So this is the famous Help! eh?
The Beatles’ second film was never going to be able to follow the same formula as the first. This time, a story (of sorts) was needed and was actually confected around all the places the Beatles wanted to visit for locations. So what we have is Clang, the leader of an eastern death cult about to perform a human sacrifice when it is pointed out to him that the victim is not wearing the sacrificial ring. The ring – wouldn’t you know it – is on Ringo’s right hand. Somehow, the cult knows this and tracks him down to find that the ring isn’t coming off. The Beatles’ own efforts to remove the ring lead them to a mad scientist who decides, for no reason other than that he’s mad, that the ring will allow him to rule the world. His own attempts to obtain the ring clash with Clang’s and mayhem, as was the fashion, ensues. Meanwhile, Clang’s offsider Ahme turns good and tries to help the Beatles escape both sets of pursuers.
The big problem is that underpinning this whole premise is a big dollop of casual racism and it would be drawing a pretty long bow to suggest that the film is satirising such attitudes. The best you can say is that things were different back then, but it’s not saying much.
Then again, it was as a result of filming Help! that George was introduced to Indian music, which became a lifelong passion. His work to promote it led to international recognition and greater understanding so the film probably did far more good than harm. It’s a paradox of cultural sensitivity.
The musical numbers have even less relevance to the film than they did in A Hard Day’s Night, but it scarcely matters. In fact, they all make great video clips. Richard Lester directs again and as with A Hard Day’s Night, the film is peppered with clever camera angles and slightly subversive humour. The wonderful Leo McKern is wasted on the one-dimensional character of Clang, but he plays it with such gusto that it raises the part above its cartoon nature. Indeed, it’s the great performances from the supporting cast, which also includes Eleanor Bron, Victor Spinetti and Roy Kinnear, that saves the film from just being unutterably silly. The natural humour of the Beatles themselves is a given but on the whole, Help! the film is inessential.
The DVD looks and sounds great. You will need a DTS decoder if you want the surround mix because they haven’t included a Dolby stream. The second disc has an hour of short documentaries and interviews about the making of the film and the painstaking restoration, as well as some trailers. There are radio ads hidden in the menus of both discs.
Highlight: You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
Feature: * * *
Extras: * * *
Audio: LPCM Stereo, DTS 5.1