The Beatles second movie Help! had its Royal World Premiere at the London Pavilion Theatre in the West End of London on July 29, 1965 and in the United States on August 25, 1965. Over half a century later, Help! is as fresh as it was before it was.
Wait, I’ll tell a lie.
Help! is a Beatles movie, but even without the fab four, it would be an important film. Without Help! there would be no Airplane movies. Jon Landis would have hit his peak with Kentucky Fried Movie. Without Help! there would be no fucking Spike Lee. Oh, he would have been born, but the life-long indie filmmaker would have one less important stitch in the fabric of the tapestry of his comedic art.
Spike’s got Help! in every available format, I remember reading in an interview he gave to Spin magazine in the ’90s. He couldn’t get enough of it. His father, a jazz musician, didn’t like electrified instruments but his artsy son caught the shock of an amplified new wave of comedy and it blew his mind. Spike couldn’t hide his love away.
Help! is filled with classic slapstick that would work whether it was done by a silent film master like Buster Keaton or a modern hack like Jack Black. Who tries to remove a ring with a wheel? That’s what they break butterflies on, ask the Rolling Stones. That’s an in-joke, which is in itself an in-joke in A Hard Day’s Night. Even the Royal House of Hanover had the wheel.
Help! came out in 1965. It was directed by Richard Lester. The Beatles were the greatest show on the earth. They may not have been bigger than Jesus yet, but they were taller in stocking feet than he was in sandals. The Beatles’ first movie, A Hard Day’s Night, was considered the “Citizen Kane of jukebox movies.” The Beatles were being called the new Marx Brothers, though Groucho said they were nothing without cigars. Besides movies, the quartet had made dozens of comedic appearances on TV and even got Britain to laugh at the queen mother and her rattling jewelry. Their innate sense of comedy knew no bounds.
And that wasn’t even their day job. But we’ll get to that later.
Help! also starred Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron, Victor Spinetti, John Bluthal, Patrick Cargill and Roy Kinnear. Kinnear was Lester’s good luck charm. He wouldn’t make a movie without the sensitive, witty actor. Roy’s son Rory is currently the best thing on the best show on Showtime. He plays Dr. Frankenstein’s creature on Penny Dreadful, not to be confused with Penny Lane.
I wouldn’t touch you with a plastic one.
The Beatles almost filmed a movie called A Talent for Loving based on a Western genre novel written by Richard Condon, who penned The Manchurian Candidate. The Liverpudians, or leaver pullers, also turned down a cameo role in the 1963 film called The Yellow Teddybears, which was about a group of teenage girls who wore yellow teddy bear pins as a badge that they’d gotten laid.
The band would later turn down a homoerotic thriller called Up Against It, written in 1967 by British playwright Joe Orton. Paul McCartney invested £1,000 in an earlier Orton play called Loot. Up Against It was inspired by a passage from the 1953 novel The Silver Bucket which co-written with Orton’s lover Kenneth Halliwell. The script involved crime, political scheming and transvestitism. This was before Molly stayed at home to paint his pretty face. The Beatles and Epstein rejected it as too risqué.
“The reason why we didn’t do Up Against It wasn’t because it was too far out or anything,” McCartney was quoted as saying at the time. “We didn’t do it because it was gay. We weren’t gay and really that was all there was to it. It was quite simple, really. Brian was gay…and so he and the gay crowd could appreciate it. Now, it wasn’t that we were anti-gay – just that we, The Beatles, weren’t gay.”
Richard Lester was going to direct a version of the film with Ian McKellen and Mick Jagger in the leads but it was scuttled by Orton’s death.
Ostentatious that is.
The Beatles accepted Help! The screenplay was written by Charles Wood and Marc Behm. The movie would be shot in color and have a much larger budget. The rock stars immediately used that as an excuse to visit exotic locales.
Help! was shot in London, Salisbury Plain, the Austrian Alps, New Providence Island and Paradise Island in the Bahamas (for tax reasons), and Twickenham Film Studios. Filming began in the Bahamas on February 23, 1965. As it was winter in the Bahamas, the Beatles didn’t spend a lot of time in bathing suits, but their objectified “Another Girl,” who Paul plays as a bass, braved the cold. Filming finished on April 14, 1965, at Ailsa Avenue in Twickenham.
