Nothing quite like The Beatles coming together to sacrifice themselves to an Eastern European cult. Naturally, Ringo Starr is the man offered up to the Gods and Kings these people worship. Trying to capitalise on that A Hard Day’s Night success once again, Help! is a flop offering from The Fab Four. A collection of music videos with a bit of story connecting them all together. There goes the heart, soul and charm of this influential band. Not quite, but close enough. Reinventing the wheel is not possible. They cannot go out and capture the charm of A Hard Day’s Night because their music has moved on and so too have they. Their acting hasn’t improved, that is reassuring.
One of the definitive charms of Help! is just how poor the acting is from John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo. As the lads go on a search for a few answers to a kidnapping-based question, Help! devolves into sight gags and farcical slapstick, rather than revolving around it like A Hard Day’s Night managed. McCartney gets the finest of these comedic moments. His witticisms and back and forth are nice. The “please say no more,” gag is nicely managed and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It is one of the few jokes to do so. Those moments are short and sweet. Roy Kinnear firing a failed laser at the band and asking for a few moments more when the plug fails is quaint and vaguely funny, but the lack of inspiration elsewhere is worrying.
At least the music is better than the content of this feature. Richard Lester’s feature sounds like a whale of a time with plenty of trippy moments and effective adventures with the lads. No such luck for the cameo-clad feature. But Help! has another barrage of cameo appearances and small supporting performances from the big names of the time. Kinnear and John Bluthal appear, as do Warren Mitchell and Alfie Bass. They are no match for the star power of The Beatles but provide decent work when possible. Who’d have thought it’d be The Fab Four themselves that are the worst parts of this feature? A film about The Beatles that would lose its best moments without them, but would also benefit from their absence because of a weirdly interesting plot.
What Help! struggles with most of all are the links between film and music video. Those less-than seamless transitions move Lester’s work from advertisement to Ringo kidnapping with a strange and freakish pace. It could be worse. Badly timed jokes about intermissions and shoddy cuts to the next scene without any sense of pace are played off as gags. Starr and Lennon are given some decent dialogue here or there, and Harrison is given a damp rag of a script to fumble around with. McCartney gets off no better than that. Their personalities are surprising clashes and too big for the script that tries to contain them. A shame, too, since Help! has all the sincerity and desire of A Hard Day’s Night, but it feels far more similar to Magical Mystery Tour. If anything, it is worth seeing for McCartney’s nonchalant reaction to being shrunk in an odd homage to The Incredible Shrinking Man.