I never disliked The Beatles growing up but I would never say I was passionate about their music either. In recent years I’ve started to appreciate their music a lot more and understand why they were so important. Away from dominating the charts in the Sixties, the Fab Four had a stab at the movies and my first experience of their acting abilities would be with the second of the films they made – Help!
Comparable to work by the Marx brothers and a spoof of James Bond, Help! is pure absurdity from start to finish. A sacrifice at the outset to the goddess Kaili is foiled when the high priestess notices the victim is not wearing the sacrificial ring. Where could it be? Turning to their television the cult realise the ring is on the finger of Ringo Starr, drummer with the famous band The Beatles! The group set out to pilfer the ring any way they can, leaving John, Paul and George to protect Ringo.
I’m undecided whether Help! or Rubber Soul is my favourite Beatles album so having a selection of songs from one of the albums accompanying the film was very welcome indeed. The Fab Four have to foil some truly bizarre attempts to steal the ring, including the floor being sawn underneath Ringo, while the group are recording You’re Gonna Lose That Girl, pints resting on bars, which are actually levers that trigger trapdoors and poor Paul ends up being shrunk in one scene! It’s clear this film is purely for laughs and if you take it seriously you’ll be disappointed. The group soon find aid from the high priestess Ahme (Eleanor Bron), who explains that she sent the ring to Ringo and that as the bearer he is the one that must now be sacrificed as the ring cannot be removed from his finger! Poor Ringo!
While cult leader, Clang (Leo McKern), continues to try and steal the ring, the Fab Four have further problems when they try to get the ring removed themselves. Jewellers break all their tools trying to take the ring off and when the Fab Four turn to a scientist, Foot (Victor Spinetti), and his assistant, Algernon (Roy Kinnear) for help they only have more trouble on their hands. Realising the ring’s power, Foot wants it for himself to rule the world, of course! The group’s adventures take them to the likes of the Austrian Alps, Buckingham Palace and the Bahamas. One of the most memorable moments is when the army surround the group in a field as they play The Night Before and suddenly all out war takes place! At least the tanks don’t fire until the group have finished their excellent song. The question is can the group save Ringo from being sacrificed? Will he always wear the ring? If Ringo isn’t to be sacrificed who will replace him?
Help! wouldn’t win any awards for the acting, but it’s such great fun that you won’t really care. The wacky slapstick moments are backed by a selection of great songs by The Beatles and at one point they even sing Ode to Joy to subdue a tiger, don’t ask! This does have some of the silly elements you get in Bond movies and the influence is very evident. Some aspects also made me think of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which would follow at the end of the Sixties. Whether you’re a fan of the group or not this film is still worth considering. It’s utterly ludicrous throughout but is never dull.
Help! is good enough to make me want to see the other films the Fab Four were in. They’ll always be better musicians than actors but this still has a witty script with some great slapstick moments. I’m not convinced by some of John’s fighting skills but given what a musical genius he was I’ll forgive him and just to make my wife happy, Ringo was a great drummer. Absurdly good.
(Film source: reviewer’s own copy)
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