The Beatles’ second film, “HELP!” is more enjoyable than it probably should be. It was a commercial success, like everything they did around 1965, but the band wasn’t happy with how it turned out. It was the first indication that the incredible run The Beatles were on couldn’t last forever. John Lennon said that the title track was literally a cry for help. He was feeling trapped in The Beatles, and under incredible pressure. He was in an unhappy marriage, with a new son, and was overweight and overwrought. The band’s popularity was taking its toll musically, as the crowds at their concerts became too large and too enthusiastic for the band to hear themselves over. In addition, John and the boys had to star in a movie and write and record an album’s worth of new material in the time that today’s bands spend recording one.
Richard Lester also directed their first film; “A Hard Day’s Night,” and for the follow-up he adds color, and a James Bond Spoof. It has the prerequisite mad scientist and three trap doors, which were everywhere in 1965, but you never seem to see anymore. Somewhere around 1970, the bottom fell out of the trap door industry. The plot is as simple as a dog’s taxes. Foreign cultists are after Ringo to retrieve a sacred ring that was given to him by a fan but, of course, the ring is stuck on his finger. Whoever wears the ring becomes the human sacrifice in a sacred ritual. Said ring doesn’t look like a wedding ring, but it sure sounds like one… On The Dick Cavett Show, Lennon said a writer accompanied them on tour for a few days before they made A Hard Day’s Night and “…wrote the whole of the film based on our characters, y’know; clodhopping Ringo, sharp John, whimsical Paul, and stern George. All those… the Beatle character myths were formed from three days watching us, which was a lot of junk, really.” Those caricatures are still in place here. The Beatles return home in a limo, and each enters his own door, which leads to a single shared-flat with sunken floors and its own pop art snacketeria. “HELP!” is essentially the pilot for The Monkees’ TV series. Richard Lester considered George the best actor of the four. George gets more screen time acting and singing, and some of the best lines in the film: “I’m always getting winked at these days. It used to be you didn’t it Paul?” Or, when Paul is overacting: “You’ve got the part, Paul.”
More than their ever-present good humor, The Fab Four’s chemistry is what carries the film. It was while filming “HELP!” that George first encountered the sitar and Eastern religions, which were integral parts of his future recordings, and he contributes his understated “I Need You” to the soundtrack. John, deep in his “Dylan phase” cranked out the most songs, including “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” and “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl.” Paul gives a glimpse of where his pop sensibilities are headed with “The Night Before” and “Another Girl.” For the first time, Ringo didn’t get a solo turn at the mic.
The Beatles’ soundtrack albums were always musical turning points. A Hard Day’s Night’s Soundtrack was the first album the band wrote every song on, and “HELP!” is a departure as well. It’s the acid-laced passageway from “Meet The Beatles” to “Revolver.” The songs are amazing, and shortly after this release, the band stopped touring and mixed in an ever-widening variety of styles and influences. “HELP!” looks as good as it sounds. The colors are vibrant and the sets are lush and luscious. Color works against the musical segments in a lot of cases, which were more effective in black & white, but it’s a vibrant, fun film. The Beatles and their keepers were testing the width and the depth of where a rock band could go. For several years later, every movie starring a rock band fell somewhere between “A Hard Day’s Night” and “HELP!” and for that reason alone, they’re both worth watching today.