During the ski scenes, which were shot at Obertauern, in Austria in March 1965, The Beatles and Lester gave an impromptu concert at a crewmembers’ birthday party. This was the only time the band ever played on stage in Austria.
The Beatles said Help! was inspired by the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup. In the classic anti-fascist comedy, Chico and Harpo play spies. The biggest spy at the time was Bond, James Bond. The movie’s distributor, United Artists, held the rights to the Bond series.
The British spy film genre was at its zenith in the sixties because of James Bond movies. Help! and TV’s Get Smart, created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, were the first to shake that martini. The comedic possibilities of Bond would reach its self-indulgent parody pinnacle Casino Royale, with Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, David Niven, and a cast of several…including George Raft in a cameo.
Peter Sellers, who worked with the Beatles’ producer George Martin as a solo and as part of the Goon Show, had originally been offered the script of Help! under a different title. The film was almost called Eight Arms To Hold You but Lester found better things to do with the musicians limbs and taught them semaphore, though Robert Freeman, the photographer for the Help! album cover, never learned it. The British Parlophone album cover shows the Beatles spelling out the letters NUJV. The American Capitol Records cover corrected that to NVUJ.
“I had the idea of semaphore spelling out the letters HELP. But when we came to do the shot, the arrangement of the arms with those letters didn’t look good. So we decided to improvise and ended up with the best graphic positioning of the arms,” Robert Freeman said under questioning. To this day, thousands go without aid because they assumed this was true.
Jeweler, you’ve failed.
The film wasn’t only influential because of its humor. The director, crew and editors pushed the shots through mirrors, reflected light. Every frame during the beach scene had hand crafted color filters. The editors played with jump frames. The crew was trying to push the look of the film. They played with camera angles, mirrored angles, they shot through objects, under people, they used geometry and ancient, naturally occurring arcane symbols.
Help! was dedicated to Elias Howe, who, in 1846, invented the sewing machine. The Beatles got an MBE for selling corduroy. The most glamorous eyes watched them worldwide and the pink leather jumpsuit that Ahme wore set fashion magazines on fire, which made them hard to read. Ahme’s pink leather suit matched her pink Walther P-38 pistol.
The Beatles are credited with inventing a lot of things. Not content with forging rock out of its codependent bond with roll, they invented prog rock, using too many chords for early rock and rollers and playing in odd time signatures. Their song “Ticket to Ride,” which will be discussed later, is credited as inventing heavy metal. John Lennon’s feedback on “I Feel Fine” is said to have invented Jimi Hendrix. The bit when Algernon describes his electricity bill as a “long counterfoil,” and the ping pong paddles in used by the air traffic controllers invented the Airplane franchise. Bob Rafaelson referenced Help! often when directing the Monkees television series. Richard Lester’s work with the Beatles invented the music video though when told he was the father of MTV, Lester demanded a blood test.
But the Beatles also invented the silly walk. Both Lennon and John Bluthal as Bhuta do extremely silly walks in the movie. Lennon when he’s bouncing around with the carving knife trying to convince Ringo to chop off his finger. Bluthal when he’s following walking in a correct British stance in sandals on the cobblestone streets of London.
Wait I’ll tell another lie. The Beatles also invented the chainsaw massacre. Don’t quote me on this, but I don’t know if there is an earlier chainsaw attack attempt on celluloid. (Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring featured the first chainsaw killing in 1960. Dark of the Sun, directed by directed by Jack Cardif and starring Rod Taylor and Jim Brown, didn’t come out until 1968.) The Beatles were nothing but mad scientists, MIT (and the Tavistock Institute) wanted them to rule the world for them. The Beatles also invented The Beatles, recreating their later Abbey Road look long before the album came out in the airport scene.
During filming, the conquering hero rock stars didn’t take the acting gig all that seriously.
“I’m not sure anyone knew the script. I think we used to learn it on the way to the set,” McCartney admitted in The Beatles Anthology in 1996.
The Beatles didn’t have as fun making Help! as it would seem. The Beatles characters could have been played by anyone. John Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970 that they felt like “like extras in our own film.”
“The movie was out of our control. With A Hard Day’s Night, we had a lot of input & it was semi-realistic. I realize now that it was a precursor to Batman’s ‘POW!’ ‘WOW!’ But Dick Lester never explained that to us.”
John Lennon said “it was like being a frog in a movie about clams.”
