Help! is a 1965 British musical comedy-adventure film directed by Richard Lester, starring The Beatles and featuring Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron, Victor Spinetti, John Bluthal, Roy Kinnear and Patrick Cargill. The second film starring The Beatles following Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night, Help! sees the group struggle to record their new album while trying to protect Starr from a sinister cult and a pair of mad scientists, all of whom are obsessed with obtaining one of his rings.[3] The soundtrack was released as an album, also called Help!

The film had its Royal World Premiere at the London Pavilion Theatre in the West End of London on 29 July 1965 in the presence of Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon and the Earl of Snowdon. While not reviewed at the time with the same high level of admiration as their first film, the film is now credited with influencing the development of music videos.

Plot

Screenshot of The Beatles in Help!

An eastern cult (a parody of the Thuggee cult) is about to sacrifice a woman to their goddess, Kaili. They notice that she is not wearing the sacrificial ring. Instead, Ringo Starr, drummer of The Beatles, has the ring, sent to him by the intended victim, who is a fan of The Beatles. Determined to retrieve the ring and sacrifice the girl, the chief priest, Clang, several cult members, and high priestess Ahme leave for London. After failed attempts to steal the ring without Ringo noticing, they confront him in an Indian restaurant. Ringo learns that he will be the next sacrifice if he does not give up the ring. However, the ring is stuck and he cannot take it off.

The Beatles are chased around London by members of the cult. After a jeweller fails to cut the ring off, the band resorts to the bumbling efforts of a mad scientist and his assistant; when his equipment has no effect on the ring, the scientist decides that he must somehow acquire it.

The band runs to the Austrian Alps and narrowly escapes a trap there, thanks to Ahme, who is secretly aiding The Beatles. To stay safe, they ask for protection from Scotland Yard.

They are hidden in Buckingham Palace, narrowly avoiding capture by the scientist. Then they flee to the Bahamas, followed by the police officers, the scientist, and the cult members. After Ringo is nearly captured, the police have the other Beatles pose as him in order to ensnare the cult members. Despite their best efforts, however, the scientist catches Ringo and hides him aboard a boat where he intends to cut off his finger to get the ring. Ahme rescues Ringo by giving the scientist a shrinking solution in exchange. The two of them dive into the ocean to escape, but Ringo cannot swim and they are both captured by Clang and his followers.

In the end, when Ringo is about to be sacrificed on the beach, the ring suddenly comes off. He puts the ring on Clang’s finger, who is then chased by his own cult as the song “Help!” plays.

Cast

  • John Lennon as himself
  • Paul McCartney as himself
  • George Harrison as himself
  • Ringo Starr as himself
  • Eleanor Bron as Ahme
  • Leo McKern as Clang
  • John Bluthal as Bhuta
  • Patrick Cargill as Superintendent Gluck
  • Victor Spinetti as Foot
  • Roy Kinnear as Algernon
  • Alfie Bass as Doorman
  • Warren Mitchell as Abdul
  • Peter Copley as Jeweller
  • Bruce Lacey as Lawnmower
  • Durra as Belly Dancer
  • Mal Evans as Channel Swimmer (uncredited)
  • Gretchen Franklin as Neighbour (uncredited)
  • Dandy Nichols as Neighbour (uncredited)
  • Jeremy Lloyd as Restaurant Patron (uncredited)
  • John Louis Mansi as Priest / Thug
  • Viviane Ventura as Girl on the sacrificial altar (uncredited)

Production

According to interviews conducted with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr for The Beatles Anthology, director Richard Lester was given a larger budget for this film than he had for A Hard Day’s Night, thanks to the commercial success of the latter. Thus, this feature film was in colour and was shot on several overseas locations. It was also given a more extensive musical score than A Hard Day’s Night, provided by a full orchestra, and including pieces of well known classical music: Wagner’s Lohengrin, Act III prelude, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (“Ode to Joy”), and, during the end credits and with their own comic vocal interpretation, Rossini’s Barber of Seville overture. The original title for the film – only changed to Help! very near to its release – was Eight Arms to Hold You.[4] As such, Capitol Records’ original pressings of the “Ticket to Ride” single feature the subheading: From the United Artists release “Eight Arms to Hold You”.

Help! was shot in London, Salisbury Plain, the Austrian Alps, New Providence Island and Paradise Island in the Bahamas, and Twickenham Film Studios, beginning in the Bahamas on 23 February 1965. Starr commented in The Beatles Anthology that they were in the Bahamas for the hot weather scenes, and therefore had to wear light clothing even though it was rather cold. Tony Bramwell, the assistant to Beatles manager Brian Epstein, stated in his book A Magical Mystery Tour that Epstein chose the Bahamas for tax reasons. According to The Beatles Anthology, during the restaurant sequence filmed in early April, Harrison began to discover Indian-style music, which would be a key element in future songs such as “Norwegian Wood”. Filming finished on 14 April at Ailsa Avenue in Twickenham.

