Cast: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron
The Fab Four spoof James Bond and are chased in exotic locales around the world. The cause of their troubles is an item of jewelry in Ringo's possession.
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Following the massive success of A Hard Day’s Night (1964), and with The Beatles, whose members included Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison, still being the most famous and successful band in the world at the time, it was a foregone conclusion that they should strike while the iron was hot and quickly release another film. While the band’s previous film had been an intimate, fairly low-key mockumentary about what it was like to be a member of The Beatles, their second film was a big budget James Bond spoof called Help! (1965), featuring exotic locations, beautiful women and an incredible amount of absurdist humor. The result is a film that isn’t quite up to the level of its predecessor, but is still a lot of fun.
The film begins in India, where cult leader Clang (Leo McKern) is about to sacrifice a woman to the goddess Kali-li, until he realizes that she is not wearing the sacrificial ring. When Clang finds out that it is actually Ringo who has the ring, he attempts to steal it back. Ringo is willing to give the ring to Clang, only to find that it is stuck on his finger and unless he can get it off, he will be the one who is sacrificed. After numerous attempts to get the ring off, including a visit to a mad scientist named Foot (Victor Spinetti) and the use of a shrinking formula that is accidentally injected into Paul instead, the band goes on the run. They attempt to hide out in the Austrian Alps, but are followed. Next they attempt to hide in Buckingham Palace, but are attacked by Foot, who now has his sights set on the ring as well. After nearly being captured once again by Clang, they flee to the Bahamas and are able to avoid capture by the cult, but not by Foot. Ringo is rescued by a female cult member, only to be then immediately captured by Clang. While the sacrifice is being prepared, Ringo gestures to the rest of the band to stay away or they will be killed, and as he does this, the ring comes off. Realizing this, Ringo takes the ring and places it on Clang’s hand instead.
From the time of their arrival in America, the Beatles immediately became known for their quick wit and humor. There are entire scenes in A Hard Day’s Night that are almost completely ad-libbed by the band; these elements of their personality were easily incorporated into their films. Help! continues the tradition of absurd and surreal humor started with A Hard Day’s Night, the likes of which had never been seen at the time. For example, in the scene where Paul is accidentally stuck with a needle that contains the shrinking potion, the film cuts to “The Exciting Adventures of Paul on the Floor”, which is exactly what it sounds like. This type of humor would become more commonplace later on, especially with the success of Monty Python, but the Beatles were among the first to pioneer it.
Richard Lester had been unknown before working with the Beatles, and he became a famous director after the success of A Hard Day’s Night and Help!. His biggest success came with Superman II (1980), where he famously replaced Richard Donner with the entire film nearly completed, only to reshoot the majority of the film in order to get sole credit for directing. While Lester was directing The Return of the Musketeers (1989), a sequel to his films The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), an accident on set resulted in the death of actor Roy Kinnear, who had had a minor role in Help!. Lester retired from directing after this incident.
Help! was the final theatrically released scripted film starring The Beatles. They released Magical Mystery Tour (1967), which was a critically panned made for TV movie, they had cameos in the cartoon Yellow Submarine (1968), and made the documentary Let It Be (1970), which won them Oscars for Best Original Song Score, but none of these films would go on to achieve the same success as their first two projects.