That didn’t stop Lennon from working with Lester again. In September of 1966, Lennon was featured as Private Gripweed in Lester’s anti-war satire How I Won the War. The film was shot in Almería, Spain, and Lennon wrote “Strawberry Fields” during production. Lennon changed his tune about Help! in the last interview he gave, saying he had come to appreciate what a fine film it was.
“I realize, looking back, how advanced it was. It was a precursor to the Batman ‘Pow! Wow!’ on TV—that kind of stuff,” Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1980.
“But [Lester] never explained it to us. Partly, maybe, because we hadn’t spent a lot of time together between A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and partly because we were smoking marijuana for breakfast during that period. Nobody could communicate with us, it was all glazed eyes and giggling all the time. In our own world. It’s like doing nothing most of the time, but still having to rise at 7 a.m., so we became bored.”
The other Beatles and Lester remembered that the film was made in a “haze of marijuana.” I believe Lennon referenced, much the same way he referenced snorting coke in A Hard Day’s Night, their smoke breaks during the filmed recording of “You’re Going To Lose That Girl.” An engineer asks “Boys are you buzzing?” and Lennon quips “No I brought the car.”
“A Hard Day’s Night I was on pills, that’s drugs, that’s bigger drugs than pot,” Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970.
“Started on pills when I was 15, no, since I was 17, since I became a musician. The only way to survive in Hamburg, to play eight hours a night, was to take pills. The waiters gave you them — the pills and drink. I was a fucking dropped-down drunk in art school. Help! was where we turned on to pot and we dropped drink, simple as that. I’ve always needed a drug to survive. The others, too, but I always had more, more pills, more of everything because I’m more crazy probably.”
In The Beatles Anthology, Ringo corroborated “If you look at pictures of us, you can see a lot of red-eyed shots. They were red from the dope we were smoking.”
“A hell of a lot of pot was being smoked while we were making the film. It was great. That helped make it a lot of fun,” Ringo recounted.
“In one of the scenes, Victor Spinetti and Roy Kinnear are playing curling: sliding along those big stones. One of the stones has a bomb in it and we find out that it’s going to blow up, and have to run away. Well, Paul and I ran about seven miles, we ran and ran, just so we could stop and have a joint before we came back. We could have run all the way to Switzerland. If you look at pictures of us you can see a lot of red-eyed shots; they were red from the dope we were smoking. And these were those clean-cut boys!
Dick Lester knew that very little would get done after lunch. In the afternoon we very seldom got past the first line of the script. We had such hysterics that no one could do anything. Dick Lester would say, ‘No, boys, could we do it again?’ It was just that we had a lot of fun – a lot of fun in those days.”
McCartney, who would later be the first Beatle to cop to droppoing acid, remembers that it was no big thing.
“We showed up a bit stoned, smiled a lot and hoped we’d get through it,” McCartney said in Anthology.
“We giggled a lot. I remember one time at Cliveden (Lord Astor’s place, where the Christine Keeler/Profumo scandal went on); we were filming the Buckingham Palace scene where we were all supposed to have our hands up. It was after lunch, which was fatal because someone might have brought out a glass of wine as well. We were all a bit merry and all had our backs to the camera and the giggles set in. All we had to do was turn around and look amazed, or something. But every time we’d turn round to the camera there were tears streaming down our faces.”
In the Anthology, Harrison said the band puffed pot on the plane to the Bahamas. In the extras disc on the Help! DVD, Eleanor Bron says she was too green to smoke any green.
“John did once offer me a joint,” Bron said. “And I obligingly tried to take a little puff. I knew there was some special way of doing it – but I don’t smoke anyway. So I took a little puff and then thought, ‘This is so expensive. I mustn’t waste it!’ And gave it back to him. So that’s your definition of naïve, I think.”
Don’t Encourage Them, They Got The Part
None of this is to say the Beatles didn’t act the shit out of their roles. George’s sideways glance during “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” adds drama. Lennon snorting his nose through his ears before he takes the dunk in the underwater escape in the temple is a garbled phenomenon of comedy.
The screenplay had a lot of wordplay and the Beatles excelled at playing with words. Besides writing hit tunes with them, Lennon typed out pages of witty non-sequiturs that fit like flies on Frank. But there were no flies on Frank. And why not? He was a responsible citizen with a four foot three wife and child, wasn’t he?
