Help! remains one of the most influential movies to this day thanks to catchy tunes from The Beatles and Richard Lester’s direction.
When it came to the direction that this film would go in, it was clear that they couldn’t replicate A Hard Day’s Night. Their private lives were off limits and so they end up doing a Pop Art fantasy. At the time, there was so much room to play with as things didn’t take a turn for a few more years. You also don’t have to look far to see one of the biggest influences on the film. Two words–okay, three of them: Bond…James Bond. Much like the Bond films, this one is features some globe-trotting action scenes. Even taking the Scotland yard scenes into account, Patrick Cargill could easily fit right in as M. Music, too, but this goes without saying, of course.
There really isn’t much you need to know about the film’s plot. The Beatles are working on recording their next album but end up being chased around the world by religious cultists and mad scientists. All of them want their hands on Ringo’s ring, which had been sent to him by the intended victim in an attempt to save her life. You’d think all of these religious cultists would want Ringo dead, right? Well, high priestess Ahme ends up helping The Beatles! Scotland Yard offers protection and the rest is history.
The Beatles themselves have said that a classic Marx Brothers comedy, Duck Soup, was an inspiration. They have this certain ability when it comes to commanding the screen. Oh, do they ever! Behind the camera, Richard Lester brings the same sensibilities to Help! and A Hard Day’s Night. Lester also experiments during this film like so many of his fellow filmmakers at the time. In fact, this film benefits from the color palette. A black and white film just wouldn’t be able to work because the comedy just wouldn’t play to the same level. Look at the gags! They’re living in the same building but use separate doors and then John calls everyone to ring the alarm when they’re all in the same room. It takes some geniuses to come up with these kind of gags!
But of course, all of the positive things aside, there is one flaw about the film. It’s giving us a stereotypical depiction of Indian culture. The casting is completely wrong whether you’re watching from a 1965 or 2021 lens. Both Eleanor Bron and John Bluthal are Jewish so it’s also wrong to see them cast as the Indian cultists. I have to make a deep dive into the other actors playing cultists but I think it’s safe to say that this is the one area where the film badly gets it wrong.
Contemporary music videos owe their existence to both The Beatles and Richard Lester. There would be no MTV or VH1 without the influence of the 1965 film. It’s that simple. The musical pieces in Help! are closer to musical video form than concert footage. Say what you will about A Hard Day’s Night, Yellow Submarine, and Let It Be but this is the film that changed the game. You could also argue it’s influence on the campy Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward.
Help! is stylistically different from its predecessor but The Beatles sure know how to put on a performance.
DIRECTOR: Richard Lester
SCREENWRITERS: Marc Behm & Charles Wood
CAST: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron, Victor Spinetti, Roy Kinnear, Patrick Cargill, John Bluthal
United Artist released Help! in theaters on August 11, 1965.
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