The Beatles’ first movie, the black and white masterpiece A Hard Day’s Night (1964), captured the young rockers at their playfully anarchic best. And they quickly followed it up with another carefree romp, Help! (1965), this time in full-blast pop art hues, here now restored on DVD to its intended palette of bright primary colors. The American-born Richard Lester helmed both films, but the second was an even greater challenge since it pretended to have a plot, and the Beatles, for their part, pretended to act. The inspired silliness of the film (much fueled by copious pot-smoking, we learn in the DVD extras) follows the boys across continents as Ringo is pursued for his unusual sacrificial ring, a monstrous bauble he can’t get off his finger. The supporting cast includes the bulbous-faced Leo McKern (best known for his subsequent long-running role as “Rumpole of the Bailey”) as the high priest of some cockamamie Eastern religion; Eleanor Bron as his sultry and duplicitous assistant; and Victor Spinetti as a deranged and underfunded scientist, hoping to rule the world. But the Fabulous Four remain constant in the foreground, goofing off in their ultra-hip pad, sliding all over the Swiss Alps, and soaking up rays in the Bahamas. Seven great songs punctuate this absurdist drama, and each one seems to have presented Lester with a new challenge, as he discovers different styles of matching sounds and images that anticipate everything familiar to us now on MTV. It’s no wonder that the channel recognized Lester as its true father, nor that he in turn demanded a paternity test. –
About the Writer
Thomas DePietro, a former contributing editor of Kirkus Reviews, has also published in Commonweal, The Nation, and The New York Times Book Review. He recently edited Conversations with Don DeLillo, and his book on Kingsley Amis is forthcoming.