So, what about the movie itself?
Help! is a classic. It is aging well, though the basic premise of Help! is kind of passive aggressively racist. The Beatles are trying to save Ringo from a stereotype of a Thuggee cult from the mystic east, east of Suez, which wants to sacrifice the beatkeeper to the baleful goddess Kaili to the tune of inaccessible incantations. Latin, the producers understand, but not this Eastern stuff.
Harrison reportedly had his first encounter with the lord Krishna while filming Help! During a break from the “let’s go back and get’ em” bicycle scene, a Krishna devotee gave the musician/actors a book on Hare Krishna consciousness. Instant Karma can hit you right face.
Social commentary abounds: The car from Harrods won’t go unless you put money in it; The O.H.Ms On Her Majesty’s electrical Service; fox hunting so young people can get involved in their own sacrifices and understand the significance of blood well shed; the casual racism of the British cop when the entire Bahamian Police force, which numbers about four or five officers, duck behind the inspector during inspection to make it look like they swelled their rank. They all look the same to the superstitious superintendent, whether it’s Pc 17 or Pc 6 foot 3; They all look the same in their similitude and language. At one point Ahme points out “the ring will cling to your finger like the hunger of a child.”
Today, the Thuggee cult would be classified as Middle Eastern terrorists. The British authorities call in the entire police force of two nations and an army, the British Army, to defend their national treasure. The easterners also say “Ah so” a lot. It was of the time.
Get sacrificed! I don’t subscribe to your religion!
Richard Starkey, who got his famous nom de plume because he adorned his fingers with jewels he couldn’t get through his famous nose, is targeted by the bloodthirsty cult because a Beatlemaniac sent him a ruby red ring in a fan letter. The ring is the dreaded secret sacrificial ring of the dread Kaili. That ring is worn as prelude to an acolytes ascendance. These are people from a very poor country. Even if you have no food, every now and then the soul gets some nourishment from beauty and this ring is a work of art.
The victim is chosen by a lottery. Whoever wins gets the pleasure of wearing the ring for a day, from sun to moon, from moon to sun. All are happy to go. At the end of the day, the worshipper is slaughtered, jolly, with a knife. The sacrifice also involves some kind of ritualistic disemboweling.
But the ring is missing from the nubile devotee. Without the ring, there can be no sacrifice. Without the sacrifice, there can be no congregation. Without the congregation no more Klang. The Indian Beatlemaniac’s sister Ahme (Bron) happens to be the high priestess of the cult. Ahme and Swami Clang, played by Australian-born veteran stage and screen actor Leo McKern, head off to London to get the ring back before the sun sets and a new day dawns and a new sacrifice is chosen. That person could then go happily to Kaili. It’s a little different from the C of E, I think.
I can say no more.
I love the opening sacrifice scene. It’s worthy of Hammer Studios. This, of course, makes the comedy sharper. The Beatles were already flirting with dark humor and themes. “In the name of Parvati, Daughter of the Mountains, whose embrace with the Rani made the whole world tremble. Whose name is the Terrible. Whose name is Baleful. Whose name is Inaccessible. Whose name is the Black Mother, Mother of Darkness.” Kaili.” We turn our hearts to Kaili. Drinker of blood. Black Mother, gorge on this flesh.”
That’s some dark shit. That could account for some of the Paul is dead mania that followed. After it is found that the ring is not on the pretty, painted acolyte and she is searched, the tension rises and
The song doesn’t break the tension. It rides it like a wave crashing on a beach. Hearing the voices, in all their configurations, was shocking, absolutely shocking. After all that dark energy, the musicians on the surveillance tape sound triumphant happy and oh so shocking. The cult learns that their dartboard favorites have this invaluable ring. These unfamiliar westerners who almost made a western movie. Has anyone looked in the wash basin?
The introduction to The Beatles characters, from Lennon narcissistically kissing his own, probably signed, copy of A Spaniard in the Works to Paul’s rising Wurlitzer organ captured exactly how the fans wanted to believe how the Beatles lived. This is how they should have lived. Adulation hadn’t gone to their head one jolt. It was even this way in the cartoons.
There is a certain cartoon quality to all Beatle products on celluloid, even Yellow Submarine and the early morning cartoons, and Ringo’s later venture into Harry Nilsson’s The Point. Besides being rock stars, they were the Bugs Bunnies of Britain. They had a certain aggression that tweaked authority.
