inform the screenwriters to create a scene that sent the Beatles to their destination of choice. Now whether this is true or not is anyone's guess, but it would explain somewhat the extremes of locale and temperature one sees in Help!. Slight though the story is, it affords the lads ample opportunity to display their wit and charm, conquering the world as much with their personalities as with their music.
So if you never experienced Rollermania, much less Beatlemania, why should you care?
One reason is it's genuinely funny. As with most caper comedies, the plot is less important than the elaborate set-pieces, and the more outrageous the setting and stunts, the better. There's a great deal of silliness in Help!, starting with the High Priest of the Cult of Kaili, and going all the way down to the employees at an Indian restaurant all being British ("What do you think unions are for, mate?"). There's also the obligatory mad scientist who's out to rule the world, if he can get a government grant, and the mysterious young woman who may or may not be a friend to the Fabs. You need to leave your disbelief locked in a box, but once you go with the film, it's a rollicking good time.
Then there's the music. The score for Help! seems that much more amazing when you realize that the music was written in a very short time frame. The Beatles were touring and had put out another album in between A Hard Day's Night and Help!, yet they were able to write six wonderfully catchy tunes specifically for this film. Whether you find The Beatles' music to be some of the most influential ever written or mindless noise that any half-conscious monkey could create, that's still an amazing feat.
Help! has suffered for years in comparison to A Hard Day's Night in no small part due to the fact it was the Beatles' second film. That's more an indication of what an extraordinary work the first film was than an indictment of the second. But if you give it half a chance, you'll find a charming and delightful film that is more than worth 90 minutes of your time.
"Dedicated to the memory of Elias Howe, who in 1845 invented the sewing machine."