The ski scenes were shot at Obertauern, a small village in Austria. One reason this location was chosen was that the stars of the film were less likely to be recognised there than at one of the larger resorts with many British tourists. The Beatles were in Obertauern for about two weeks in March 1965 along with a film crew of around 60 people. Locals served as ski stunt doubles for The Beatles, who stayed at the hotel “Edelweiss”. Most of the crew were based in the hotel Marieta, where one night The Beatles gave an impromptu concert on the occasion of a director’s assistant’s birthday. This was the only time they ever played on stage in Austria.[5]

The Beatles did not particularly enjoy filming Help!,[6] nor were they pleased with the end product. In 1970, John Lennon said they felt like extras in their own film:

The film 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.

Ten years later Lennon was more charitable:

I realize, looking back, how advanced it was. It was a precursor to the Batman “Pow! Wow!” on TV – that kind of stuff. But [Lester] never explained it to us. Partly, maybe, because we hadn’t spent a lot of time together between A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and partly because we were smoking marijuana for breakfast during that period. Nobody could communicate with us, it was all glazed eyes and giggling all the time. In our own world. It’s like doing nothing most of the time, but still having to rise at 7 am, so we became bored.[7]

A contributing factor was exhaustion attributable to their busy schedule of writing, recording and touring. Afterwards they were hesitant to begin another film project, and Help! was their last full-length scripted theatrical film. The Beatles saw the 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine (in which their characters were voiced by actors, and they themselves made only a token appearance) as a favourable way to complete their commitment to United Artists for a third film. Many fans have assumed that the cartoon did not satisfy the contract, but Let It Be (1970) was the film not connected to the original three-picture deal.[8]

Inspiration

The Beatles said the film was inspired by the classic Marx Brothers film Duck Soup;[9] it was also directly satirical of the James Bond series of films.[10] At the time of the original release of Help!, its distributor, United Artists, also held the rights to the Bond series.

The humour of the film is strongly influenced by the abstract humour of The Goon Show, in which the director had personal and direct experience in the conversion of the radio format to television, and personal working experience with Peter Sellers in particular.[11] Beatles recording producer George Martin had also produced records for the Goon Show team. McCartney has always said that The Beatles’ style of humour was taken from the Goon Show. Many of the film’s concepts are derived from Goon Shows, such as the presence of wild animals, music, fourth wall-breaking jokes and abstractions such as the closing statement that concludes the film.

Working title

Among the original working titles for the film were Beatles Phase II and Eight Arms to Hold You. The latter title was printed on the single “Ticket to Ride” as an upcoming film. Because of this, the phrase has been used as a title for an album by Veruca Salt and for songs by the Goonies and by the Brittles, a Beatles-pastiche band.

Help! was settled on as the film’s title in April, leading Lennon to write the song “Help!” that same night. The official title was announced on 14 April. Aside from Eight Arms to Hold You, this title won over suggestions from Harrison (Who’s Been Sleeping in My Porridge) and United Artists producer Walter Shenson (The Day the Clowns Collapsed).[12] The Beatles had also suggested High-Heeled Knickers, a play on the title of Tommy Tucker’s 1964 hit song “High-Heeled Sneakers”.[13]

“Haze of marijuana”

The Beatles later said the film was shot in a “haze of marijuana”. According to Starr’s interviews in The Beatles Anthology, during the Austrian Alps film shooting, he and McCartney ran off over the hill from the “curling” scene set to smoke a joint. Starr recalled:

A hell of a lot of pot was being smoked while we were making the film. It was great. That helped make it a lot of fun … In one of the scenes, Victor Spinetti and Roy Kinnear are playing curling: sliding along those big stones. One of the stones has a bomb in it and we find out that it’s going to blow up, and have to run away. Well, Paul and I ran about seven miles, we ran and ran, just so we could stop and have a joint before we came back. We could have run all the way to Switzerland. If you look at pictures of us you can see a lot of red-eyed shots; they were red from the dope we were smoking. And these were those clean-cut boys! Dick Lester knew that very little would get done after lunch. In the afternoon we very seldom got past the first line of the script. We had such hysterics that no one could do anything. Dick Lester would say, “No, boys, could we do it again?” It was just that we had a lot of fun – a lot of fun in those days.