The Beatles explored touches of cartoonlike surrealism in A Hard Day’s Night, much like The Marx Brothers occasionally flirted with surrealism. In a nod to Harpo’s eating a telephone in Cocoanuts, you can see George eating the cymbal in the marching band after Clang wins the ski jumping tournament. There is another surreal moment when the bike falls after Paul whistles for it.
“The Exciting Adventure of Paul on The Floor” is a bit of comic book surrealism that gave Paul something to do while the other musicians acted. Paul was the only Beatle who had any acting experience before the band. He’d had a non-speaking part in a play in high school, so they gave him a silent bit. McCartney, who was dating the Hammer Studios actress Jane Asher, was self-conscious on film.
The Beatles were aided by the consummate comic support talent of Spinetti and Kinnear. Paul misses the change in the action players because he’s gotten small when the scientists entered the apartment. Spinetti looks genuinely surprised when the army surplus gun works, but the scene sours for me when he actually pulls the trigger, point blank at Lennon.
Even some of the conversational gags are surreal. After finding that the dreaded ring is made from a metal outside the failed jewelers’ sphere of experience, the Beatles look for new tools to break. Ringo remembers that the Fire Brigade once got his head out of some railings. Even though he didn’t want them to because he used to leave it there when he “wasn’t using it for school. You can see a lot of the world from railings.”
The Beatles themselves were natural comedians who knew each other’s rhythms. John does a really good Ringo when he’s impersonating him on the soccer field. He captures his body language and even his off rhythms.
Visual gags abound, such as the interrogation scene in the tropical sun. The clueless Superintendent puts a soldier from an equally hot climate under a sun lamp and expects him to talk. Surprisingly, we accept that he might.
The bathroom scene, where Paul and Ringo, and ultimately all four Beatles get their shirts sucked off until their skin’s soaked through right to the skin is timeless slapstick. But we learn, through Ringo’s growing apprehension that there is more here than meets the eye. After the bathroom encounter, Ringo get cartoonishly jumpy.
The Austrian Alps scenes were mainly a document of the Beatles learning to ski. Lester set up cameras, threw skis at the musicians and told them to learn. He used the best bits and enhanced a few, but for the most part, it was all impromptu footage that works because of the magical editing.
According to The Beatles Anthology, the Indian restaurant scene, which was filmed in April, introduced George to the sitar, which he would use on “Within You and Without You,” “The Inner Light,” and Lennon’s affair parable “Norwegian Wood.”
The Indian restaurant scene plays out all manner of class and racial commentary. The dreaded secret ring makes the unionized doorman (Alfie Bass) ask if means the Beatles are Freemasons. These rumors persist. The very sight of the ring sends the lad from the sunny clime lying down on a bed of nails. The running gag of the soup comes right out of The Little Rascals, with a little seasoning.
Here we meet another failure. The mad scientist Foot is played by Victor Spinetti, a mad actor in the very best sense of the word. This is a guy who committed to a bit with enough conviction for a lifetime. He was an actor’s actor. When he spoke about parts, years later, he would regress to the character he was playing at the time. Spinetti played the TV director with the knitted sweater and downer addiction in A Hard Day’s Night and would go on to play in Magical Mystery Tour and direct a stage adaptation of Lennon’s book In His Own Write.
“With a ring like that, dare I say it, I could rule the world,” the scientist says, but what could a ring like that do? He’s mad I tell you, but Spinetti sells it. He might not be able to interest Wall Street with the bauble, but I believe he could rule the world with a ring like that.
One of the nods to Bond is the crazy instruments of modern espionage technology. Maxwell Smart talks into his shoes and drops into the CONTROL office through a phone booth. Here the scientists use a relativity cadenza to slow the Beatles down. If the plugs adapt properly, it was made at Harvard.
Foot’s fiendish semi-human assistant, Algernon, who got a degree in woodwork, I ask you, is played by Roy Kinnear, who would play in almost every movie Lester made. He wasn’t in the gay bath comedy The Ritz, which is one of my favorite lost Lester films, but was in all the Three Musketeers movies. In Help! Algernon is what comes from teaching science by television “I am moving my left right leg I am moving my left leg.” It’s the brain drain. His brain is draining. Algernon bemoans that he would have been a better scientist if he worked with animals. His daddy was the master of the house, “animals trust me. I should have been in vivisection.”
