Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Help! (1965)

The Beatles wowed the world with their music in the 60s, just as they continue to do even today, an they were also one of those [rare] acts that managed to branch over from music to cinema with success! Plenty have managed it, I'm sure, but many more have failed, as singers aren't necessarily actors, or vice versa. But the Beatles struck a hit with their first outing A Hard Day's Night, and followed it up with 1965's Help!...

Jon, Paul, George, and Ringo are just enjoying life as usual,  One day Ringo gets a fan letter containing a strange ring, which he immediately puts on, not realising it's the sacrificial ring of an Eastern cult. Desperate to get their ring back so they can perform the next sacrifice on time, the cult makes repeated attempts to retrieve the ring, before finally deciding Ringo himself will have to be the next sacrifice...

Help is a spectacularly fun movie! Feeling like a time capsule from the 60s, it's just as entertaining as it was back then. A goofy, random movie that never takes itself too seriously. The plot here is simple, which benefits it. With such a chaotic movie where anything and everything can happen, it's heartening to know that the base of the story itself is very easy to follow. No matter how weird and bizarre things get, you always know what's going on.

This is one of those movies where anything can happen. One moment they're skiing in the alps evading flamethrowers, another they're having car chases in the Bahamas, or being shrunk and having adventures on their living room floor.

The Thuggee cult also gets a lot of laughs. It's funny how they treat it like a social group, discussing how to attract the apathetic youth into these old ways, like giving away free tickets to drum up interest in blood sacrifices. Amusing moment include where the Swami Clang ruminates with an inattentive priest, or even speaking directly to the audience.

The dialogue in Help is delightfully demented, with funny jokes, bizarre asides and observations, and the oddest things treated like more most normal in the world. The way the lines are delivered too gives it that extra something.

Help! has a lot of fans, but some detractors too. Though I can understand the critics who found the movie tiresome, as that is a legitimate point that could be made rather than senseless pooh-poohing, I personally disagree. The Beatles themselves had mixed feelings upon the movie's release, not quite understanding it, but they later came to get the film and respect what it set out to so, which is sweet. I'm glad they they eventually realised.

What you can't leave out when discussing Help! is its legacy. The whole time watching this I thought the idea of a 60s boy band living together and fighting bad guys sounded awfully similar to The Monkees, and that's because this movie was a direct inspiration for them!...Wow, the Monkees just get less original the more you hear! (but I joke, Monkees, I still love you). The show was also a precursor to the lunacy of 60s Batman. I also wonder how much it influenced Monty Python! It's got that same spirit of absurdity and irreverence, with a love for the random, and even takes the piss with an intermission in the same way. And now that I think of it, George Harrison was always a bit supporter of the Pythons, so perhaps this was a link!

The music here is naturally great, since we're gifted with the talent of the Beatles. We get a great mix of tunes, and they're sprinkled throughout on an even basis. We never get too many too soon, or too many empty gaps. My favourite songs included Help, You've Got to Hide Your Love Away, and I Need You. Interestingly enough, the musical moments here resemble what music videos would become in the future! You'd have the occasional one as we know it even as far back as the 60s, although it was more common just to see the performers on stage.

A brief look at Richard Lester's CV might give one cause for concern/alarm, given he was responsible for Superman IV (and III, although I actually quite like that movie), but all that can safely be disregarded, as Help! is fantastically directed! From the comedy scenes, to the action setpieces, and the music videos, there's much to enjoy here, and just about every scene has a creative lilt in some way or another. The set design and location work is all great too!

The acting is another highlight. Despite being singers, the Beatles cut pretty competent actors! They have great chemistry and comedic timing, and perform with an amusingly droll tone that they manage to nail, avoiding becoming monotone or dull. The only real hurdle is that because they all dress and style identically, I found it very hard to recognise which Beatle was which. Obviously I recognise John and Paul when close up, but the other two, nope, especially not from afar. There is one amusing scene where they're all in disguise with big fake beards, and I actually recognised them from their older age!

Leo McKern is a funny villain, looking and speaking distinctively. I also love the English Indianisms that he gets in his dialogue, like "Oh my good gosh", and others. Eleanor Bron is a nice female lead, getting lots to do, while Victor Spinetti and Roy Kinnear make for fun mad scientists, with their crazy meets casual attitudes. I also really enjoyed Patrick Cargill's comedy turn as the superintendent. Who would have thought The Prisoner wouldn't have been the weirdest thing on his resume! Overall, everyone here treats the film like a big panto outing, which is the best way. The fact that next to none of these Indians even attempt to look like Indians only adds to the fun am-dram feel.

To finish, Help! is a greatly enjoyable picture! It might not appeal to everyone, but for many it's a delight. Fast, frenetic, funny, and a brisk watch, there's a lot to love...

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