In the Beatles Anthology Director’s Cut, Harrison admitted that they were smoking marijuana on the plane ride all the way to the Bahamas. Their co-star Eleanor Bron recalled:

John did once offer me a joint. And I obligingly tried to take a little puff. I knew there was some special way of doing it – but I don’t smoke anyway. So I took a little puff and then thought, “This is so expensive. I mustn’t waste it!” And gave it back to him. So that’s your definition of naïve, I think.

McCartney also shared some of his memories of when they were filming Help!:

We showed up a bit stoned, smiled a lot and hoped we’d get through it. We giggled a lot. I remember one time at Cliveden (Lord Astor’s place, where the Christine Keeler/Profumo scandal went on); we were filming the Buckingham Palace scene where we were all supposed to have our hands up. It was after lunch, which was fatal because someone might have brought out a glass of wine as well. We were all a bit merry and all had our backs to the camera and the giggles set in. All we had to do was turn around and look amazed, or something. But every time we’d turn round to the camera there were tears streaming down our faces. It’s OK to get the giggles anywhere else but in films, because the technicians get pissed off with you. They think, “They’re not very professional.” Then you start thinking, “This isn’t very professional – but we’re having a great laugh.”

The photographer Michael Peto was commissioned in 1965 to take still photographs during the making of the film; these became known for their candid and expressive quality. During the digitisation of the Michael Peto Collection, which is held by Archive Services, University of Dundee, in 2002, 500 previously unpublished photographs of The Beatles taken during the making of Help! were reported to have been uncovered.[14][15][16][17] Now These Days are Gone, a limited edition volume of Peto’s photographs focusing on The Beatles images was produced in 2006 with deluxe editions of the book signed by Richard Lester. An exhibition of the photographs to mark the book’s launch was held at Hoopers Gallery, Clerkenwell, in January 2006.[18][19] Another exhibition of the photographs was held at the University of Dundee in 2007 as part of the university’s 40th anniversary celebrations, with the exhibition then moving to the National Conservation Centre, Liverpool.[20][21] In 2011 the photographs were exhibited in Dundee, as part of the Scottish Beatles Weekend, and at the Proud Gallery in Camden.[22][23]

Songs

The songs played during the film are:

  • “Help!”
  • “You’re Going to Lose That Girl”
  • “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”
  • “Ticket to Ride”
  • “I Need You”
  • “The Night Before” (interspersed with excerpts of “She’s A Woman”, with an explosion at the end not heard on The Beatles’ commercial recordings. Also played as an instrumental)
  • “Another Girl”
  • “She’s a Woman” (heard in the background, on a tape machine, and underground in the Salisbury Plain scene)
  • “A Hard Day’s Night” titled on the US soundtrack album as “Another Hard Day’s Night” (played by Indian musicians and as an instrumental medley comprising “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Should Have Known Better”)
  • “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You” (played by a band during the bike-riding scene)
  • “You Can’t Do That” (played as an instrumental during the Austrian Alps sequence)
  • “From Me to You” titled on the US soundtrack album as “From Me to You Fantasy” (played as an instrumental during scenes of attempts to remove the ring from Ringo’s finger while he sleeps in The Beatles’ communal house)

The seven main songs formed the first side of the British release of the Help! album. The second side consisted of other new Beatles songs recorded at the same time or shortly afterwards. The US album, released by Capitol Records, includes the seven film tracks along with instrumental soundtrack songs orchestrated by Ken Thorne. In addition, the US Help! opens with a hidden track stylised as a satirical “James Bond Theme” before the title track. Early pressings of the US version of the album 1962–1966 include this hidden track banded as “Help!”, and later pressings, when the UK catalogue was made the official and only catalogue of Beatles albums, omit it. The end credits are played over Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”.

Critical response

Upon its release, reviews for Help! were mixed. The Daily Expresss reviewer found Lester’s direction “a joy to watch” and called The Beatles “the closest thing to the Marx Brothers since the Marx Brothers”. By contrast, the Daily Mirror, Britain’s best-selling newspaper at the time, said Help! relied too heavily on “the likeable vacant grin of John Lennon, the smooth charm of Paul, the long-haired good looks of George, and the darkly villainous looks of the Long-Nosed One [Ringo Starr]”, and that these qualities were insufficient to carry a film.[13] In his contemporary review in The New York Times, film critic Bosley Crowther stated: “It’s a fiasco of farcical whimseys that are thrown together in this film – a clutter of mechanical gimmicks and madcap chases … Funny? Exciting? Different? Well, there’s nothing in “Help!” to compare with that wild ballet of The Beatles racing across a playground in “A Hard Day’s Night”, nothing as wistful as the ramble of Ringo around London all alone … The boys themselves are exuberant and uninhibited in their own genial way. They just become awfully redundant and – dare I say it? – dull.”[24]