Mad Scientist Foot tries to remove a ring that was made in India with surplus British laboratory equipment. You can only stretch a government grant so far. Foot uses a machine to expand the molecules of the ring to make it bigger and fall off but all it does is drop Ringo’s drawers.
I’ve had a lot of fun with this finger
The famous Scotland Yard offers its protection, of which it is justly proud, for a finger. But not just any finger. This finger has kept the steady backbeat on a revolution that galvanized the world and profited England greatly.
Patrick Cargill as the superstitious Superintendent, is a broad bundle of British stereotypes. His lip is entirely stiff but his feet are molded grey clay. “The palace is haunted you know, I daren’t look.” He chides the pop group as a flash in the pan. “How long do you think you’ll last?” he posits. Lennon counters with “Great train robbery. How’s that going?” Like Bugs Bunny, The Beatles get in their cheeky backtalk. I love when Harrison tells the spy-of-a-thousand-voices that he doesn’t sound a thing like Cagney.
“I believe you. Thousands wouldn’t.” The Superintendent might as well be trying to build a Bridge on the River Ganges with his “show on the road, battle commence” cries. But, like all clueless colonialists he has no idea who he is up against. In a nationalistic sense, he’s created both threats as a representative of Great Britain, with the Union Jack and tea bags without strings.
The Beatles hole up at a well-known Palace and no one knows they are there except each other. And they’re not even sure about that. I don’t think it’s a coincidence when George reminds John that he knows the he’s there right before the band tumbles into “I Need You” (by George Harrison). The Beatles saw the comic possibilities of the cowbell before Christopher Walken hosted Saturday Night Live even once.
James Bond drove an Astin Martin DB 3, hee hee hee, in the madcap romp Casino Royale. Help! has the scene of the George riding on top of the car while Ringo is locked in the trunk. That’s a pretty heavy stunt for a rock star to be doing. But Harrison said he best bit was left out of the movie: The Beatles doing donuts on a track and crashing into each other in race cars.
Another deleted scene involved all the Beatles but George falling into a trance at the “Sam Ahab School of Trancendental Elocution.” Sam Ahab was played by British comic actor Frankie Howerd and he was teaching Wendy Richard, who played a character based on Lady Macbeth, to scream apparently. Richard would later go on to play Miss Brahms in the BBC sitcom Are You Being Served? Lester said Howerd was driven to polite distraction by the Beatles’ ad-libbing and forced-fed lines and the “Sam Ahab” scene was cut from the film for lack of time and chemistry.
A novelization called The Beatles in Help! was written by Al Hine and published by Dell in 1965. It included the Frankie Howerd and Wendy Richard sequence.
The Beatles loved their in-jokes. Mal Evans, the Beatles road manager and all around beast friend, plays the Channel swimmer asking for directions to the White Cliffs of Dover. Another subliminal, probably unintentional, in-joke is that “She’s a Woman” is heard on the tape machine underground in the Salisbury Plain scene. The Beatles never put singles on albums. They still put the song in the movie that wouldn’t be on vinyl until Beatles 65 in the United States.
The incessant moptop press coverage is used against itself as the Beatles put it round that that are bent for the Bahamas, which of course they were only circulating to throw Clang off the track. But Paul realizes that he’d actually like to go to the Bahamas and the boys, being for the workers and the Socialist vote and all that, decide Nassau’s not a bad place after all. After all, what are unions for?
Leo McKern is a master comedian. His timing is impeccable, even without words, he makes anyone a sidekick. At the Nassau airport, there’s a wonderfully quick scene where he just points to one of the guard and says “Him” and Bhuta slaps the man across the face. It means nothing, it’s funny because it’s funny. Like how The Beatles never actually worry about the disemboweling. That’s all gaff, disemboweling.
Part two of the film was a very short, improvised visual scene of the Beatles running, jumping, and standing still all at the same time. Part three of the film is Ahme’s sister coming home all hours and all colors after the wild romp with the inaccessible mother.