In a retrospective review, Leslie Halliwell describes the film as an “[e]xhausting attempt to outdo A Hard Day’s Night in lunatic frenzy, which goes to show that some talents work best on low budgets. The humour is a frantic cross between Hellzapoppin’, The Goons, Goofy, Mr. Magoo and the shade of Monty Python to come. It looks good but becomes too tiresome to entertain.”[25]

Help!’s pop art style influenced the Batman TV series and the direction of the contemporary advertising industry. Although Lester’s depiction of Indian culture was largely negative and stereotypical, the film’s focus on Kali and other Hindu themes anticipated the counterculture’s fascination with Indian philosophy and music.[26] In his book 1965: The Year Modern Britain Was Born, cultural commentator Christopher Bray views Help! as “one of the central surrealist texts” of the 1960s, and the film that best captures the “magical weirdness” of London before the commercialisation that accompanied its international recognition as the world’s “Swinging City”.[27]

Ronnie D. Lankford of AllMovie describes Help! as a “forerunner to music videos”, adding: “Lester seemed to find the right tone for Help!, creating an enjoyable portrait of The Beatles and never allowing the film to take itself too seriously. His style would later be co-opted by Bob Rafelson for the Monkees’ television series in the ’60s and has continued to influence rock musicals like Spice World in 1998.[28]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 89{ae90547d17d4d74b17007ee836a04674fd006933c139011dc78eb03c100070a7} based on 27 reviews, with an average rating of 7.2/10. The website’s critics consensus reads: “Help! finds the Fab Four displaying their infectious charm and humor in an enjoyably madcap adventure.”[29] On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 58 out of 100, based on eight critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews”.[30]

Novelisation

A novelisation entitled The Beatles in Help! was written by Al Hine and published by Dell in 1965.

A sequence featuring Frankie Howerd and Wendy Richard was filmed but left out of final editing owing to its length. However, the sequence was left in the film novelisation.

Release history

Like A Hard Day’s Night, Help! was originally distributed theatrically by United Artists – the company handled distribution from 1965 to the end of 1980. In January 1981, rights to the film reverted from UA to producer Walter Shenson, and the film was withdrawn from circulation.

Help! was released several times in different video formats by MPI Home Video and The Criterion Collection. A version was released in February 1987 in VHS and Beta through MPI, along with a reissue of A Hard Day’s Night the very same day, and was followed by a special-edition release on 31 October 1995. MPI also issued a CLV laserdisc in 1995 and two releases on DVD, the first as a single DVD release on 12 November 1997 and the second as part of The Beatles DVD Collector’s Set on 8 August 2000.

LaserDisc releases include a Criterion CAV laserdisc and a Voyager CLV laserdisc in 1987, each of which had three pressings. The first pressings had no UPC on the gatefold covers while the other two had the UPC either as a sticker or printed directly on the jacket.

The film’s transfer on the CAV laserdiscs was done correctly so that no blending of frames occurs and thus movements are not blurry. The supplemental section, which, with few exceptions, has never been available on any other home video release, contains the following:

  • original theatrical trailer (which includes deleted scenes)
  • silent home film footage of the film set and of the world premiere
  • still photos, some of which are introduced by text describing the production history of the film
  • posters
  • sheet music
  • record jackets
  • radio ads (on audio during the silent footage)
  • an open interview, originally designed for disc jockeys. By reading prompts on the screen, one can pretend to talk to The Beatles.

In June 2007, a version of Help!, sub-titled in Korean, became available on Amazon.com. However, by July 2007, all home video versions of the film were pulled from the market because of rights issues involving Apple Corps – now the full rights holders to the film. The rights issues were eventually resolved and Apple Corps/EMI/Capitol released a new double DVD version with a fully restored image and newly remixed in 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround sound of the film. This came in standard 2xDVD packaging and 2xDVD deluxe edition box set on 30 October 2007 in the UK and 6 November 2007 in America.[31] This latest release contains new featurettes, three trailers (one of which is in Spanish), and the aforementioned radio ads carried over from the Criterion LaserDisc issue. The film was released on Blu-ray format in June 2013 by Universal Music, now the owners of EMI/Capitol Records, using the 2007 restoration.[32]

Certifications

RegionCertificationCertified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[33]Gold7,500^
Canada (Music Canada)[34]8× Platinum80,000^
United States (RIAA)[35]5× Platinum500,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Notes

  • The Beatles
  • Help! at IMDb
  • Help! at the TCM Movie Database
  • Help! at AllMovie
  • Help! at Rotten Tomatoes


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