The fight scene in the Beatles’ flat, while Paul is having his miniature adventure, always reminded me of the obligatory fight scenes that end Bowery Boys movies. The Beatles almost featured two Dead End Kids on their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, but Leo Gorcey asked for money for bail and so only Huntz Hall got the privilege. Hall always maintained that the Dead End Kids were the first Beatles because they were also mobbed as the first teen idols. Ringo plays the Huntz Hall role of hiding by the Orange Crush machine until he turns into Frankenstein’s monster and gets painted red. Such a sad loss, such a nice suit.
How does the mad scientist know to pull Ringo’s nose? It is the Kaili clan that’s been nabbed while trying to nab his big neb. But there they are checking the nose. And his of all noses. There goes my knighthood.
Treacherous woman, tremble.
I think Ahme really isn’t what she seems. A self-admitted dead eye shot, shooting, she throws Clang to the wolves and enthusiastically takes the mantle of head priestess. The Beatle chase was probably a power play she meted out from the very beginning, and I think she’d rather see Ringo dead, than be reborn as another girl.
Ahme tells Ringo that a potion made of the essence of certain orchids and would shrink his finger so the ring would come off. But, she says it “would not be necessary” if he were brave. I think she still holds on to the idea that Ringo should maybe be sacrificed. There she is lulling the Beatles with her filthy eastern ways and tricking them into believing that it is Clang who is filthy with his eastern ways while the boys are being quite enthralled by all these filthy eastern ways. Someone’s neck is going to be slit from ear to ear and Ahme is quite willing to give Ringo every chance to have the privilege.
These filthy eastern ways include an attempt to hypnotize the former Quarry Bank High School quartet though the through the phone. After Ahme rescues Ringo from Foot by exchanging him for a vial of the orchid essence shrinking solution, she leads him directly into two battalions of mercenary Kukhri Rifles.
The best laid plans
As in A Hard Day’s Night, Lester’s film is aided by its imperfections. The scene where the Beatles are looking for the ancient temple, you can see a big bug or a lizard or something crawling up the wall. Lennon flinches when he see it and it scurries away. That’s method. He was trying to show his famous pluck.
The Bengal man-eating tiger, Roger, was kept behind a glass during the shooting. The scene sparks the great global encompassing sequence that celebrates Ringo’s favorite lyricist, Ludwig Van. The scene is so goofy and yet so infectious. It encapsulates the power of music and does it while whistling with a tongue in a cheek.
Lester, a musician himself who jammed on piano with the band on the sets of both movies, tried to capture the intricacies of recording. He can’t show all the overdubbing that goes into a song, but he gets a feel for the studio process by cutting to a shot of Paul playing his piano part while Ringo is laying an obvious rhythm track. For musicians, this is subliminally surreal.
“You shall have fun eh?” Clang asks Lennon, who doesn’t consider amusements beyond rhythm guitar and mouth organ. The Beatles are musicians and anything beyond that is a rest between beats. You can believe that they would be forced to make an album if only for the national coffers. I can see the most famous band in the world being told to make an album or report for the draft. That’s why the army surrounds them while they cut two tracks. Recording outside is a logistical and acoustical nightmare, even on electric guitars.
The songs used in the film were “Help!”; “You’re Going to Lose That Girl”; “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”; “Ticket to Ride”; “I Need You”; “The Night Before”; “Another Girl”; “A Hard Day’s Night” on sitar at the Indian restaurant; “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You” during “not if I get the boot in first” bike scene and “You Can’t Do That” in the Alps, because the lord alps those who alp themselves.
Besides the original Lennon-McCartney songs, and “I Need You” by George Harrison, Help! featured Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” with the Beatles goofing along; Wagner’s Lohengrin, Act III Overture, Tchaikovsky’s top ten it of 1840: “1812 Overture” and Beethoven’s famous “Ninth Symphony.” Is it me or do they sing the name Heidi Klum during the famous “Ode to Joy?”
In the movie, The Beatles were given protection while they recorded their newest album. How did that album turn out? Pretty great. Personally, I think that was a lot of pressure, finishing an album while being chased by a bunch of religious zealots. It’s a good thing the record was worth it.
Help! was the fifth studio album by the Beatles. It was produced by George Martin. The album put the songs from the movie on side 1 and the non-soundtrack songs on side B. The title track played with call and response harmonies and was one of Lennon’s earliest confessional songs.
“When ‘Help!’ came out in ’65, I was actually crying out for help,” he told Rolling Stone in 1970.
“Most people think it’s just a fast rock-‘n’-roll song. I didn’t realize it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I really was crying out for help. It was my fat Elvis period….I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was. Now I may be very positive — yes, yes — but I also go through deep depressions where I would like to jump out the window, you know. It becomes easier to deal with as I get older; I don’t know whether you learn control or, when you grow up, you calm down a little. Anyway, I was fat and depressed and I was crying out for help.”
Lennon counted the song among his personal Beatles favorites, such “I am the Walrus,” “Strawberry Fields” and “In My Life,” “Because I meant it — it’s real. The lyric is as good now as it was then. It is no different, and it makes me feel secure to know that I was that aware of myself then. It was just me singing ‘Help’ and I meant it,” Lennon told Rolling Stone.
“Ticket to Ride” was an amazingly progressive song. The lyrics are among the earliest in rock and roll to talk about female independence. The guitar interplay, with Paul taking on the end-verse leads, is dramatic, but it is the drums that turn that song into a sonic masterpiece.
“In 1965, the structure of 4/4 rock drumming was fairly simple: play the kick on the 1 and 3 (downbeat), and the snare on the 2 and 4 (backbeat),” George Roberts, a seasoned recording session drummer whose current gig is with The Swamptones, New York City’s longest running swamp-rock quartet, explained to Den of Geek.
“There were exceptions where a beat would be ‘displaced’ (e.g. New Orleans R&B) but for the most part, drummers stayed with the basic 4/4 formula. When ‘Ticket to Ride’ was released that year, the downbeat was “normal” (on the “1” and “2”) but the backbeats were displaced on the 3 “and” 4 “and” counts. Most unusual for the time, it was played across close mic’d toms instead of the snare (recording technology was just beginning to expand to multi tracks). The drum track for ‘Ticket to Ride’ was the beginning of the ‘Big Sound’ of the drum kit on records, where the drums became more dominate in the mix instead of buried in the background. It changed the sound of rock recordings that came after. Think John Bonham on any Led Zepplin cut.”
“In his 1980 Playboy interview, John Lennon said of Ticket to Ride,’ ‘That’s me, one of the earliest heavy-metal records. ‘Paul’s contribution was the way Ringo played the drums,’” Roberts ended, on a quote.
Yes, it was Paul who came up with that drum pattern.
What was it that first attracted you to me?
So the Beatles invented heavy metal, just like Help! invented The Monkees TV show and ultimately MTV. The album was a continuous march in the musical revolution of the band. While other groups were getting heavier, The Beatles unplugged for the intimate, possibly gay-positive “You’ve Got To Your Love Away.” Many people think this was a reference to the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, who Lennon affectionately and derisively called “queer Jew.” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” was the first song where the Beatles used studio musicians. In case you thought George’s gardener recorded the flute part.
McCartney recorded “Yesterday” as a solo on acoustic guitar. The string quartet was overdubbed. The bass purist didn’t want any fancy tremolo on those strings and was impressed by a blues passage in the arrangement. It went on to be the most covered song in the history of history.
The Beatles covered the Buck Owens song “Act Naturally” and I think George really nails that Bakersfield twang perfected by Owens and Merle Haggard. They also covered Larry Williams’ “Bad Boy” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.” Help! the last time The Beatles recorded cover songs on an album until “Maggie Mae” popped up in 1970’s Let It Be.
Lennon and McCartney wrote “If You’ve Got Trouble” for Ringo, but he preferred to “Act Naturally.” They also wrote and recorded the song “That Means a Lot,” but they gave that to the singer P.J. Proby. “Yes It Is” came out as the B-side of “Ticket to Ride” and on the U.S. Release Beatles VI, which also saw “You Like Me Too Much” and “Tell Me What You See.” They recorded the song “Wait” in June 1965 but it didn’t make the album and wound up on tagged onto Rubber Soul.
Besides “I Need You” by George Harrison, the guitarist also contributed the song “You Like Me Too Much” to the album, his first original tune since “Don’t Bother Me” on With the Beatles from 1963.
The last song on the album, McCartney’s “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” is an early clue to a new direction. I love the baroque acoustic opening.
Critics didn’t like Help! as much as A Hard Day’s Night. But they certainly liked it more than Magical Mystery Tour, another groundbreaking film directed by the Beatles themselves. Help! is a comic masterpiece. It isn’t my favorite movie by the Beatles, but that’s only because I love other of their movies more.
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